Ever dealt with rejection? If you’re pursuing screenwriting, this is a rhetorical question. Of course you’ve experienced rejection. But you don’t care about rejection, you want to hear about how to get a Yes. However, whether you ever get a Yes will first be determined by how you handle No.
So I present the lesson of, desperation and the diplomatic pass.
When I started this blog, I was a ripe 24 years young, stary-eyed with wonder at the business, and more specifically the opportunity to have mentorship by a major producer. In my naive mind, I thought I had hit the jackpot. Nothing could be further from the truth. While this man gave me plenty valuable advice and feedback on my writing, the biggest lesson learned was when he ultimately walked away…
THE DIPLOMATIC PASS
You may have heard this term colloquially tossed around in the film industry. It is a very simple concept. In a word, it means NO. So let me repeat that for you, NO. Got it? One more time, it means NO. More specifically, no thank you.
However, No has a very negative connotation. Nobody likes to be told No, but it is an inevitability that it must be said on occasion. Depending on where you are in the business, No will be said in many different ways, but likely without actually saying No.
So much of this business is nuanced. It is the assistant telling you his/her boss is in a meeting when in fact they’re just screening your calls. It is the no-reply, months to a year after you sent that person your script with the mutual understanding that they’ve agreed to read. They read it, but they’re just not going to bother telling you that it’s a Pass. If you’re more established or friendlier with the person, the person may give you some notes and feedback without committing to help shepard the project. They may also say they’d like to help you out, but can’t because of XYZ project or a higher priority.
What all of these things have in common is that they mean No. However, they all avoid saying it directly because they would like to still keep the door open for the future and possibly maintain a working relationship down the road. It is the diplomatic pass, a try again next time.
The quickest way to assure you never get a next time? Not grasping that you got a diplomatic pass and taking this personally.
Back to that producer mentor of mine. After reading the first script I sent to him, he gave me some feedback a month or so after I submitted it and encouraged me to try my hand at another. He would even check in on occasion with me, asking how I was doing. Several months to a year went by, and I had another for him. Several more months would go by again without hearing any feedback at all.
While I didn’t realize it at the time, after a rare second chance, he eventually passed on my second effort as well. He still followed me on Twitter (when he had one), he even subtweeted me a few times as well. That’s how we eventually got into a confrontation. I was angry that he didn’t reply to me. What followed was an hour long DM conversation that amounted to a few simple facts — A) it takes anywhere from 10-15 years to make headway in this business B) nobody owes anybody shit C) he was very kind to have mentored me and given me such a chance given my inexperienced and un-repped status.
I was desperate. I was emotional, and would continue to write passive remarks to him as I saw him continuing to keep tabs on my blogs and posts online. I was annoyed that he would take the time to read my writing, all while failing to ask me how I’m doing, or even send a simple text. I admired this man since I was 14. I wanted nothing more than to if not work for him, to at least be his friend considering all we had in common.
Desperation is ultimately a sign of weakness. Nobody wants to be in a relationship, whether romantic, platonic or professional with a desperate person. While it is easy to see desperation in others, when caught up in our own emotions, it is easy to dismiss the same behavior in ourselves.
You see yourself coming from an extremely valid place. But from an objective standpoint, you’re not. Nobody cares that you admire the person. Nobody cares that you mean well. Nobody cares that you feel that way. Why? Because a professional would accept the diplomatic pass and move on. A professional would accept the Pass, and continue to work hard toward a future Yes. Anything less than that reaction is desperate and even seemingly insane.
I can guarantee you I will never hear a Yes from Jim because of the way I acted at 24-25 years old. I am happy I learned that lesson young enough to correct my mistakes, even if it is unlikely we will ever have a professional relationship.
YOUR FAILURE TO GRASP THE DIPLOMATIC PASS COULD SPELL DOOM FOR YOUR CAREER
You not accepting No says a lot about how you might behave if given a Yes. Your inability to accept No for an answer shows that you are not self-aware. It suggests that you cannot accept criticism or critical feedback.
In the role of a screenwriter, your ability to accept feedback is critical to success because screenwriting is a highly collaborative process. You need to be able to take constructive feedback and put it to good use. If you act emotional, cannot understand No, how are you then supposed to be able to parse through an executive’s notes and make valid changes to the work? How are you going to react when you get re-written? Are you going to be a prima donna about it, or are you going to take it in stride and not allow disappointment to create a mental block?
There is no quicker way to no get work in this business, in any role, than by gaining the reputation of being someone who is difficult to work with. Someone who acts desperate, and emotional is almost guarenteed to be labeled difficult. A professional, no matter how much it hurts, is not going to allow disappointment and rejection to get to them. A professional is not going to obsess over a negative outcome or dwell in the past. No matter how poorly you are treated in the process, you cannot dwell on it because you cannot control others, but you can control yourself. So keep writing, keep positive and don’t act desperate. Understand that everyone gets the diplomatic pass. However, the only folks who get the Yes are those who take it in stride.
Happy writing! Over and out — MK