I got some really nice feedback on my “Fear Of Failure” entry, so cheers all! This week’s entry can be seen as a sequel to that little tome because since then well, old Handsome Timmy D had to seek out some of his own advice.
I can’t get into too much detail for certain legal reasons (those terms & conditions on a contract aren’t there just for your health, you know) but let’s just say that there was an opportunity and there was a mistake in a script and said opportunity turned into rejection. And there’s no one else I can blame for that mistake. I made it. It was my fault. I could blame it on taking on too much, being overwhelmed or tired from various projects, but that’s all a cop-out. I’m a freelance writer and producer. I set my own schedule. I made those decisions. The mistake was mine and mine alone.
So what do you do when you fail?
Aspiring screenwriters are assaulted on many fronts by various platitudes and axioms that try to help take the sting out of the constant rejection that a writer faces. What made this particular rejection sting was that it was possibly preventable. This particular deal cost a lot of man hours and resources so for this to happen was nothing short of devastating. And tweets of “just keep writing” or “every rejection is just another opportunity” don’t hold a lot of water when you watch all that time and work slip down the drain.
Because here’s the thing – we can’t be afraid of failure. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt like a mother fucker when it happens. Peyton Manning didn’t whistle while he packed up his locker after losing to Seattle saying “oh well, there’s always next year.” I don’t know Mr. Manning but I think it’s fair to say that when watching his Super Bowl aspirations be swallowed up by the Seattle Seahawks in resounding fashion, his millions of dollars, numerous accolades and countless records set didn’t amount to squat. At least not in that moment. The pain of current losing can far outweigh the joys of past success.
The entertainment industry is a minefield of constant rejections. Even if I were to lucky enough to sell a show tomorrow, it would then go to development where there’s plenty of time for it to be shelved. Even if we shoot the pilot, the network may not pick it up for series. Even if we get to series, the audience may shit on it and it might be cancelled within a few episodes. There’s MANY more failures in the industry than successes, which is one of the main reasons why so many smart, rational people say “fuck that” and walk away from the starting line.
And no one is immune from the pain of failures. Did you know Jack Nicholson is still mad about being passed over for The Graduate? You think George Lucas, deep down inside, is OK about how unpopular the prequels are? And of course, I stated in a previous blog that Michael Jordan knows exactly how many game-losing misses he’s had.
There’s so many stories and interviews where the pain and misery of the rejection is glossed over. “We passed so-and-so and it got rejected by every studio in town before so-and-so picked it up.” Yeah, you think those days were skipping through the fields with butterflies sitting on their shoulders? Yes, it’s part of the business, but yes there’s a lot of pain being reconciled as well. After every pass, there’s a lot of looking in the mirror before the next meeting. Because each pass, no matter how “part of the business” it is, is a kick in the nuts.
You want to cry. You want to throw things across the room. You want to hate everyone else who is successful. The pain of failure is overwhelming and I think, sometimes in our minds, it’s more powerful than the joys of victory.
Here’s a philosophy that I subscribe to and it’s one I’ve gotten from other writers of varying success:
You Get One.
One hour, one day, one week…one month or one year, that’s a bit long. But you get one. You can’t bottle up that pain. You can’t just swallow down the agony of defeat, painting on a fake smile while tears stream down your face. You can’t just tell yourself, “I’ll just keep rewriting and it’ll get better lalala”. That sounds as hollow as “There’s always next year.”
So go ahead and hurt. Feel the pain, feel the anger, don’t bottle it up. You need to cry over it? Do it. Who cares? Want to put someone’s face on a punching bag and punch it infinitely. Go ahead! (I think my face has ended up on a few boxing bags, much to my great amusement) Go ahead, feel the failure and HURT.
But for only one. You get to hurt for one hour, one day or even one week. I know of more than one person who’s had to lock themselves away for week watching People’s Court & Price Is Right while cussing the rest of the world until their resolve is built back up.
I took my one. The shitstorm rolled into port on a Sunday night like a Deadliest Catch act break. Monday was a wash. I forced myself to do my DDP Yoga and that was my positive achievement of the day. The rest of the day was filled with a steady diet of the couch, daytime TV and generally being envious of the cat who’s major stress of the day was getting more treats or fending off my attempts at cuddles. I was emotionally exhausted and daresay, in some small way could relate to those game-winning loses athletes suffer from. I had the game winning catch that would take us to the playoffs in my hands – and then it hit the ground. I was staring at the ball on the grass while the other team showered in champagne. (Only, I don’t have the 24 million dollar contracts those guys have but again, in those moments, for guys that really care, there is no money in the world.)
That Monday I plummeted to sleep. Tuesday, I woke up, pulled myself out of bed and I was back at it. It was hard, but that was the moment when the platitudes and axioms had to be heeded. I took my one. The time for feeling sorry for myself had passed. There was work to do, there were changes to make, there were new deals to be made. By coincidence or maybe that’s just the way it is, sure enough on that Tuesday afternoon – another deal appeared on the horizon. It’s almost as big an opportunity as the lost one. It’s not signed, sealed or delivered by any stretch but the fight is back on. 48 hours after the first deal went south, new games were already being played. It was next year.
I saw the producer I work with the most a few weeks later. I told him about this deal going south and the mistake I made. He smiled wide and patted me on the back, clinking my glass. “If you’re gonna get in the ring, you gotta take some body blows,” he said. It was akin to that moment in Goodfellas after Henry gets pinched for the first time, “you broke your cherry.”
I had experienced one of my early major rejections, one of many that a writer will face over their career (the length of which is up to them). I took my body blows, I took the pain – and of course, I stayed in the ring. Quite frankly, I don’t know how to be anywhere else.
He’s right. These rejections and failures are part of the business. If you want to play pro football, you’re going to lose some playoff games. If you want to win the UFC title, you’re going to be punched in the face. If you want to be a screenwriter in Hollywood, you will face countless rejections.
So any aspiring writers who are reading this, I hope this offers some small comfort or a helpful reminder when the shitstorm rolls into your port: It’s OK to hurt when you don’t qualify for the festival or when you don’t get staffed or that producer passes on your project. Feel the hurt for that one hour, one day or even one week. But if you really well and truly want this, you’ll take your one then get back at it. Because if you don’t, there are plenty of people out there who will.