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Notes from the Margins: Cracking the Executive Code

By Danny Manus

Ever feel like executives are just speaking a totally different language than you are? That they are on a different page? Are you getting mixed messages and not sure what the right thing to say or do is? Are you wondering if, when the exec said “I love this script!” what she really meant was “I’m just not that into you”?

Well, you’re in luck. Because I am about to make you a top-notch code breaker and give you a guide to what execs are really thinking.

executive code

First is what the exec says… followed by what it really means…

“Yes” = “No”

“No!” = “Fuck No!”

“I’m sorry, I ran out of business cards.” or “I’m sorry, I don’t actually have any business cards on me.” = “I don’t trust you enough or like your material enough to give you the business card which is very clearly right here in my pocket.”

“I know a great entertainment lawyer I can refer you to.” = “You’re not ready for an agent.”

“You’ve got a great concept.” = “The writing needs work.” OR “A better writer could totally sell this and make this into an awesome movie.”

“It’s just not right for us.” = “I can’t think of a specific reason I didn’t like this, but I didn’t.”

“It just didn’t go in the right direction.” = “You fucked the story up.”

“I’d like to send this up the flagpole.” = “I have no power to make decisions and my opinion carries very little weight.”

“I will read this as soon as I can.” = “I will read this as soon as I clear my desk of the 400 other things that are way more important than you.”

“I will get back to you within a month.” = “If you’re lucky, you will get a two-line email from me by Christmas. Please don’t contact me for at least two months.”

“I’ve read a number of projects like this recently.” = “You’re either unoriginal or you don’t know what other projects are out there so you wasted time writing something already being made.”

“We’d like to develop this with you and help you get it to a great place.” = “It needs work, so we’d like you to take our notes and do a ton of free rewrites.”

“My assistant is out right now.” = “I don’t have an assistant, but making you think I do makes me sound more important than I am.”

“Sure, I’ll take your one-sheet.” = “If this is what will make you feel like this pitch was successful and you didn’t just waste hundreds of dollars at this event, I will take your one-sheet.”

“Can you tell me what other movies your project is reminiscent of?” = “I don’t know how to feel about an idea unless I hear it in context of other very similar ideas."

“Sure, I’ll read your query letter.” = “Sure, I’ll give my intern your query letter.”

“The dialogue just isn’t genuine.” = “You’re not the right age/race/ethnicity/gender to write for this character/story.”

“We’re looking for something more elevated.” = “It either needs a smarter edge to it, or it needs to combine high concept hooks so it has something even more special and pitchable about it.”

“It’s not edgy or dark enough.” = “We don’t make movies for 8 year olds. Your adults are speaking like elementary school kids, and they don’t seem like they are conflicted enough in an interesting way.” OR “We’d like it if your lead actress showed her tits more.”

“Please send me a synopsis.” = “I’m not sold enough to read your script.”

“Please send the first 10 pages.” = “I’m pretty sure you’re a shitty writer, but I just wanna make sure.”

“Please send me your beat sheet.” = “I’m a first-time producer who has no clue what I’m doing or talking about, but I think I heard the term beat sheet once at Starbucks. That’s a thing, right?”

“Are you bringing any financing to the table?” = “I have no money.”

“Do you think this can sell overseas?” = “Does it have big shiny things that go boom?”

“I don’t get it.” = “I can’t picture it.” Or “Speak slower and use big words cause I went to a liberal arts college.”

“You’re creative; you’ll figure it out.” = “We have no idea what the fix for this note is, so we’re hoping you do.”

“Of course we love to work with unrepresented new writers.” = “As long as they come with great referrals from people I know and trust and are willing to work for free.”

“We’re not currently looking for any more clients.” = “Of course I’m looking for new clients – that’s my job! But you’re not going to be one of them.”

“We don’t accept unsolicited material.” = “We can’t read your script until we make sure you’re not some psycho stalker who will Facebook friend me, find my address, sue me, or watch me like a Twilight-Vampire while I sleep.”

Hope that helps clear it up for ya! If you’ve got a note or quote from an exec that you’d like translated, please leave it in the comments below!

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