To Live and Die (of Encouragement) in L.A.

“We love the writing… but we hate the script.”

Okay, they never put it that way.  It’s usually something more along the lines of, “This is a great script, but it’s not quite what we’re looking for.  It’s too [insert relevant — or occasionally not so relevant — adjective here], but we really like your style.  What else do you have for us?”  And so you duly submit whatever else you’ve got that’s polished enough to not embarrass you, and one by one your babies are gunned down like ducks flying out of the marsh, doomed the instant they take flight.  But man, they love the way you write!

Actually, this is true.  They probably do love — or at least like — the way you write.  If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be giving you another shot.  Unless you’re holding a development exec’s iPhone hostage or blackmailing them with scandalous photos involving a Wonder Woman costume and loaf of French bread, they wouldn’t be wasting their time with a hopeless cause.  Given the choice between reading a script they know for a fact will suck and gouging out their eyeballs with a broken beer bottle, most readers would opt for the latter in a heartbeat.  Why do you think so many people wear sunglasses in Hollywood?

When you get the “I love your writing, but…” speech for the very first time, your heart soars.  “At least they love the writing!” you tell yourself, and you really do have reason to be proud — you’re in the game.  You’ve made another contact, another fan, somebody who wants to keep reading.  Now all you have to do is write a screenplay with a story that they actually love.

The trouble is, now all you have to do is write a screenplay with a story that they actually love.

During my first meet-and-greet at Disney, the executive said to me, “I really loved your script,” — a dark thriller about two brothers who plot to kill their abusive sheriff father in rural Iowa — “but it’s not a Disney movie.  I’m looking for projects like LIAR, LIAR.  High concept.  But you’re a great writer.  What are you working on now?”

I told him.  He responded, “Yeah, that’s not a Disney movie, either.”

I walked out of that meeting thinking, “Well, at least he liked the writing.”

Trouble is, I’ve had variations on that conversation ever since.

I’m not alone in this situation.  Many writers are in my position: good enough to get into the room, but not good enough to seal the deal.  Or so it seems, anyway.  They’ve had just enough validation to not give up in despair, but they haven’t gotten lucky enough to make that sale or land that assignment yet.


There are so many reasons why a script is rejected.  Now don’t get me wrong — sometimes your script contains a fatal flaw or two (or ten) that cause a reader to pass.  Everybody writes a clunker at some point.  But many times, a pass has nothing to do with the script itself — maybe the production company has a similar project that’s in development.  The company has depleted its development fund for the year and can’t shell out for another script until January — by which point your contact will have read roughly eight million other specs, even though it’s six weeks away.  Your contact has just been fired.  The exec to whom you submitted your script just caught his girlfriend sleeping with his personal trainer and really isn’t in the mood to read about love conquering all in a romantic comedy, unless your story happens to end with the cuckolded hero beating a musclebound gym rat to death with a fifty pound weight.  Or, most likely, you’ve simply submitted a good script that just doesn’t fit with the producer’s current slate of projects, no matter how well-crafted it may be.

So what’s a writer to do in a case like this?

Keep going.  Submit the script elsewhere.  Get to work on the next spec.  Stop thinking about all the variables that are beyond your control and focus on the one variable that you have dominance over at this point: the quality of the work.  Keep the faith that eventually, the planets will align and you will send the right script to the right person at the right time.

What are the chances?  Pretty astronomical.  But screenwriting’s like the lottery — you gotta be in it to win it.  And occasionally remind yourself that just being in it is pretty exciting.

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3 Comments on “To Live and Die (of Encouragement) in L.A.”

  1. Man, WriterDad, are we, like, the same person?

    I understand this scenario intimately.

    Your advice is worthy, though. It’s a volume business–volume of work, volume of exposure. Sometime, somewhere, something’s gonna click with someone.

    I have this little “Successories” plaque in my office. I know that I’m way too cool to display such a cliche thing, but this one really spoke to me. It says: “DETERMINATION–The race is not always to the swift…but to those who keep on running.”

    In my limited experience, aside from the anomalous Cinderella story one hears about once in a blue moon, everyone I’ve ever met in Hollywood who’s done anything–there most common attribute is they stuck around. Not to say that they’re not talented and smart. But they’ve kept on running.

    Anyway…great post. Thanks!

  2. Robb Says:

    And I thought it was just me. Everybody always wants to talk about what ELSE you have.

    Great post. Now get some sleep.

  3. writerdad303 Says:

    True Bill — thanks for the kind words! This realization — that the guys who stick it out for the long haul are the ones who often make it — was something that took me a while to come to terms with. When I came out here, I seriously thought that given the right opportunity, I’d be raking in the six figures by the end of my first year in LA. Then, around the eighth month, I lucked into the right opportunity which promptly passed me by, and it hit me: jeez, maybe this isn’t going to be so easy after all. It’s funny how the Cinderella stories are the carrots on the stick that draw hopefuls westward, but for my money, the best stories are the ones of writers who plug away for five, ten years and finally broke through one way or another. Of course, ten years ago, those were more like horror stories to me…

    Robb — Sleep? What’s sleep? 🙂 I’m glad/sorry you can relate to my experience.

    Thanks for commenting, guys!

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