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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

He's Just Not That Into You

Several times a week, the Wave-inatrix gets emails that say: Dear Wave-inatrix, I sent my script to X manager a couple of weeks ago and he/she just sent me and email that said Dear So-and-so: thanks for the read, I liked the script but I just couldn't get any traction with it. Thanks for submitting. What does that mean?

It means "no". Managers and agents have several ways of saying "no", ranging from silence (very common)to the polite brush-off. But what can be really frustrating to a writer is getting the polite brush-off with this addendum - "Do you have another script?" So you send another script. A few weeks later you either get the Silent No or another polite email saying something like "While I enjoyed the read, I just couldn't connect with the theme." Translation? No.

First of all a polite brush-off is of course nicer than the usual silence. Silence leaves the writer hanging for weeks and then of course, we do hear those one-in-a-hundred stories of Silence For Six Months then a phone call or email saying WE LOVE IT. But Wavers - that is so rare. Take silence as a "no" and move on. Don't put all your eggs in one basket. Don't count your chickens til they're hatched. Don't wonder which came first, the chicken or the - okay you get it.

But the most frustrating of all is the manager who keeps passing on your scripts and yet keeps asking for other samples. Is this person interested or not? Are they going to sign you or not? It's like dating a person who is giving you mixed signals. Is he into me? Or not? How do you know? How long do you wait? When is this manager going to pull the trigger??

Should you be continuing to query other people? Or do you put your life on hold as you wait for Manager X to decide whether THIS script is one he/she connects with, or gets excited by or can get behind?

Being in some kind of suspended animation because you are waiting for a response to a script read is a big mistake, Wavers. You need to continually move ahead with your writing and your queries. If someone else - someone bigger IS truly interested in your script and then the person you were waiting for finally indicates they liked the work, well guess what? Now, potentially, both will be even more keen about you and your work because now there's a seeming competition for you. So keep moving, keep querying. Don't sit and wait for weeks, using your Magic 8 ball to interpret either silence or polite brush-offs.

And again - how do I know this? Because Wavers, I have gone before you and I have been in this situation many times. And I have put my life on hold. And I have held my breath, and I have pored over letters and emails with a magnifying glass trying to interpret soft "no's" and soft "yes's". What's a soft "yes"? It's we really liked the script but we can't see doing anything with it right now - what else do you have? So you send another script - and you wait another six weeks and you get another such reply. Or a thousand variations of all of the above.

Being in a position myself, in which more and more lately, writers approach me for management (something I'm toying with but have not committed to), I understand how it feels to be on the other side. I don't receive the volume, naturally, of queries to do the rude silence. Plus, I hate rudeness. But again, that silence is, nine times out of ten, a result of simply too many scripts coming in to respond to each one. But I do receive queries in which I think - hmmm - well - I like this writer, I like his/her writing, but I know I can't do anything with this particular script. But I would like to keep this writer in my periphery because maybe at some point, I could do something with another piece of material...

On the one hand, Wavers, if a manager feels that way about you - that you have potential, it's terrific. Because you have a relationship with someone who sees potential. That's validating and could pay off down the line. Or - it might not pay off. You may never deliver a script to that person that they get truly excited about. So how do you know how long to keep that relationship/courting game up and how do you know when to cut and run to someone who leaps out of their La-Z-Boy when you come home? It's simple: keep up the relationship, yes. Keep checking in with new ideas and new loglines. Make nice to that person who is interested in you. Don't bug them, play it cool, but stay in touch. But at the same time - continue querying others. Because if someone else makes something happen for you and I didn't - I'm not going to be mad at you, I'm going to say DAMN IT, I blew it!

It's a dance. A lot like dating. It's important to know when someone is just not that into you and it's important to sex yourself up by dating other people - by being less available. Because when someone is really interested in you and your script - the signs are unmistakable and things move really fast. There's no second-guessing it.

After doing this dance for a long time - I finally got a manager. And it happened very quickly. A phone call. I like this script, I'd like to meet you. This week. And I'd like to strategize going out with the script. Boom. Bam. Done.

And Wavers, writers often go through several managers before finding one who not only likes you and your work but who has the ability to get your work out to serious buyers, who doesn't give up when they get a lot of "no's", one who works and who works hard on your behalf, consistently. But even when you get that great manager, if they thought they could do something with your script but are proven apparently wrong by a lot of "no's", often what happens is instead of dropping you - they just fade away. They slow down submitting your material, they slow down calling you back, they are less available to you...why? Because they are going out with someone else now, and putting all their energy into that person. It's not personal and it's not unusual. They just stop returning your calls. Yeah - I've gone through that too. Hot and cold.

So what do you do with this awkward courtship? As with dating, you retain your independence and self-respect. You are not desperate, you hear me? You have value and if someone saw it, even a glimpse of it, enough to hip pocket you - then you know you have something that will interest somebody else too. You there in the Mr. Bill T-shirt - what's a hip pocket? Well, it's like this: I'll represent you only until or unless I set up your script in a finite period of time. And if I don't - I never knew you. Say hello, wave goodbye. Wham, bam, thank you ma'am.

A hip pocket is not a bad thing - in fact, it can lead to great things. But often, a hip pocket deal results in a quick fade-out to the relationship. And again, I get it. I can only imagine the number of writers who approach managers on a daily basis. You can only get behind so many scripts and writers. Sure, you might like a writer and kinda like the script - but what's the potential that your time and attention to this script/writer will result in dollars? It's hard but the math has to be done. And I have certainly seen the work of writers and I think - hmmmm, I like this writer but the story...I dunno....it doesn't get MY blood pressure up so how could I translate that to someone else? There's nothing wrong with the script,it's just not for me. And I'm not going to put myself and my reputation on the line for a script that I'm not doing cartwheels about personally. It just doesn't make sense.

I have about five writers right now that I do "manage". I put that in quotation marks because it's not official, but I LOVE their scripts. And of the five, three of the scripts are most definitely not commercial fair that would light the fire of just anyone. But I love those scripts so passionately that I can't let it go. I pitch them whenever and wherever I can. But I don't expect loyalty in return from these writers. If they come to me and say guess what, someone else got behind the material and pushed it out there and we have interest, I'd first say DAMN IT and then do a cartwheel for that client. Because I would love to see this script as a movie. And I'll be damn proud, whether it was me or someone else who set it up. Because from day one, I believed in that writer. And you five know exactly who you are: Jason, Adam, Scott, Gary and Tal. Don't give me your loyalty - make a movie. But maybe I am a strange person. Well, that's a given. It's pretty cool to have someone so into your writing and your script that they talk it up wherever they go in Hollywood. It's way cool. But if someone can do that AND get you set up - go with that person. No hard feelings. Until you have a ring on your finger - you are in an open relationship.

A good friend (hi beautiful Angela) once encouraged me, years ago, by comparing being a screenwriter to one of those guys in trench coats filled, on the inside, with watches. Wanna buy a watch? No? Okay. Hey you - YOU wanna buy a watch? No. Okay. YOU - you wanna buy a watch? And you just keep moving. If someone says hey, I might want to buy that watch - you say that's terrific; I only take cash. You got cash? No. Okay. How about you - you wanna buy a watch? And you keep right on moving.

While maintaining relationships is important, only maintain relationships with managers who are not proprietary about you but who love your work in and of itself and short of that, managers who do more than express how much they like the script but who put themselves on the line for you and your material. If someone is not willing to put themselves on the line - keep moving. Or even if someone like me says I pitch your script wherever I go - that's lovely - but that does not preclude you from approaching others who might do the same thing but actually make something happen faster. It's not personal. It's not show friends, it's show business.

So don't waste hours wondering if this or that manager is really that into you. They either are or they aren't. Silence means "no". And maybe means maybe. And it might mean for my own purposes, I would like to keep you on the back burner because I see potential. Which is lovely. But it is the back burner. And yes, sometimes you can move up to the front through a series of events and the one person who believed in you for years (in Hollywood time that translates to six months) might actually make something happen. But why wait? Don't commit to one person; maintain the relationship but keep dating others. It will only make you more desirable to everyone else.

Just keep moving. Never stop. Keep writing, keep building up your arsenal and keep querying others. You are the guy with the watches - they are yours to sell and it's your prerogative to keep moving forward. If someone is nice to you and encouraging, that's terrific too. But you want the guy with the cash.




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12 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hey Julie,

Something tells me this.

An employee must kindly control and kindly manage his Boss. Good cop always.

Same applies to working with a Manager/agent.

I am super nice, respectful and patience to my Manager.

He takes my calls but not the others. Others left the business, puffing.

There is a big difference with writers and managers and agents.

I love managers cause they are opposites of me.

Just like in a perfect marriage - opposite attracts.

Alice U. said...

I'm just going to vomit out all this -- excuse my rant.

This post depressed me so much. And it made me ask -- is it all luck?

I know. Weird reaction. But you talking about becoming a manager kind of says that you're considering not writing. I know, I'm sure you'll always write, but if you're a good full time manager writing isn't your main thing, you know?

And that's when I got depressed. You know more about screenwriting than any five writers put together. Your writing here is so funny and captivating that I'm sure your screenplays are equally so. And you know structure and character and everything so inside out that no one out there is beating you on talent or knowledge.

You even have representation. And you have contacts up the wazoo.

So if you're not writing for a living, what chance do I have? I don't know as much as you. I don't know as many people as you. My writing isn't as interesting as yours.

If you haven't made it yet, who does? Is it really luck?

Sigh.

Julie Gray said...

It is luck. And connections. It is persistence, it is talent and it is ambition. In about that order. Though many would argue and they are right to do so. I am in an enviable position; I read scripts and work with writers for a living. And I love it. It keeps me in the mix, it keeps me inspired and it keeps me connected. It also makes it really hard to find my own time to write. But when I do? Do I have great connections for my own work? Yes I do. For me, it's about finding balance. It's hard to give a lot of attention to my own writing career when I am putting most of my energy into helping others. Will I eventually have to choose one or the other? Maybe. But I don't subscribe to a binary view - either or. All things are possible when you are driven and I am nothing if not driven. Don't get depressed; depression about this endeavor is a one-way ticket to giving up. I mean, it's normal to get down about this kind of thing. But you can't let it drive your choices. If you have luck, connections, persistence, talent and ambition, it is my belief that eventually, some way, somehow you are going to make it. Never surrender. Never give up. Or is it Never give up. Never surrender. You get it. Let me provide inspiration and support, let me be a cautionary tale, let me entertain you along the ride. That's what I'm here for. I believe in writers and creation. So should you.

Alice U. said...

>>It is luck. And connections. It is persistence, it is talent and it is ambition. In about that order.

Thank you.

I just had one of those moments. You know the ones -- you look back twenty years later and say "this is when I decided to make this change."

I'm done. I'm giving up. If you -- with all your wisdom -- puts talent as the 4th most important thing one needs to make it as a writer, then I have no chance. All I can control is my writing, and that isn't even in the money in importance.

I know I control persistence, even that's number three. Luck? Can't control it. Connections? What realistic chance do most of us have of making really meaningful connections? You've got all the connections in the world, and it hasn't been enough for you yet.

I'm not kidding. Thank you. I'm done with the pipe dream. Hollywood is a lottery, and I'm not a gambler.

PJ McIlvaine said...

What Julie said. Triple.

And Alice, I'm sorry you feel that way, but if you do and it's not just a momentary rant, then you probably weren't that committed to begin with.

You don't choose to be a writer. It chooses you.

Mike Scherer said...

Alice,
Don’t quit. At least not before asking yourself: Why do I write?

Do you write to make money? To garner fame? Is it an ego thing? Or.

Do you write because you must? Can you go through life and NOT write? If you write for money, fame, or ego, then by all means, quit.

I you write because you cannot NOT write, because writing is in your DNA, because you are unhappy when you don’t/can’t write – don’t quit. Not ever.

Think long and hard – dig deep – understand what it is you expect from writing.
Then keep writing.

Anonymous said...

I just finished a gig managing my husband's art gallery for two and a half years and being on the other side of the desk was eye opening. Artist submissions streamed in via mail and email constantly even when we publicized that our submission process was closed. It was overwhelming.

As a writer, I have to say it paralyzed me for awhile when I came to viscerally realize the situation facing agents, managers and production companies vis a vis writers sending queries but I was also able to observe the process whereby we would decide to take on a new artist and that was also eye opening.

So I just want to say, extrapolating from my art gallery experience, that Julie's advice in this post is absolutely 100% right on the money.

MaggieB

Anonymous said...

Julie, even on my vacation I couldn't help to find a WiFi spot to read your blog. I'm looking out to the Atlantic ocean and wondering who is this person? It's such a vast space and I just happened to stumble across this person, virtually, who speaks about my work passionately, and never fails to motivate my aspiration for becoming a filmmaker. I think you're my Lady Luck. Not with a magic wan, but a whip in one hand and a cupcake in other. Anyone who quits, even after their interaction with you, simply a quitter. And nothing you, Julie, can do. No one on this earth would even response to that attitude as you did in this post.

PS. My SP has just advanced in the QF round of PAGE International Competition this week.

Julie Gray said...

Why thank you, Anonymous. Now get back to work! :)

Pete Considine said...

You know what made me sideline my writing ambitions more than anything else?

Being an editor.

As MaggieB said, being on the other side is a real eye-opener. When I first got an editor's position, I promised myself that I would never do to writers all the things that I hated having done to me. I would always reply to submissions and I would always offer real feedback if I requested a manuscript.

Know how long that lasted? About 20 minutes, at which point my incoming emails hit about 300.

There's always a reason things are the way they are. And those reasons never have anything to do with the higher ideals of Creativity and Art.

I'll say here what I've said a thousand times before – if there's anything you can possibly do other than write, do it. Being a creative professional of any kind sucks. If you're not so driven to do it that you can't possibly do anything else, don't subject yourself to the torture.

Julie Gray said...

You callin' the Wave-inatrix a masochist, Pete? Huh? :)

pete considine said...

I think you know the answer to that without me having to say a thing.