by Fi Dieter
The first few leaves are crunching on the ground; A sign that Summer is at its end, and with it, the hopes of many aspiring writers and writer/directors. That’s right. The end of Summer is when several major contests and fellowships announce the lucky few that “made the cut of greatness” this year. And that leaves a waterfall of rejections and feelings of doom heading toward the rest of us. Yay! Nicholl, Screencraft, Pipeline— they all called you derivative. Is your story any good at all? Was it ever? Should you stash your script with the dirty socks and never look at it again? Are the notes even worth addressing? And who are these readers anyway? What do they know?
No matter how overwhelmed you may become by such feelings and thoughts, here are a couple of things to remember when rejection inevitably makes itself part of your artistic journey.
FIRST UP, THOUGH!
Who are you being rejected by? Really. I often make the case that it’s entirely subjective. You never know if the reason your work gets rejected has nothing to do with you. It could have everything to do with a randomly-assigned reader (imagine the Bubble Bass character from SpongeBob) having a horrible day and not connecting with your stakes because your protagonist’s mother reminds them of their own. Alternatively, the person in charge of your rejection might simply have a minimal understanding of the world or your subject matter. What’s important is to realize that having your unique perspective matters enough not to give up on it based on J.R. Whoever just “not getting it.” Remember that you never know who’s reading your work and under what emotional circumstances. And don’t throw it all away based on the bad outcomes.
Sometimes rejection can be a byproduct of our work being sent out before it’s ready. And in that case, a good thing to do is to go back to why you cared to tell that particular story in the first place. Have a crystal-clear notion of what it’s about, and consider all notes that seem to understand your vision for the project. You want to weigh in the feedback of people you trust on a personal and a professional level to make your project stronger and understand what may not be working. Constantly evaluate how actionable any particular notes are and how well the note-giver understands or cares about what you’re trying to do. I highly suggest working with an independent script consultant before exploring bigger coverage services and competitions, many of which can be predatory, if the feeling is that your material isn’t quite ready yet.
At the risk of sounding like a motivational infomercial, only you can decide to keep chasing your artistic dream. And if you give it up, you are 100% guaranteeing it won’t happen. As opposed to? You literally never know. You don’t know what will happen if you take the next year to stage readings and hear your work out loud, refine your scenes and make them more athletic and action-driven, or add another layer of depth to your underwritten female characters. And that is the beauty of this industry. You never know. That same script that got you a hundred rejections could start a bidding war for you or land you that big agent. But only if you have the diligence to stick with the work.
SOME MORE TIPS
The reality is that nobody will believe in your work harder than you have to believe in it to see it through. So you have to be honest about what you’re really in this grind for. Is it for a shot at fame and success? Or because you believe that the story you want to tell matters? A little bit of both? I like to think that any answer can be right, as long as it makes sense for you to stick with it. Someone will see your work someday, and their life will be saved because you didn’t give up.
Furthermore, chances are your script hasn’t even scratched the surface of Hollywood through the outreach you’ve had so far. There could very well be someone out there who’s looking precisely for what you have. My advice? Learn how to pitch your story like a pro and network wherever you are. Tell everyone you can about your story. But do so with the intention of sharing. NOT SELLING. The difference between the two matters a lot. Focus on letting others see why you’re passionate about the subject and practice talking about it. If the universal laws of Tinseltown are true, you never know.
And if you already have one well-developed sample in any given format and genre, start thinking of developing a second script in the same wheelhouse. If you can do it twice, very well done, it’ll indicate to those with door-opening powers that you can do it many times over.
What nobody tells you about rejection is that it will never not affect how we view our work, at least temporarily. But a huge part of being ready for the industry involves showing up and being the biggest advocates for ourselves and our work. That involves not just defending our artistic choices, but having the strength and the courage to address what can be improved. If we realize that feedback on our work is not intrinsically tied to our worth as artists and human beings, the result is a much more wholesome creative process. So even if rejection comes knocking on your door this Summer, you can confidently invite it in, acknowledge it for a minute, and then get straight back to work.