Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Handling Rejection in the Entertainment Industry as a Professional… and Non-Professional. (Part 2)



Below are some Excerpts taken from Screenwriters (no names, just their real words) responding to their scripts being rejected by me (evaluating their screenplays as a Film Producer).


"From everything you said in your email, you had your mind made up."  


"I hate to be put in this kind of position where someone like you lacks merit and is a poor, very poor judgement of character."  


"You are literally the only person, whether actor, writer, or professional note giver (and two have read this script), to say that my characters all sound alike and are one-dimensional."  


"You don't pull any punches. You sound like you’re attacking me personally. I guess that's your role and part, to exclude, degrade, and insult an innocent person like me."  


"I’m a nice person by default, but this doesn’t make me a pushover. I don’t see any reason to destroy another person’s work."  


"I challenge you to eat some of my truth as I admit to eating some of yours. Understanding and admitting I have started to climb, but knowing I still have room to always improve, I do hope we can continue from here. That's all up to you. Perhaps we both can learn."


Let me contrast the above quotes from wannabe screenwriters with how I handled rejection at a critical point in my career.
This story takes place years ago, when it was still possible as an uncredited screenwriter to sell pitches.

The executive was Jason Hoffs, a VP at Dreamworks SKG. We (my writing partner at the time was James Bonny) had been pitching to Jason for three years running, at least four different projects during that time. However, every pitch ended with the same result – rejection. A pass from him and his studio.
Now we had a new pitch for a project titled, “Alien Zoo.”
The producer who was shopping the project with us, Robert Lawrence, asked us if we could pitch a different executive at Dreamworks, someone who he had set up projects with before. But I insisted on pitching Jason Hoffs, the same executive who had turned down our previous four pitches. Why?
Why go back to the executive who rejected me?
Here’s my answer — Even though Jason had rejected our previous pitches, I honestly felt he loved what we were doing. He couldn’t sell what we pitched him to the higher ups, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t being sincere with his enthusiasm. And perhaps more importantly, I believed I had learned something new about Jason (and
Dreamworks) every time we pitched to him. All four times, after hearing the rejections from him, I had the same reaction – the next time I pitch Jason, the result will be different. And I certainly felt this way about the latest pitch, “Alien Zoo.” In many ways, the project was developed with his sensibilities in my mind.
We pitched to Jason Hoffs on Day Two, of a Two-Day campaign where we hit all the major studios and production companies with our pitch for “Alien Zoo.” Jason heard our pitch in the morning and called our agent immediately, telling him that he loved the project and was going to pitch his boss… Steven Spielberg. 
At the end of the day, our agent got another call from Jason telling him that he had pitched Steven our project and Spielberg wanted to hear the full pitch the next morning. By this time, “Alien Zoo” had already gotten a wonderful offer from Disney Studios. We decided to put off closing that deal so we could pitch “Alien Zoo” to the top director in town. The next day, after a pitch meeting with Steven Spielberg, we closed a writing deal for our project, “Alien Zoo” with Steven Spielberg’s studio, Dreamworks. The payday was $350,000. We would have made a lot more if the project got made as a movie, but to date it still has not happened. 

Do I have regrets looking back? Yeah, for sure. 
I wish I was as smart and creative then as I am now as a screenwriter. I firmly believe I would have gotten a movie made from my pitch.  
Complaints? None. 
I ended up working with some huge people in the entertainment industry on that project, an experience that ended up influencing my entire career. 
And I got paid a lot of money allowing me to keep on going as a professional screenwriter; and become a professional producer as well.

But here’s the point in relating this story – my success with “Alien Zoo” began with a choice to pitch to Jason Hoffs, a movie executive who had previously “rejected” my work. 
The guy who rejected me four times ended up being my hero. 
My life changed because of Jason Hoffs.

This is what handling rejection the right way can do for your writing career. 

The Next Post: Rejection - Pt. 3 

Four Basic Ways to handle rejection