Saturday, February 22, 2020

Weekend Post

Our first agent wasn’t very good. When David Isaacs and I were starting out, writing spec scripts, living on Kraft macaroni, and trying to break in we managed to get an agent. She was a legitimate WGA signatory but she wasn’t top tier. She wasn’t third tier. But shows would accept her submissions, which was all we really needed.

She sent our spec MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW to the great David Lloyd, who was one of their producers. When she didn’t hear back in a few weeks she sent him a blistering following up.

Several days later he responded. It was a rejection letter. The opening sentence was:


He then went on for three paragraphs to rip her a new asshole for questioning his integrity and accusing him of shirking his responsibilities.

Almost as an afterthought, he finally got to our script in the fourth paragraph and basically said it was a complete amateurish piece of shit (although I don’t think he put it that nicely).

Years later we worked together on CHEERS and I mentioned the letter. David being David, he said, “Well, I’m sure it was a piece of shit.”

I’m also sure he was right.

You won’t be surprised to learn that once we got our first assignment (that this agent had nothing to do with), we moved on to more reputable representation.

In my career, I’ve been on the other side numerous times. I’ve been the one reading and judging. I always write nice rejection letters, even if the script sucks eggs. I feel that good, bad, or indifferent, the person (or team) went to the effort of writing a script and the least I could do is let them down easy.

Plus, who’s to say I’m always right? I’m not. Along the way, I’ve rejected a few great people who went on to long and successful careers.  When a writer friend of mine was story editor on ARCHIE BUNKER’S PLACE he rejected a script by the Coen Brothers. It happens to all of us.

So when you get rejected – and we all do – take heart. You never know who’s going to turn out to be an A-lister.

My favorite story of that was from Larry Gelbart. Larry was one of the most gifted and successful writers of the last half-century. Among his credits: creating the TV version of MASH, TOOTSIE, OH GOD!, FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM, SLY FOX, CITY OF ANGELS, CAESAR’S HOUR – it goes on and on. But when he was 18 he had a screen test for an acting part in a George Cukor movie at MGM. He did his test, he wasn’t chosen, and that was that. Many years later when he was an accomplished writer he happened to bump into Cukor at a party. He told him the story and Cukor said to him, “Well why didn’t you tell me who you were going to be?”

Good luck and may you become who you hope to be.


PolyWogg said...

As I follow writing blogs and similar musings, I frequently see the frequent roll-up of people who "blew it" in not choosing someone's book or hiring someone, blah blah blah. The storyline is usually that "even so and so didn't take JK Rowling's book" kind of message.

Except there is no "universal" arbiter of what worked or not. In your example, the guy thought the submission was a PoS, and for him, it was. Doesn't mean somebody else wouldn't have loved it. Kind of like Coen brothers. Could have been equally a PoS from his perspective.

In the writing world, the phrases they frequently seem to use are something that it doesn't fit their current needs or that they don't see how to market it. And then people twist that around to mean something else ... when in fact, it means exactly what they said. Not every rejection is a condemnation of your abilities.

On behalf of writers everywhere, including the sensitive among them, thanks for letting them down easy. Even if we misconstrue the meaning anyway.


Kirk said...

Ha! That's a great line by Cukor. He could have been a comedy writer himself.

Gary said...

You just never know. Remember the Decca record executive who turned down The Beatles? His rationale: "Guitar groups are on the way out."

MikeN said...

Maybe they shouldn't be let down easy, because encouraging them will cause them to waste more time on something they will never be good at.

Norm MacDonald was on Last Comic Standing, and he told a contestant,
'You're incapable of telling a joke'.
"I'll work on that."
"No, you don't understand. I said you're INCAPABLE of telling a joke."

Doug Thompson said...

Ken, I was Head Writer/producer on John Candy's weekly radio show in 1989-1991 and when we were launching, John had his agency send over comedy writers to possibly hire, For the show (which also played music), we created parody promos, commercials, skits etc...very much like SCTV on radio. Had everyone from SCTV on doing guest bits, except for Rick Moranis (who lives in New York and we were based in LA). Joe Flaherty, Dave Thomas and Marty Short's brother Mike Short were regular writers. So this guy comes in with sample parody material prepared. It was not good. Didn't fit the show at all.

I passed on him. But he certainly redeemed himself and went on to bigger and better things. His name....Lary Charles! Larry became a writer/producer/Executive Producer on "Seinfeld", "Entourage", "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and many other comedic gems including "Larry Charles Dangerous World Of Comedy".

DBenson said...

This inspires a Friday question: Do you know of writers or performers who may have suffered because they DIDN'T get rejected? I don't mean the usual too-much-too-soon flameout, but the promising talent who's not quite ready. What if you and your partner somehow landed one of your first efforts, then struggled because you didn't understand the process and/or simply hadn't written enough to recognize and fix problems? Does that close doors later, even if you become way better?

Honest Ed said...

Yep. When I was producing in the UK I had this experience albeit more with directors. I recall passing on two directors, one reasonably experienced who went on to direct a major piece of TV drama and some Hollywood movies, another who went on to become a very famous movie director. In the latter case, I could see that he was very talented but it was at the start of his career and I felt that he'd struggle with our schedule and wasn't right for the show. You can't hire everyone and even when you pass on someone hugely talented it doesn't mean it was the wrong decision for your show.