Just My Point of View…
Just My Point of View…
by Michael B. Druxman
SOME THOUGHTS ABOUT REJECTION
“Thank you for submitting your script. Unfortunately, it does not fit our needs at this time.”
Every writer has received letters like that. They’re called rejection letters. I have a whole drawer full of them.
If you’re a writer, they come with the territory.
But, the interesting thing about rejection within the film industry is that, quite often, the negative response really has nothing to do with the quality of the script.
It’s like with actors.
Generally speaking, actors get rejected much more often than writers. That’s because they go out and audition many more times than we submit scripts.
They can get rejected on almost a daily basis.
Is it because they they’re bad actors?
Not necessarily. More often than not, it’s because they don’t fit the preconceived idea of how the director sees a particular role.
Having directed both stage and film productions, I can tell you that I did not always use the better actor. I cast the actor who was best suited to play the role as I saw it.
On the other hand, there were one or two occasions where an actor came in and gave a reading that totally blew me away to the point where I reevaluated the way I saw the role, so I cast him.
It’s no different with screenwriters.
Producers and directors have preconceived ideas of what they’re looking for, and quality of writing is often not at the top of their list.
Indeed, didn’t director Tim Burton say something like, “I wouldn’t know a good script if it jumped up and bit me on the face.”
If you want to sell your script, the one place where you do not want to submit it is to the story department of a major studio. Those departments are a direct route to a rejection letter.
Many years ago, when I was just starting out, I was friendly with the Head Story Editor at Columbia Pictures. I know that she liked my writing because, although she never bought one of my scripts, she encouraged me to send her everything that I wrote.
One day, she told me a “secret”. She said that during the three years that she’d been with the studio, not one script that had been introduced via the Story Department had ever been produced.
Indeed, their job was to say, “No!”.
Okay, if you’re not going to sell your script via the Story Department, then where do you go?
How about a studio’s Director of Development?
They’re executives. They’re the ones who make the decisions, right?
Most of these executives are simply glorified story editors. They can find a project that they like, but they have no authority to actually purchase it, let alone get it produced. They have to bring it to their superior who, more likely than not, has to bring it to somebody above them for approval.
A Director of Development friend of mine, who has worked for several of the major studios, confides: “Senior executives don’t like to read scripts. They tell you to be miserly when it comes to giving a ‘thumbs up,’ which means that if you recommend something and your boss doesn’t like it, you’re really going to be in the doghouse with him.
“The bottom line is that it’s safer to say ‘no,’ because if you say ‘yes,’ you have to defend your position. Sometimes, if you’re overloaded with scripts to read, you say ‘no’ without even looking at the script.”
Not very encouraging, is it?
Over the years, I’ve found that the best way to get your script “into play” is to get it directly to a producer, director or star who will adopt it as his own. Then, you let that person become the project’s “champion”. Let him take the project to [his] contacts, who are probably in a much better position to say, “yes,” than anybody that you know.
Let’s say that you (or your agent) are able to get your screenplay to said producer, director or star. He or she is not going to just pick up the script and read it. First, they are going to give it to “their reader” for coverage.
There are, essentially, two kinds of readers that you will find working here. You have the producer/director/star’s personal reader, which is the one that you want. They’ve worked for their boss for a long time; know his tastes and what kind of script he’s after. Getting this person to read your screenplay is almost as good as getting it read by his boss. If they like it, the boss will definitely hear about it.
Then, there is another kind of house reader. These are folks that work as secretaries, assistants, interns and gofers in an agency or small production company. Often, they are college students or recent graduates and/or wannabe writers who are looking for a foothold into the film business. Indeed, sometimes their boss will just hand them a script; ask them to read it and tell him what they think.
You do not want your script covered by this kind of reader. Usually, they are very young (not a bad thing in itself), but they also have their own agenda; their own criteria about what is a viable script and what isn’t that is about as close to the realities of the movie business as Kansas is to Oz.
Five will get you ten: These people will definitely give your script a “thumbs down”.
The sad thing is that their employers, who are too lazy to read a script themselves, have given these readers the power to reject a script…based on their own personal tastes.
True story: A few years ago, I wrote what, for a time, was considered a “hot” script. A couple of important producers were very interested in it, an up-and-coming star was attached and the project was in play at one of the major studios. In fact, all of that studio’s junior executives had approved the project and it had gone all the way up to the head guy who had the power to “green light” it.
Unfortunately, he passed. I was told later that his decision was a political, rather than an artistic one, but that’s not the point. The important factor here was that I had written a good script that many important people in the film industry liked.
A year or so goes by. My longtime agent had died and I was looking for new representation. I spoke to an agent at a major agency and he asked me to send over a writing sample.
I sent over my one-time hot script. The agent gave it to a reader, who also worked in the agency mailroom, for coverage.
That reader hated the script. He thought it was “sexist” because the female lead was a ditz. He ripped it apart in his coverage.
I spoke to the agent again; told him about all the important folks who had liked the script.
“Sorry,” the agent said. “If my reader doesn’t like the script, I’m certainly not going to waste my time with it.”
You figure it out.
So, what’s the point of this tirade?
Don’t let rejection letters discourage you. Quite possibly, the rejection has nothing whatever to do with the quality or marketability of your script.
Just send it out again.
But, that’s just my point of view.
Michael B. Druxman is a screenwriter-director whose credits include Cheyenne Warrior (1994), Dillinger and Capone (1995) and The Doorway (2000). He is also a produced playwright (Lombard, Jolson, etc.), a published novelist, (Murder in Babylon, Jackie Goes to Dixie, etc.), and the author of The Art of Storytelling, which is used as a writing textbook in several schools and colleges.
©Michael B. Druxman