Monday, August 11, 2014

Infuriating rejections

Getting rejected is part of the game in Hollywood. For most of the time it IS the game. No one is immune. NBC once passed on Tom Cruise to star in a pilot. I consulted on a pilot that rejected Annette Bening. ABC demanded a series be recast to replace Tim Robbins. Chuck Lorre has unsold pilots. So does Woody Allen.   Jennifer Hudson got booted off AMERICAN IDOL. You get the idea.

My writing partner, David Isaacs, and I have had our share of rejections over the years. But every so often we'll get one that really gets our attention because of the explanation. Here are a few.   If you've been in the business for more than twenty minutes you probably have six examples of your own. 

We did a pilot once for NBC. We turned it in and they said, “This is exactly what we’re looking for.” We were feeling great.  A few days later they passed. Their explanation: “This was exactly what we were looking for… last week.”

I once wrote a spec screenplay. A studio executive rejected it, but said, “The writing was so good it almost fooled me into liking this movie.” Gee, thanks.

A pilot we developed for Fox was rejected as being “too NBC.” At the time NBC was the gold standard for comedies and Fox was a mess.  So I guess that was a compliment... maybe?

Early in our career ABC came to us to develop a family pilot. We did. They rejected it. Why? Because they had also developed one with Erma Bombeck but she had a commitment. So ABC said to us, “If it’s any consolation, yours was much better.” No. Not really.

Very early in our career we had a two-pilot deal at NBC. They had to produce at least one of the two scripts. They chose to greenlight the first. The pilot process was a struggle, filled with “creative differences.” The show didn’t get on the air (losing out to PINK LADY AND JEFF), but we still had another script commitment. So we worked with them, developed a new project, turned it in, and the VP of Comedy Development called us to say, “Wow. Guys. I’m really impressed. You guys really put a lot of effort into this even though you had to know there was no way we were going to make it.” Again, thanks.  Were we pros or schmucks?

When Les Moonves pulled the plug on ALMOST PERFECT he told me “it was the best show he ever cancelled.” Yes, on one hand that’s gratifying, but on the other – seriously??? (I’m still waiting for the reverse – someone to say, “This is the worst thing I ever bought.”)

No matter how you get rejected, the key is to shake it off and move forward. I’m not saying it doesn’t sting, or was fair, but you have to rise above it. You don’t have to sell everything. Just enough. And if you do sell enough and become hot enough, then suddenly everybody will want to buy all the stuff they had rejected.   Even the stuff that wasn't "the best." 

UPDATE:  I will post tomorrow my reflections on the tragic death of Robin Williams.  I need some time to process it.  My heart goes out to his family and millions of fans.

25 comments:

Dan Ball said...

Follow-up question:

Have you ever looked back on a rejection and realized that maybe it was the right decision for one reason or another? (Either you knew it wouldn't work in the network's lineup or you just didn't feel like the project was some of your best work?)

At this point, I'd be happy to get something written just so it can be rejected. I'm 100 pages into my Western screenplay now, but man...it feels like it's taking forever.

PolyWogg said...

While any rejection sucks, I seem to be a bit more philosophical about it. The reality is that every rejection comes in three parts:

a. The answer -- no;
b. The real reason -- it's not what he/she wants right now; and,
c. The explanation -- why he/she doesn't want it right now.

Lots of people refer to the publishing industry the same way -- "stupid" rejections of J.K. Rowling for example for the biggest selling book on the planet except for the bible. Except each of those rejections were perfectly accurate -- the person rejecting didn't see how it fit and therefore didn't want it. They either get the vision and "buy in" or they don't...if they don't, sure the rejection stings, but the explanation is actually irrelevant -- all that mattered really was part a and b, c probably isn't accurate anyway, just the rationalization of b.

PolyWogg

Liggie said...

With so many networks/channels now and the rise of Web productions, those gatekeepers are going to be less of an obstacle. It's easier to get stuff produced and shown now, even by yourself if you have a decent camera and editing software.

Anonymous said...

Hi,
I got rejected.
You get used to it.
Keep writing folks
and follow your heart.

Stay positive. Stay away from negative people.

Scriptman

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

I'm pretty sure Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind was rejected a dozen or more times.
And John Grisham and Stephen King were both rejected numerous times before landing publishers for "A Time to Kill" and "Carrie" respectively.


Ian Fults said...

THIS is a wonderful blog and just what I needed after all the rejections I have been getting for my cartoon show idea.

Some have said the show they were looking for was more along the lines of Spongebob, and yet in my pitch I explained this will have the crazy humor of Spongebob with an Anti-bullying theme.

Another said it was not for their Demographic but gave positive feed back saying "The show is quirky, but in a good way!"

Even after all the other rejections, will I give up on it?

No way.

Check it out here if you wish:

https://www.facebook.com/ZugTheFriendlyOrc

Bill Jones said...

I have to wonder how often it's the case that the offered reason for a rejection does not match the real reason. In all walks of life, we get (and give) reasons for rejecting things that don't correspond to the real reason, because of things like wanting to avoid hurt feelings, wanting to do business again in the future, or not wanting to provoke the other side.

Remember Billy Crystal's assessment of Bruno Kirby's wagon-wheel coffee table:

"You said you liked it!"
"I WAS BEING NICE!"

Anonymous said...

When he was at NBC Jeff Sagansky asked my partner and me to develop of 1-hr drama pilot like "The Avengers" (The one with Patrick McNee and Diana Rigg, not the superhero team). When we turned it in six weeks later Jeff rejected it saying, "This is too much like "The Avengers". But he gave us another pilot script to write based on a commercial he'd seen about 4 hot girls in a red Cadillac convertible.

Coco Reddick Donaldson said...

"The awful thing about life is this: Everyone has their reasons."
-Octave (in Jean Renoir's "The Rules of the Game")

Wendy M. Grossman said...

I once had a skeptical book rejected - it was a book that gave natural explanations for various supposedly paranormal "mysteries" - on the basis that the publisher had on its list other books that said those claims were true.

wg

D. McEwan said...

A literary agent I was trying to get to handle a novel of mine once told me that he LOVED my earlier My Lush Life, that it was a "Must" on the bookshelves of everyone he knew. Then he rejected handling the sequel because "There's no market for it."

Pvt. Pyle said...

Friday question:

In this day of constant network notes, do you see the primary (if not sole) role of the show runner is to keep the show on the air? No matter how inane and moronic the notes might be?

As a show runner, were there times when you went with a network's notes even though you knew they would not work and would probably destroy your show?

DBenson said...

I read an interview where an actor complained about a pilot not getting picked up (I don't recall the shows he named, so I subbed in more recent ones):

"They said they loved it, but it was us or 'Mary Tyler Moore.' Why couldn't it be us or 'Me and the Chimp'?"

Pat Reeder said...

Dumbest excuses I've ever heard for rejecting actors at auditions were that the director didn't like one guy's necktie and didn't like that an actress wore her hair up instead of down. Of course, they gave far and away the best reads, but we all know it's impossible to change your hairstyle or necktie for a role.

Most annoying rejection I ever got for a writing project was for a book I wrote that incorporated a lot of funny, true stories from our radio comedy service. I was told that news-based humor books with "dumb criminal" type stories were no longer selling and publishers considered them dead. Six months later, someone brought out the first "World's Dumbest Criminals" book, actually containing some of the same stories we had, only not written in as amusing a way. It became a massive bestseller and launched a line of sequels and a syndicated TV series. And you wonder why the publishing industry is dying?

Cap'n Bob said...

Anyone who turned down Cruise and Benning has my respect.

William G. said...

I've always had a nagging suspicion that Jennifer Hudson has never fully grasped the significance of her Oscar. Since she comes from the music world, she was probably like, "Oh, cool... I guess," when she won. And when she receives her ballot for the Oscars every year, she's probably like, "I've never heard of most of these people."

Anonymous said...

its nice that someone rejects your scripts after reading them..so many times there is not even a way for someone to consider a script let alone be rejected ..."unsolicited scripts not wanted etc"

it amazes me how those in charge of an industry which is there for the promotion of literacy and the arts, how pig ignorant so many are about reading anything that has not been recommended to them.

Anonymous said...

Hi Ken,

I am sure you heard about Robin Williams. I guess it was his turn to say "Fuck You."

Very sad but we have some great performances to always remember him. I just hope the ending does not affect those memories.

RG

VP81955 said...

Given the depression Robin Williams had been going through for some time, I think the memories we have of him and that nimble comedic mind are safe. He had his demons, as do many of us, but thankfully he realized his personal imperfections and used them to bolster his genius as both a comic and an actor. Never met the man, but the stories I've read about him, e.g., his cheering up close friend Christopher Reeve following the horse-riding accident, are proof he was a very special man.

Hamid said...

I'm absolutely heartbroken. I loved Robin Williams. I don't want to believe this has happened.

Anonymous said...

Hamid said...
"I'm absolutely heartbroken. I loved Robin Williams. I don't want to believe this has happened."

Thanks, Obama.

Pete Grossman said...

As a freelance and contract copywriter, many recruiters represent me. Rarely do they get back to me if their client rejects my background. Recently though, a VP of an rep agency sent me an email saying "Our client has identified a resource. Have a nice weekend." Wonderfully creative marketing techno mumbo jumbo. Next!

Anonymous said...
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Dana Gabbard said...

My memory is Rod Serling admitted after Patterns (his breakthrough)in the next year he sold to various producers now hot for his work a trunk full of scripts that had been rejected during the early part of his career. And he was unapologetic for doing so.

Johnny Walker said...

I cannot believe this is how his life comes to and end. It doesn't seem possible.