Friday, June 04, 2010

Waiting To Hear Back From People

Whenever I get asked what's happening in my work life at the moment, I almost inevitably answer 'I'm waiting to hear back on a few things', because I almost inevitably am. I've even upgraded my little 'waiting to hear back from' spreadsheet, so it now includes name, production company and whatever project I'm waiting to hear back from them about. However, if I was honest, I would take that spreadsheet and throw it into the sea (I suppose it would have to be a virtual sea, maybe one of the ones in Warcraft or something), because 'waiting to hear back from people' is THE BIGGEST WASTE OF TIME IN THE WRITING WORLD.

Or it is if you're actually counting it as, you know, an activity. Because the annoying truth is, when you're talking about the early stages of a script at least, outlines and concepts, hardly anyone gets back to you about them ever.

When you start out scriptwriting, 'waiting to hear back from people' counts as activity in itself. You get back from a meeting with an (inevitably) really pleasant, enthusiastic development exec, you send them some one-paragraph ideas, chase them up about three minutes later to make sure they actually got them (they always actually did), and then you clear the decks, unbook that holiday, turn down all future work and wait for the inevitable GLORY AND RICHES THAT WILL BE YOURS.

*cue tumbleweeds*

That this doesn't really work as a strategy isn't because all development execs are cruel heartless monsters who like nothing more than to toy with poor writers' dreams. Incredibly, most development people actively want to get projects off the ground! Tragically, however, most development people have not been gifted with enormous pots of gold into which they can dip for anyone who sends an email along the lines of 'something like Gossip Girl, but more space stationy'. Even if they do think one of the ideas I send them isn't actively stupid, they have to wait until the next big meeting to pitch it, and then the person above them has to wait for their next big meeting, and so on. It takes forever. And development execs really don't like to say 'no', because a) you might take the idea somewhere else and make ONE KERJILLION POUNDS FOR ANOTHER COMPANY and b) they're naturally quite nurturing, supportive types, so they hate saying no. And the whole thing drags on without every seeming to go anywhere, and slowly your enthusiasm for the idea, even if it was only a couple of lines, slowly dies.

In fact, writers don't mind hearing 'no' as much as people think. You know where you are with a 'no'. Especially with comedy, where someone actually saying 'I'm sorry, I just didn't find it funny' is exactly one million times more preferable to people putting their heads on one side and saying 'I LOVED it, I really did, but something about the tone didn't work for me'.

So anyway, if this post had a point, and it doesn't, it would be to say to earlier in his career me: learn to Fire And Forget - write those outlines and concepts and spec scripts, by all means, then get on with writing something else: ideally more Actual Writing, rather than, say, sighing and staring out of windows, although these are important activities that do have an important creative role that is often underlooked. And if Development Exec A hasn't got back to you, it's not because they're Actively Evil, it's because they have a squillion projects on the go, and limited time, budget and more powerful execs to go and pitch your idea to.

Also, if you're getting really pissed off, get your agent to ring them up, he's probably looking for an excuse to shout at someone.


Here is an example of a rejection email (for a spec script, rather than an outline), that starting writers (me, ten years ago) would probably weep for a week over, but yer more experienced typists would, if not rejoice in it, at least be happy that someone has treated them like a professional.

"Dear James,
Firstly, many apologies for being such an age coming back to you about this – it caught us at a really busy time. I am afraid that this didn’t really catch our enthusiasm, and it needs more comedy in it I think so I am sorry to send a disappointing reply after all the wait.
(Producer X) is on location, but sends you her best. As you know, she likes you as a writer, but this one doesn’t hit the spot.
All the best

(Development Person X)"

So they didn't actually find it funny (a downside in a comedy script), but they generally like my stuff and would be happy to see future material, so no harm done, door is left open for future submissions, and a bit of closure. REJECTION IS NOT TO BE FEARED.


Adaddinsane said...

As someone said: Rejection I can take, it's the hope that kills you.

spacemonkey said...

Ridicule, however, is something to be scared of.

SebiMeyer said...

Thanks for this. Iam currently "waiting" for the first time andsitting at home with a broken foot.

Jamie said...

I'm sure I've had that exact same rejection note, subbing "comedy" for "drama."

I suspect development folks think they're being kind by never saying "no" and just leaving it to Old Father Time to whittle away the last vestiges of writers' hopes. Of course they're actually being anything but.

Radio silence is truly the cruelest form of rejection. Sometimes I wish they'd just have the decency to say "F OFF AND DIE!!" if that's what they're really thinking.

Watch what lands in my inbox tomorrow morning now.