In Defense of Story Coaching

When it comes to developing their craft, aspiring screenwriters would do well to take a page from the world of improv comedy.

In improv (at least in Los Angeles, at UCB and iO) neophytes start with the basic classes and journeymen aspire to make a performance team – to be one of the rare few who gets the official seal of approval to perform on the main stages.

These factors have created a demand for coaching. Students form practice teams and bring in outside coaches to develop their chops. These coaches are improvisors with a degree of success. The coaches are a million miles away from Saturday Night Live, but they have promising credits, they are knowledgeable, and they use their expertise to steer their clients in the right direction. In the world of improv, coaching is normal, affordable ($30 an hour), and wholly accepted by the community. It’s like the opposite of the online screenwriting world.

 The idea of paying for advice used to be a big don’t. In the olden days most “gurus” were con artists who strung people along with promises of access and easy riches. Thankfully, this is changing. There are more competent story coaches than ever before. The internet allows people with actual credentials to do connect and do business with people from other parts of the country. The power of the social media exposes the bad apples and highlights the many coaches out there who are qualified, helpful, affordable and honest. The prices are normalizing, for ever has-been studio exec who charges $1000 an hour, there are five guys like me, guys with actual credits and agency experience who charge reasonable prices that regular people can afford. 

Coaching has its detractors, but I don’t think anyone is actually arguing against the idea that people with more experience can help beginners develop. Rather, the biggest arguments against coaching seems to be that coaches may have dubious credentials, they may over-promise, they may under-deliver. Those pitfalls can be avoided by common sense:

  1. Do your research.

  2. Don’t believe anyone who promises you access and exposure.

  3. Understand that selling a screenplay is inherently unlikely, even for those who have done it before.

  4. Recognize that you are taking classes to build skills, not make a quick killing in the (non-existant) spec feature market.

  5. Don’t pay too much. Non-accredited screenwriting training should cost somewhere between a class at a community center and an hour with a personal trainer.

The world of screenwriting will never be like the improv community. Writing is too solitary, too idiosyncratic, and too zero-sum. That said, the idea of hiring an expert to give dispassionate analysis and helpful tips is universally applicable. The idea of personal coaching for screenwriting is here to stay. Writing can be learned without paying for training, but that training expedites the process.

Published by Matt Lazarus

WGA screenwriter offering in-depth writing instruction, notes, critique, and assistance.

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