The Big R: Facing Rejection as a Writer

by Greg DePaul (@GregDePaul)

Remember Rocky Balboa, when Rocky gives that awesome, inspirational speech to his son? Winning isn’t about how hard you can hit, Rocky tells him. It’s about “how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.”

That’s a message we screenwriters need to hear. After all, we desperately hope to break in overnight. We take classes purporting to help us write a feature screenplay in thirty days. (Good luck!) We submit scripts that are far from ready. (You actually sent that agent a third draft?) Some of us even move to Hollywood for a naively short period of time (really — a year?) to see if we have what it takes.

But veteran screenwriters like me know the hard truth – there is no fast track, no easy path to riches and respect. You’ve simply got to write and re-write draft after draft, script after script, year after year. And once you’ve done all that and submitted your work to someone who matters, you have an even more daunting obstacle to confront: The Big R.

I’m talking about Rejection. I’ve sold scripts to Hollywood studios and gotten movies made, and I can tell you that the first twenty-or-so times an agent or producer read my work, I got bitch-slapped. And each rejection sucked worse than the previous one. And it doesn’t stop after you earn your Guild card or attend your first premiere.

A few weeks ago, I finished a new sitcom pilot. I’d spent months pounding on it, endlessly re-writing it, scratching my head over every line of dialogue. Then I sent it to a manager who loved the concept.

Thirty minutes later he emailed back, serving me The Big R with a side of criticism. In his words, “The voice-over in the cold open felt too set-uppy, and the joke in the first scene evokes other scripts I’ve read with something similar.” And that was it. The extent of his notes.

Naturally, this stung. And it left me wondering: “Did this moron even read the rest of the script?” But I’ll never know because that was the last I heard from him.

I spent the following couple days hating that manager, myself, my writing, and writing in general. I ate ice cream like it was going out of style, binge-watched bad TV, and broke stuff. I knew I needed to get back on the horse, but I couldn’t bring myself to face the page. My fingers wouldn’t touch the keyboard.

In desperation, I went to YouTube and searched “Rocky Balboa monologue.”

Over and over I watched Rocky tell his son “how winning is done.” Then I put the ice cream away, turned off the TV, cleaned up all the broken stuff… and got back into my writing chair.

And what did I write? You’re reading it.

~

btfScreenwriter Greg DePaul wrote Bride Wars and Saving Silverman. He has sold screenplays to Miramax, New Line, Sony, MGM, Disney, and Village Roadshow studios. He teaches screenwriting at NYU and The New School, and his book Bring the Funny: The Essential Companion for the Comedy Screenwriter is published by Focal Press. Greg is a proud member of The Collective, a NY-based stage and film production company. You can learn more about Greg at gregdepaul.com or contact him at gdp2005@nyu.edu.

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