If you can’t handle criticism, rejection, and failure… don’t type FADE IN…
January 30, 2017 § Leave a comment
You’ll do yourself a big favor by dealing with rejection, criticism, and failure at the start of your journey because you’ll have to deal with these big three your entire career. The process doesn’t get easier even when you finally do become a working professional either. It actually gets more difficult, as there is more at stake because you’re getting paid and it’s your career with credits and a reputation on the line. The expectations are much higher and your “failure” at this professional level could cost you the job, a lot of money, and your reputation.
This is why early in your screenwriting journey, you must recognize the only part of this crazy business that you really do have control over is the process of your screenwriting. Only you control if you sit down and create new material or not and much of everything else is out of a screenwriter’s control. Even if you do sell a project, there are a myriad of scenarios out of your control that can kill it from moving forward: Lack of financing, a change in the marketplace, the executives get fired and the company loses interest, talent pulls out to do something else, or the producers change their minds about moving forward. So much can happen before a script goes into production. It’s a business with “No guarantees”—even with a contract and a start date.
Insecurities and fear still creep in, but you learn to deal with these negative emotions because you’ve been writing for years and know your strengths and weaknesses. Expectations are high of professionals, so you learn how to write under a deadline at the top of your game and deliver quality material. You’ll become a team player, an expert at delivering rewrites efficiently and fixing the script without ego. The professional writer can’t be upset about criticism or rejection—those emotions can’t get in the way of the process of screenwriting—there’s just too much at stake.
You also need to accept the hard reality that you may toil away writing scripts for years that no one will ever buy. I’m not trying to be a killjoy, but alert you to the reality of the business. Many beginning screenwriters believe their journey will be different—they will sell their first script and end up with a three-picture deal without much effort and they won’t have to write for years to become a master at their craft. That may happen, but the odds are against you and the film business has a funny way of humbling screenwriter’s with unrealistic attitudes.
It’s a competitive and crowded marketplace with nearly 50,000 scripts bouncing around Hollywood in any given year and only 5,159 professional screenwriters in the WGAw reported any income last year—the other half did not work. Much of your early material will probably not sell but help build and establish you into an excellent screenwriter. Even when you do manage an option or sale, the project could languish in development hell where you get paid, but doesn’t make it to the big or small screen. Every script you complete makes you a better writer, even if it doesn’t sell. Your goal is a continual mastering of your craft. Knowing these pitfalls will help you survive the journey for the long haul.
When you do receive feedback and it’s very critical or brutal, don’t look at it as failure and become insecure. Don’t allow yourself to go to a dark place feeling, “Look at the amount of notes. It proves that I’m a horrible writer and I’ll never work or sell a script.” Use the experience at motivation to fix the script or move to writing your next project. Most likely your first screenplay will be a bit of a mess and that’s okay. It may take you five or six scripts to even discover yourself as a screenwriter—exploring your strengths, weaknesses, and your style. I didn’t make any noise until my fourth spec script and looking back on it now, I cringe at my beginner’s mistakes and poor choices. It wasn’t until six years out of film school and my fifth spec script that finally put me on the map with my first sale and eventual produced film.
As a screenwriter you will also have to stay open to constructive criticism. You will always receive notes as a screenplay is an ever-changing blueprint for a movie—even more in the development process. Once producers, a director and actors get involved there will be many changes and you should welcome the creative input from your co-creators on a project. You’ll need to be a team player and “ultimate collaborator” in the true definition of the word and this is the opportunity to show everyone your value to the project. There still is a good chance that the project can get dragged down by so many changes and you become frustrated and feel like throwing in the towel. Stay positive and work through these harrowing times. Stay focused and persistent at executing the notes and turning in a better script. Find the passion you had for the first draft and put that energy into shaping a new draft that will please not only yourself, but the talent it will eventually attract and keep interested.
As for rejection and failure, embrace them because there is no escape from it on your screenwriting journey. The times when you fail are tests to see if you really have what it takes to endure the long slog of establishing a career as a working screenwriter. Failure and success is the Yin and Yang of any artistic journey. We can only cherish the hard work it takes to achieve success, because we’ve been able to take the punches and body blows that failure delivers. If you listen to any successful person, they will discuss the many failures they’ve experienced, perhaps years of failure to get to the success you see from them today.
Stare failure down and do not be afraid of it. Every “failure” is a chance to learn and ultimately it’s all your point of view about it anyway, right? You may see that not selling your script as failure, but what if it became a solid writing sample that got you a screenwriting assignment job? How would that original “failure” look to you now? When “failure” does come, and it will, you’ll be ready and take the blows and you’ll get back up, stare at the blank page and start the process all over again. Failure loves to knock out screenwriters, it hates those who get before a “ten count” and start screenwriting again.
As you navigate this crazy film business, know that your screenwriting journey is a long marathon to any type of success and forging a career usually doesn’t happen overnight. If you are in this for the long haul, it will require tremendous patience and endless tenacity. You’ll have to learn how to deal with rejection, criticism, and failures along the way to your successes. Even becoming a better writer does not happen overnight and requires you to continually write, learn and create projects that will ultimately not sell.
Your journey as a screenwriter will be a series of failures and mistakes, triumphs and successes, and when added up will hopefully lead to a career as a working screenwriter in Hollywood. The process will be long and difficult, but if you have patience and respect for your craft and the challenges ahead, you can focus on your love for the craft and your projects and not the urgency of success.
Copyright 2017 Written by Mark Sanderson on blog MY BLANK PAGE
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“You must have a room, or a certain hour or so a day, where you don’t know what was in the newspapers that morning, you don’t know who your friends are, you don’t know what you owe anybody, you don’t know what anybody owes to you. This is a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be. This is the place of creative incubation. At first you may find that nothing happens there. But if you have a sacred place and use it, something eventually will happen”—Joseph Campbell
“Screenwriting is such a very special branch of literature. In some ways, it’s closer to the poetic form than it is to the dramatic. A lot of writers think that they write down to an audience if they do a motion-picture script.”—John Huston
“When I first meet with the scriptwriter, I ask him what is the story about—what do you see—what was your intention?”—Sidney Lumet
“There are two kinds of scenes: Pet the Dog Scene & Kick the Dog scene. The studio always wants a “Pet the Dog” scene so everybody can tell who the hero is.”—Paddy Chaydfsky
“There are no minor decisions in movie making. Each decision will either contribute to a good piece of work or bring the whole movie crashing down around my head many months later.”—Sidney Lumet
“People come to you and say, “Boy we love your work. We love this and we want to buy it.” Then, as soon as they buy it, the teeth come out. You become not the father of the work, but the stepfather. All of a sudden, you’re an outsider, a villain. I have often said to people, “Look, I’ll do the script for free for you if you’ll shoot my mistakes instead of yours. My mistakes are better.”—Ray Bradbury, interview in Conversations with The Great Moviemakers of Hollywood’s Golden Age at the American Film Institute.