(Note from the Founder of Screenwriting Staffing, Jacob N. Stuart). I’m often asked by my members: “Who would you suggest as a “Script Mentor”.” I sympathize with this question, b/c there are WAY too many screenwriters on the web “posing” as “mentors”, w/ little to NO actual screenwriting experience/credits. So that’s why Screenwriting Staffing caught up with Jim Mercurio. Jim is arguably one of the TOP screenwriting mentors in the country! In this blog, he offers a very unbiased perspective on script mentors, their purpose, and practical screenwriting tips. NOTE: Creative Screenwriting magazine voted him as one of the top screenplay consultants in the country!
Short Bio: Jim Mercurio is a filmmaker, writer and teacher. The high-concept horror-thriller he directed, Last Girl, won best feature in the 2012 DOA Bloodbath Film Festival (as #12). The Washington Post called his Making Hard Scrambled Movies (production tutorials) “a must for would-be filmmakers.” His workshops and instructional DVDs, including his recent 10-hour set Complete Screenwriting: From A to Z to A-List, have inspired tens of thousands of screenwriters. Jim works with Oscar-nominated and A-List writers. He is finishing up the first screenwriting book that focuses solely on scene writing, The Craft of Scene Writing, for Linden Publishing.
[Tuesday, September 30, 2014]
SCREENWRITING STAFFING: “Why would a screenwriter need a “mentor”?”
Jim Mercurio: “I don’t think mentoring in screenwriting is reinventing the wheel. A mentor can accelerate your growth, save you time and help you prepare to survive in this business. In my coaching/mentoring process, writers and I build a relationship over several drafts and that allows me to challenge them and also keeping them accountable and on track in their writing.”
SCREENWRITING STAFFING: “What qualifies someone to be a screenwriting “mentor”?”
Jim Mercurio: “I think this varies. Some not-so-good writers make exceptional development execs and teachers. So beyond produced credits, you can look for experience in filmmaking, teaching or development. Seems like most mentors and top story analysts have several resources – classes, DVDs, webinars, blogs or books – that can allow you to assess their expertise but, more importantly, figure out whose style and approach jibes with you.”
SCREENWRITING STAFFING: “What is the #1 mistake you see “newer” screenwriters make?”
Jim Mercurio: “Being too eager to rush to the marketing of their work. Most beginning writers should spend more time developing and polishing a script and learning their craft.”
For beginning and intermediate writers the best way to help their career is to ignore it for a bit, while they become a very good writer with 1-2 marketable scripts. If you are 3-4 drafts into a script and a mentor or reader is giving you feedback which you agree with, then the script isn’t there yet. No big deal… just focus on improving the script and your screenwriting.”
SCREENWRITING STAFFING: “If a screenwriter can’t afford a mentor, what basic activities can a screenwriter engage in to help propel their career? i.e., meetup groups, seminars, collaboration?”
Jim Mercurio: “Sure, all of the above. There are plenty great screenwriting books and classes out there. And make sure to read a lot of scripts, some of which are unproduced or to which you haven’t seen the film. In the group-related activities like meetups or networking functions, be careful about talking about your unfinished or in-progress ideas. Not because of concerns over theft but because you don’t want to kill the need/impulse you have to tell your story, which motivates you for the months spent on draft after draft.”
SCREENWRITING STAFFING: “What’s the #1 key for success in this industry as a screenwriter?”
Jim Mercurio: “If success is defined as getting work as a writer, then I think understanding things like concept, genre and the nature of the medium/format for which you are writing are really important. Seeing clearly how your material relates to what producers are looking for. As a mentor or teacher, I will take the writer’s lead and use whatever script they want as the proving grounds for their growth. However, after a script or two when their craft is up to speed, writers have to take a practical look at their goals and decide on a concept that has a fighting chance to be sold or produced. If their aim is for a spec sale, we gotta start the discussion with a high-concept, reasonably-budgeted script… something like Her, Looper, District 9, Source Code, Groundhog’s Day, etc. Because development budgets are tight or nonexistent, I challenge writers to nail the execution…make sure their script is immediately packageable, i.e., attractive to talent.”
SCREENWRITING STAFFING: “Should screenwriters dabble in other aspects of film? i.e., producing, directing… etc.?”
Jim Mercurio: “You don’t have to go out and literally be a filmmaker, but any experience or understanding of these other crafts will help your writing immensely. Because I am a filmmaker, I integrate principles from directing, acting, cinematography and editing into my teaching. Taking an acting class will transform your dialogue and scene writing. Spend 40 hours editing a 2-minute scene as an exercise and you will learn more about avoiding exposition and long-winded dialogue than you will from a dozen books. Participation in a 48-hour film fest will expand your understanding of how the page translates to the screen. If you are writing low-budget, low-concept scripts – even if you aren’t an aspiring director –you will probably have to do something producerish even if it’s just attending film festivals to find like-minded individuals who might be interested in directing or producing.”
SCREENWRITING STAFFING: “If a screenwriter finds a legitimate, qualified mentor, what kind of success can the writer expect to see?”
Jim Mercurio: “You will be growing as a writer faster than you would be on your own. The best career advice I can give to my intermediate clients is write until you are good and your scripts are great. Amazing scripts open their own doors. The mentor who helps you fulfill your creative potential won’t necessarily be the one who guides you through the business side of marketing, pitching, querying etc. Writing is hard and it takes a long time to master, so your immediate goal should be to progress. If you are constantly moving forward, then you are on the right track.”
To find out about working with Jim, visit his Website
Link to his DVD SET
His coaching and mentoring approach builds a long-term relationship with his clients where he guides (and challenges) writers through as many drafts of their script as necessary.