Saturday, June 13, 2020

Weekend Post

Dealing with rejection is never easy. Especially when starting out. Barry Diller (the Dali Lama of sharks, pictured right) has the philosophy that when a deal falls through or is rejected, his automatic response is: “Next?!”

Writers need a thick skin, belief in themselves, and five times a week therapy (prom rebuffs linger large). The good news is if you’ve written a spec, all you need is one person to say yes. (I know, you could say that about the prom, too. Get over it already!)

I’ve saved all my rejection letters and wouldn’t you know, a number of the writers who initially said I sucked eventually submitted scripts to me looking for a job years later. (No, I didn’t just send back their rejection letters and flip flop the names…but I wanted to.)

Keep striving to improve, maybe find some constructive use in the rejection (if it’s offered and useful), but never let your worth be decided by someone else. Supposedly, Richard Wagner once wrote back to a critic who panned one of his works by saying (and I’m paraphrasing), “I am currently sitting on the toilet. At the moment your critique is in front of me. In a moment it will be behind me.”

I’ve written spec screenplays that have sold and others that haven’t. I used to ask my agent if they gave any reason for passing. I would hear such explanations as: too broad, not broad enough; too edgy, too soft; too familiar, too out there. And all these regarding the same script. My favorite rejection of all-time was from an idiot studio executive who said this about one of my screenplays:

“The writing was so good it almost fooled me into liking this script.”

How do you react to that other than laugh and drop him a note congratulating him on the success of BLUMHOUSE'S FANTASY ISLAND? I no longer ask for explanations. I no longer even wait to hear the reaction on one project before launching into another. I don’t consider any of my screenplays rejected, just “not having sold yet”.



VP81955 said...

More detail from Kristen Johnston's Twitter account on the return of "Mom":

* No audiences at episode filmings, at least for this season.
* A "very closed set" with plenty of testings for cast and crew.
* Asked whether Covid-19 might be addressed on the series, she said, "I have no idea. It would be interesting!The writers are geniuses, I'm sure they'll do something awesome." (Supporting character Wendy, played by Beth Hall, is a nurse; I hope that figures into an ep.)

It'll certainly be a different atmosphere minus an audience, as I'm sure it will be for all multi-cams this season. With luck, all this will be temporary and that by 2021-2022, we'll have a vaccine for mass use.

Phil said...

Barry Diller (the Dali Lama of sharks) 😂 😂 😂

That was funny Ken, and also shows that not all are scared of the Disney's big shots.....

Troy McClure said...

I actually went to see the Fantasy Island movie. It was pointless as fuck.

Years ago I read about Hollywood studio executive script meetings during the 80s. One anecdote that stuck in my mind was of a coked up executive taking a break during a brainstorming session to go to the bathroom, probably to snort another line, and then returning to pick up where he left off: "And then he shoots the bitch in the head."

Kaleberg said...

In the software world, the second most common criticism of an application is that it is useless. (Number one is that it is full of bugs.) With app stores, that "useless" means a one star rating weighing down the apps rating and placement. Developers often complain about it, but from a user's point of view it makes sense. If someone wants an app to make up funny limericks about the people on their contacts list and you have written a love sonnet generator, your application is useless.

I'm sure it's like this for the folks reading scripts. It might be good enough, but they need a script to develop character B or they need a bit of comedy to leaven a grim season. I'm sure plenty of scripts are just bad, but the readers are often looking for something particular, even if they can't articulate it. So, there it comes, one star for useless.

Buttermilk Sky said...

I think that brilliant quote is actually from Max Reger (a composer few have heard of, including Spellcheck, I see). Wagner's response to criticism tended to be more Trump-like.

R. Jenkins said...

At least negative criticism means it was considered!
Sometimes you only get back, "yeah. I liked it" because the person doesn't want to be known as the jerk who didn't get it.
Most times, there's very little incentive to give honest critique with ANYTHING may be held against you at a later date.

Mike Bloodworth said...

Today's blog is semi-inspirational in that it helps knowing that some of your scripts have been rejected.
On the other hand success seems very random. That is, some very talented people never seem to get their big break. While others with questionable writing skills get lots of work.
Plus, success breeds success. If you sell one script it's much easier to sell another despite the fact that they might not be any good. And vice versa.
I like to use the "slot machine" analogy. If you win early you are far more likely to keep putting coins into the machine even though you will never get back as much as you put in. Conversely, if you don't win within a certain amount of time you may think you're not lucky and you're probably going to stop trying and walk away. That is, unless you're one of those, "This baby is due!" kind of guys. I'm not. I'm a "Cut your losses and move on" guy.


Craig Gustafson said...

I write a lot of 10 minute plays. Today I got rejection notices from one contest. All four of my entries tanked.
But - one of the tankers is being published in an anthology at the end of this year.
Having been on reading committees, I know how capricious the process can be.
So my reaction to rejections can be roughly described as "Eh. What do they know?" And I move on.

Max Clarke said...

Your last line about not being rejected - simply not having sold yet - reminds me of the Cheers episode Everyone Imitates Art.

This featured one of my favorite Shelley Long performances. Her mood and delivery changed several times, especially near the end in Sam's office, with the last couple of changes being unforgettable.

Anyway, Diane has written a poem for a literary magazine and received their response. Frasier or Woody gives it a look and tells her it's a rejection letter. So why is she so happy?

Diane says something like, "It's an inevitably-to-be-published" letter.

In the end, she was published, from a certain point of view.

blinky said...

Great advice for LIFE, period.
Our existence is a series of roadblocks that must be overcome. Just because one idiot says you suck doesn't mean the next idiot won't give you a break. And eventually you will find someone who is not an idiot and really appreciates you.

Kevin FitzMaurice said...

I wonder if "Mom" will use a laugh track. Hope not. The show is too good to resort to that.

The only time "The Dick Van Dyke Show" filmed without an audience and employed a laugh track was for an episode recorded a few days after President Kennedy's assassination.

Anonymous said...

Let's play devil's advocate here.

1) Those writers who initially said your work sucked, and the n submitted scripts later -

It is possible that those writers believed your writing had improved over that period of time. Many writers cringe at their earlier work, believing they would have done it differently now.

2) Various reasons given to agents for passing.

Comedy taste is very subjective - what one person thinks is gold, another rejects as fool's gold.

If you had been in authority at the time, you would have rejected The Donna Reed Show, yet it ran for 8 seasons. Similarly The Patty Duke Show (ran 3 seasons)

"I look back at shows I watched then like THE PATTY DUKE SHOW or THE DONNA REED SHOW and think, “Why was I watching this drivel?”" 20 June 2019

Similarly, if I had been in authority at the time I personally would have rejected Monty Python (which also had success).

3) Not having sold yet

Like the chimpanzees typing Shakespeare if you wait long enough, eventually there'll be a powers to be who sees big hit when they read that eternally rejected script.


stephanie said...

I have often related the story of Dr. Seuss when talking about rejection.
Here's a nice telling.

Brian said...

Hi Ken,

Did you watch this video made by TV stars?

I couldn't watch the entire thing, the comments pretty are much summed it up....

Troy McClure said...

I'd love to know what scripts were rejected by the studio executives who gave the greenlight to Leonard Part 6 and Stop Or My Mom Will Shoot.

Pamela Atherton said...

There is also a lot of rejection in the voiceover world. What finally clicked for me was that I just wasn't the voice they heard in their head. Didn't mean I didn't give a good reading, or that I wasn't brilliant -- it just meant that I wasn't the voice they had in their head for the project. NEXT! :)

Honest Ed said...

Whenever I'm asked to speak to new writers, pretty much the first thing I tell them is that if they make a career of this they'll get sacked off a script and it probably won't be their fault. So they need to develop a thick skin. That might be what I don't get asked as much as I used to.

Over here in the UK, I've had my share of sackings. The 'best' was when the note came down that my writing was so brilliant that it almost disguises the fact that the ending didn't work, so cancel the script. To be fair, the subject matter of the script was difficult and the gravitational pull of the story was towards an ending that no-one wanted. And the next sentence on that note was an instruction to hire me for another script immediately.

More recently I was fired off a show. Well, more that my contract was up for renewal and they declined to offer me a new one. The reasons given were that I didn't take notes and couldn't write for the regular characters. I'm so glad that after writing more than 30 episodes of this hour long show someone finally noticed that I couldn't write for the regular characters. Especially the ones I was involved in creating. Funnily enough, I'm currently writing again for that show.

VincentS said...

"I always got to my high school reunions because the women who rejected me for dates are now fat old hags." -Tony Randall

Jahn Ghalt said...

I don’t consider any of my screenplays rejected, just “not having sold yet”.\

LOVE that attitude. Is it time to try and sell "I Dream of Gina" again?

Of course, you'd let a producer do the legwork - and why not the same studios (it's been nearly 15 years - many of those execs are GONE).

Of course we have new "studios" these days - Netflix and Prime being 'famous' ones.

Why not make a few calls and blow the dust off??