Thursday, July 09, 2009

How to deal with rejection

Hello from Milwaukee where the Dodger road trip and Manny Ramirez traveling circus continues. Here are some Friday questions direct from the great Midwest.

From Scott Siegel:

What did you do about rejection or about disappointment or disgust from this business before you got a blog and could vent?

Yet another advantage of having a partner is you have someone to bitch with. But seriously, rejection always hurts – no matter how much success you’ve had. And there’s little comfort in knowing it’s all subjective, a lot of the people making the decisions are idiots, timing is sometimes wrong, etc.

But you have to somehow shake it off and move forward. Don’t dwell on it. If your pilot wasn’t greenlit don’t read the ones that were.

Sometimes rejection can turn out to be a good thing. Perhaps you know why a project was passed on and can use it as a learning experience. Sometimes you look back and thank God you didn’t get a certain job because a better one came along shortly afterwards.

But two coping methods have helped me.

1) Always have several projects you’re working on. Don’t put all your eggs into one cliché. You never know which project is going to hit. Plus, it gives you something to do while you wait for answers. I’ve always been a firm believer that you make your own momentum. Good things happen (often unexpectedly) when you stay busy.

2) Uber executive Barry Diller maintains that when a project of his fails, or a business deal doesn’t happen he always just says “Next?” Move on. The word “next?” is one of the most important in any writers’ vocabulary. Watch. I’m going to use it right now.


Craig M wonders:

When writing a script, do you plan for the time when the show will be rerun in syndication? Do do write a scene thinking, this is the one they can cut without harming the story?

Honestly, no. We never thought about what scene they could cut. Probably because we knew they’d cut the wrong one anyway.

But here was our take on syndication – if we knew we were writing an episode for a series that was likely to go into syndication we wrote as many of them as we could. On MASH, CHEERS, and FRASIER we always volunteered to write the episode through Christmas break or write the script that had an insane deadline even if it meant working around the clock. We put in extra nights, extra weekends, we cut vacations short. But we knew that every episode we wrote was going to keep paying off for years so it was well worth the extra effort.

And it’s very satisfying that work we did years ago is still being seen and enjoyed today. But it’s mostly the money.

It appears to be “Scott” day. Here’s one from Scott B.:

Are there any writers around town who have a reputation for accidentally "borrowing" or outright stealing from other shows or writers? How does a room deal with them? And have you ever discovered after the fact that you accidentally lifted something from another source?

Back in the 80s I knew a freelance drama writer who would go to the UCLA library and leaf through old TV GUIDES from the 60s and just lift stories from earlier shows. He had a successful career for quite a while. He's now out of the business.

One of the funniest writers I ever knew, Jerry Belson (I profile him here) , was working with us on CHEERS, pitched a joke that didn’t go over and defended it by saying, “this got a huge laugh on THE ODD COUPLE (a show he also wrote for).” When we said, “Jerry, you can’t pitch an ODD COUPLE joke he said, ‘hey, what went before is good too.” He was kidding of course but generally the practice is frowned upon. And if a writer is known to steal from other shows he’s quickly drummed out.

As for my partner and I accidentally lifting something from another source, that happened once on MASH. We found an interesting story in the research, wrote up an outline, and took it to our consultant Gene Reynolds. He suggested a way to tell the story. It was written, produced, and aired. MASH had just started re-running (Friday nights at midnight on CBS). Two nights after our episode aired my partner was watching the rerun from an early season and it was THE EXACT SAME SHOW. Only difference was Larry Gelbart did it better (duh). Amazingly, Gene never picked up on it, neither did any of the actors or the crew. It happens. But it’s still the most embarrassing moment of my career.

If you have a question or wish to reopen old wounds just leave it in the comments section. Thanks. I must get out now to eat some heavy German food.


Annie said...

when your writing a script, do you try to make it timeless? for example, Cheers could probably be aired today with some minor changes to certain episodes where political figures come on. but when you were writing that, were you thinking about writing something that will still make sense 20 years from now? if that makes any sense...

Liz said...

I remember a couple of MASH episodes that dealt with removing healthy kidneys from power-mad colonels to keep them from the front lines and sending back more wounded soldiers. One of those episodes was from the Hawkeye/Trapper years and the other came from the BJ years. Was that the one you are talking about?

Simon H. said...

Liz, you read my mind. Having watched both episodes in the last two months, I think you're right on the money. The one difference being Hawkeye and Trapper were only too happy to do it, while B.J. refused to help Hawkeye in the later episode.

Dan Borrelli said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Billy said...

When networking yourself as a writer, how do you sell yourself and still come off genuine and not pushy? Especially in those early days when you don't have credits to back you up.

Joe said... opposed to what other kind of German food?

Frank said...

What were the two Mash episodes?

Unknown said...

Why are the titles of shows not seen anymore?

Daws said...

@Liz I think it was the appendix, not the kidney.

Ken, when you're writing a feature script or a spec (not on a schedule for a show, I mean,) how long each day do you write? Do you write at the same time every day? In the same place? (Hunched over a MacBook at the local Starbucks?) Are there things you need (music, light, absence/presence of a certain noise) in order to write?

Mike said...

I, like others, just have to know: What are the two MASH episodes?

But here's my real Friday question: I've read that Shelley Long didn't announce she was leaving Cheers until halfway through the fifth season. That was after the whole engagement storyline had been put into place. So, if Long *hadn't* left, what would have happened with the engagement storyline? Was the plan to really marry Sam and Diane? If not, and Long had come back for season six, what do you think could have been done with the characters? Because while I prefer the Diane years to the Rebecca years, after five seasons, and everything that had taken place in those five seasons, I don't know where else the writers could have taken Sam and Diane without it seeming like more of the same.

Liz said...

Thanks Daws, you're right - it was the appendix. I don't know why I thought kidney. I've been watching a lot of House lately, maybe that's why.

Dana Gabbard said...

Jeff asked "Why are the titles of shows not seen anymore?"

Things are streamlined these days--although the trend to not have theme songs, title sequences and opening credits has eased a bit of late. And in any case episode titles show up on the net, DVDs, etc.

Kirk said...

About the BJ-era removing-the-appendix MASH episode. I remember seeing a PBS documentary years ago called THE MAKING OF MASH that explained that in the original script, Hawkeye and BJ removed the organ with no regrets whatsoever, but was changed because Mike Farrel found it objectionable.

Incidentally, I think there were TWO removing-the-appendix episodes from the Trapper John-era, for a total of three. One with Leslie Nielsen, the other with crazy army intelligence officer Captain Flagg.

Jeffrey Leonard said...

I had a Journalism professor in college who was very critical about anything involving comedy. So, one of the students in the class got fed up and took one of the better episodes of "The Dick Van Dyke Show" and turned in the script verbatum. The unknowing professor (who will remain unnamed)said it was crap and to re-write it. Go figure. We DID get the last laugh.

Ryan said...

Who is the artist who created Colonel Potter's paintings? And whatever happened to them?

Cap'n Bob said...

I saw a MASH recently where Radar does a John Wayne impersonation--with lines from a 1963 movie. Was he that prescient?

TCinLA said...

if you've ever wondered why it is that, when you watch any of the "Terminator" movies, the last credit reads "The Producers Wish To Recognize The Work Of Harlan Ellison," that is because James Cameron lifted major plot points from Harlan's "Outer Limits" scripts for the episodes "The Soldier" and "Demon With A Glass Hand."

Sad thing: Harlan's in the LA phone book, and had Mr. Cameron taken five minutes to call him and say "Mr. Ellison, I'm a young guy who grew up on your stuff, and I have written a screenplay that is inspired by your work, though it is certainly my own," Harlan would have said "great, just put
'Thanks to Harlan Ellison' at the end." No money, no nothing.

Instead, to this day Cameron will tell you this is a bogus credit, and he did no such thing. However, Cameron, his Producers, the Production Company and the Releasing Company kept admitting that they should put in such a credit, and kept not doing so, to which Harlan would respond by amending the complaint to add another $50K to the relief sought. In the end, he got a nice mid-upper 6-figure sum, which all came out of Cameron's paychecks. And that credit.

Remember this, kiddies, the next time you sign that statement you have to sign when you sell an original screenplay, wherein you certify that the story is your original creation, and you agree to hold harmless the production company and all other entities in the event of a successful plagiarism claim.

I tell you this story as the guy whose interview with Cameron had him on tape admitting to "inspiration" and "access", and the one and only person who had anything to do with this sordid tale who did not sign a confidentiality agreement. Had this case ever gone to trial, a whole new body of protection for writers under copyright law would have been created.

William Goldman advises new writers that "when you're starting out, steal from the best, and then make it your own." You should emphasize those last four words.

Peter Lynn said...

"Harlan would have said "great, just put 'Thanks to Harlan Ellison' at the end." No money, no nothing."

Are you sure you're talking about Harlan Ellison? That doesn't sound like the Harlan Ellison I know.

Anonymous said...

I was watching one of the really late period M*A*S*H episodes (years after you and David were gone) and noticed in the scenes where Hawkeye's trying to get the nurse to donate to the charity ledger in exchange for a date, they seem to be lighting her funny in the close-ups to keep one of her eyes in shadow. I recognized the actress as one of the St. Elsewhere regulars and have noticed on that show she had a lazy eye (although it wasn't as obvious as with the spacey pathologist).

I know on M*A*S*H they would deliberately hide Gary Burghoff's left hand, but how often do they do that kind of thing? Is this more requested from the actors or from the producers?

Brian K said...

Hi Ken,
Was the beer on Cheers real or fake? Did anybody ever put real beer or something that tasted bad in the mugs as a joke? I notice that the beer always looks the same is awfully pale like light beer. Didn't the bar have more than one kind of beer? Did you ever try to write Sam Adams beer into the script? - Brian

Daniel said...

This website has captured a lot of the tropes you have used.

How often does a writer resort to these tricks? Do you use a website like this for reference or is this the memory of all the writers in the room?
Did you have create a trope? Something like a Falwty Towers plot?

Unknown said...

TCinLA: No, that's not really how it works.

9 times out of 10, the insurer and/or completion bond company will, subsequent to reviewing the clearance report that they have done after each draft, conclude that such a "inspired by" credit be contained in the credits. Most especially in cases in which an arguable "source" - such as the case with Ellison - has a history of litigiousness in such matters.

And insurers as well as the major studios, who pick up liability for such claims when they buy or agree to distribute others' film projects, have been getting more and more agressive in insisting on these "inspired by" credits. For instance, for Rod Lurie's recent "Nothing But the Truth", the insurer insisted on having a disclaimer "This story was inspired by actual events, but there is no real person involved"-type language NOW at the BEGINNING of the film, standing alone, because Judith Miller's attorneys sent threatening letters during production.

In the recent past, and historically, the studio would have been completely safe if this disclaimer appeared at the end of the credits - as is standard language in all other films. Not so anymore.

Unknown said...

"I tell you this story as the guy whose interview with Cameron had him on tape admitting to "inspiration" and "access", and the one and only person who had anything to do with this sordid tale who did not sign a confidentiality agreement. Had this case ever gone to trial, a whole new body of protection for writers under copyright law would have been created."

Easy there, kiddo. No, it wouldn't have.

Greg Stacy . said...

The two "removing the appendix" episodes are interesting for how they contrast early MASH and later MASH. In the early episode, Hawkeye and Trapper treat removing a healthy appendix as a lark, there's no second-guessing it. In the later episode, Hawkeye does it over BJ's objections, and it's pretty tense and dramatic. It's probably one of Hawkeye's most morally ambiguous moments in the whole series. I actually prefer middle and late MASH to the early stuff. I LIKED it when MASH got "preachy," the show had a lot of heart and smarts to it. The early stuff is great too, but it doesn't have the same depth. I always assumed the later episode was a deliberate remake, like the show's creators were saying, "You know that bogus operation they did early on? Yeah, that wasn't cool. Let's try that again..."