(First posted on the Bang2Write Website 14th December, 2014)
Those of you who attended London Screenwriters Festival this past October and succeeded in getting synopsis and script-read requests from Producers at Pitchfest may be starting to get rejection messages round about now. I know I am. Rejection is unpleasant. Nobody likes it. But know this: even those who’ve “made it” experience rejection on a regular basis.
I spoke to three industry pros to get their take on this thorny issue:
-star writer/director HOSSEIN AMINI - Our Kind of Traitor, Two Faces of January, Drive…
-veteran British producer PAUL WEBSTER – Pan, Locke, Eastern Promises…
-award-winning Hollywood writer/producer ARIANNA EISENBERG - Jemiyah Jones YA novels, Inside Pandora’s Box, Mata Hari: Her True Story… Between them, they gave me SIX reasons producers will reject an otherwise well-written script which are nothing to do with YOU the writer: 1. They only produce concepts generated in-house
2. Their slate is already full
3. They are already producing a similar concept
4. It’s not their genre or doesn’t fit with their brand
5. The scale of the film doesn’t match their budget range
6. It’s unlikely to provide the kind of return their financial backers expect.
What can you as a writer do to minimise the risk of your script being rejected for one of these six reasons? ¡¡MARKET RESEARCH!!
Find out about producers, their taste in films and the size of their deals. There’s loads of information out there, on that Internet-thingie – all for FREE! Filmmaking is a business. If you want to be part of it, you need to understand it.
MAKE REJECTION WORK FOR YOU
Growing that proverbial thick-skin is as essential to making it as a screenwriter as the ability to write, network and pitch. The best writers use rejection as a way to energise them to do better.
“Rejection should feed your rage, your sense of self-righteousness,” says Paul. “It should also make you grown up and pragmatic: always have the next project on the boil… Always have an alternative and don't let your belief in an idea become an obsession - unless of course you are from the Werner Herzog school of self-belief in which case your absolute single-minded belief and desire will move mountains (or haul ferry boats up them) and you'll get it done or die trying.”
Hossein reminds us, “Even once you make it, you’re still not out of the woods as far as rejection is concerned. You may have one of your re-writes rejected, or you may not like the film the director creates from your script, or if you do like the film, the critics and/or public may not take to it. Rejection happens at every stage and at every level.”
Arianna agrees. “At the studio level, there can be upwards of 25 to 30 rewrites on a script. If you’re lucky you may be able to get “notes” from a producer as to what they would have done differently. Critique is not criticism. It’s an opportunity to hear another’s POV and to make changes where applicable. Change can only make it better.” Here are FIVE tactics our three industry pros use:
1)Let yourself feel the pain for an hour or so, then move on. Get over yourself!
2)Immerse yourself in books and films and fall in love with storytelling all over again.
3)Find the silver-lining – even though the producer rejected your script, did they say something positive about your work?
4)Remind yourself that even the most successful writers and filmmakers have experienced shed-loads of rejection. (Hossein particularly recommends reading “Smoking In Bed: Conversations With Bruce Robinson”.)
5)Change it up, add to it, take away from it, do more research, put in more detail – keep trying to make your writing better, always better.
KEEP WRITING The longer you keep going the more likely you are to (a) get better at screenwriting and (b) come to the notice of someone who will make all the difference in your career. It took Hossein 4-5 years! “I experienced a lot of rejection,” he says. “None of my friends who started writing at the same time as me are still writing today. It’s so easy to give up at any stage!”
“Don't give up, don't ever give up BUT also make sure that your belief has some basis in reality,” Paul advises. “Make sure your friends and supporters tell you the truth and that your persistence is justified.”
“My father told me years ago that the only reason you won’t succeed is because you quit,” Arianna says. “It doesn’t matter if you get a thousand rejections – the only one that matters is the one who says “YES!” At that point all the others fade to black!”
One of my uncles calls me, “Kim the Intrepid”. Adventures include an African revolution, questioning by the KGB/FSB and being guest of honour at a Turkmen wedding. What else would I want to do but write?