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Script Gods Must Die: Optimism vs Delusion


When do you give up on a screenplay?

When is your belief in the script optimism?

When is it delusion?

optimism vs delusion

You've been working on this...thing…for weeks, months, hell, maybe even years. You do what the experts recommend: Gather critiques, rewrite, send the script out, rejection, more rewriting, and send it out again, more rejection. It's sitting there on your computer and you know you need to make changes's reached the point where you can't even look at it. You are utterly and totally exhausted! And not one scintilla closer to getting the script made, that's the crusher. The WGA, the six-figure sale, launching the successful career you told your dad about as he wrote those $20,000 checks for Columbia College’s Cinema Art & Science School—ain't happening.

You want to hang it up. Not just the one script, but the whole mess. I mean, how many screenwriters actually make a living at it?

You tried, you really did. You banged away at the front door of the Hollywood Country Club but nobody took notice. There's a sign: DO NOT ENTER- THAT MEANS YOU, JACK! You recall Dorothy Parker: I hate writing. I love having written. Or maybe Tom Petty: The waiting is the hardest part. Time is passing, nothing happens.

Worse than heard back from the world at large through screenwriting contests, query letters, manager inquiries, and the responses just… suck. Cryptic reader notes from Page Awards or Austin, generic rejection slips from boutique agencies, no response at all from the bigger joints. Perfection is the sound of Hollywood rejection: Silence.

Maybe you've done Quarters at Nicholl Fellowship, pitched a concept at Pitchfest and got some response from an agent. You gave it to friends and got excellent feedback, ran it through your screenwriting group, vetted it and rewrote, sent it out again and made the Finalist round at the SouthWest Panhandle State Screenwriting Competition, all of which has led you...nowhere. Not one scintilla closer...

And the years are passing...


Is it worth it? How can you know?

If I've depressed you so far, let me just say this: Contrary to what the Hollywood gatekeepers would tell you...your time does have value. And here's another tidbit: There are some things you can control in this process.

I have endeavored at to show multiple paths toward seeing your vision made. Overly simplistic as it might be, there are other paths besides beating your head to a bloody pulp against Hollywood’s front door. You need to be a student of how other people are getting their screenplays read, and their movies made.

I've had excellent students who worked for months on a script, submitted it to Nicholl, didn't make it past the first round and never recovered from the rejection. Two points here: 1: If you pack your writing tent that quickly after a single rejection, well… it might be for the best. Screenwriting demands discipline. If you're writing for the screen you will be critiqued and you will rewrite, perpetually, endlessly, and not always paid for your efforts. Unless you're writing the check to make the movie, you don't get to decide when the script is done. Deal with it.

2: What strikes me as delusional, or downright absurd, is that you would let some person you've never met, whose qualifications cannot be verified—a screenplay contest reader, an agent's assistant, a manager's just-out-of-college gopher--pronounce judgment over whether the script you just worked eight months on, is good or bad? What does that mean? It’s subjective opinion, period. Why would you let a single person, or even a hundred people, stop you?

Don't toss in. Instead, think about alternatives to the front door of the Hollywood Country Club. You want in, period. Is there a back door to the joint?

This discussion, at bottom, is pointless. If you want to pack up your script, or even your attempt at a career as a writer, do it. No one but you should decide that. Put the script on the shelf and let it sit there. Come back to it later, or never come back to it. The decision is yours.

Don't ever let the bastards tell you no.


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