Thursday, June 15, 2006


Dealing with rejection is never easy. Especially when starting out. Barry Diller (the Dali Lama of sharks) 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 FROM JUSTIN TO KELLY? 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”. (And portions of them make nifty blog entries. Thanks again for all the nice comments on I DREAM OF GINA.)



Barefoot Billy Aloha said...

"...never let your worth be decided by someone else."

Fine words to work by.

Remember, folks: Most of the people we run into are C students...


Beth Ciotta said...

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

A dose of positive atitude to go with my morning coffee. Nice. :)

Scribe LA said...

Excellent! Bernie Brillstein is also a fantastic source of "Next?!" energy. His memoir, "Where Did I Go Right?: You're No One In Hollywood Unless Someone Wants You Dead" should be required reading.

Anonymous said...

I remember hearing that Tom Palmer, who eventually went to on to become an executive producer on MURPHY BROWN, wrote at least a dozen sitcom specs before convincing someone his stuff was worth looking at. His breakthrough, a CHEERS spec entitled "The Shrine" is still passed around at sitcom writing workshops (or at least was when I was living in LA) as an example of a unique story hook that would make people sit up and take notice. I heard of another writer (name not known to me) who wrote nearly 40 specs before he got a shot. I was also told by John Ratzenberger's wife Georgia that David Angell went nearly 5 years with only an occasional spec sold before he got his break as a writer on CHEERS. I guess it's a combination of all three -- talent, persistence and determination that'll ultimately get you work -- three things that somehow I haven't yet been able to coordinate...

VP81955 said...

Remember, folks: Most of the people we run into are C students...

Trouble is, in the TV industry they tend to be Harvard "C" students, and as such think they're inherently superior to "A" students from public colleges...

(Peter Mehlman tackled the Harvard issue in a memorably acerbic episode of his underrated post-"Seinfeld" sitcom, "it's like, you know...")

Lloyd Thaxton said...

Dear Ken:

Please help me with this regarding someone passing on one of my projects. When it happens, I lie on my back, kick my feet and scream for about an hour. And this is on the floor in front of the person's desk.

Is this normal ... or what?

Will it hurt my career?

Lloyd (sob) Thaxton


By Ken Levine said...

Dear Lloyd,

What you described is very acceptable behavior. It's how I proposed.

The Minstrel Boy said...

aside to lloyd thaxton. thanks for all that wonderful music. you were a god on the air in san diego. your show was mandatory on our surfing trips.
one of the things i am happiest about with my career as a musician is that, at least in the area of jingles and soundtracks, i am offer only. it made a huge difference to me emotionally to be able to say "I don't audition."