How Filmmakers Overcome Rejection
Have you been thinking about writing a screenplay or making a film but haven’t dug in yet? Afraid to tackle your next draft or project? We understand that it can be a daunting task. Maybe you’re intimidated by the work of people you admire, or maybe your life is just so busy that you find it hard to make time for your artistic passions. Maybe you’ve gotten negative feedback and feel frustrated. But how filmmakers overcome rejection is by pushing forward.
It’s never too late to start
Let go of the idea that your time to create has passed. Morgan Freeman didn’t land a big movie role until he was 34 years old, when he appeared in Lean on Me. And many consider his “big break” to be Driving Miss Daisy, which he did at age 50. Similarly, Harrison Ford didn’t become Hans Solo in Star Wars until he was 35. Charles Bukowski was 51 when he published his first novel. And Laura Ingalls Wilder didn’t write until she was 44 and didn’t publish her iconic Little House in the Big Woods until she was 64!
You don’t have to be young to tackle your first creative project. Your life experience and perspective will give you plenty to write about. It might even help open doors for you: The Athena Iris Screenwriting Lab, for example, co-produced by New York Women in Film & Television and funded by Meryl Streep, was founded to develop screenplays written by women over 40.
Rejection doesn’t mean you can’t succeed
Many of the most iconic films of our time were first rejected by people who didn’t like them or understand them. These include Pulp Fiction, Casablanca, Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Arc, The Usual Suspects, and even Back to the Future.
“The script was rejected over 40 times by every major studio and by some more than once,” says Back to the Future screenwriter Bob Gale. “We’d go back when they changed management. It was always one of two things. It was ‘Well, this is time travel, and those movies don’t make any money.’ We got that a lot. We also got, ‘There’s a lot of sweetness to this. It’s too nice, we want something raunchier like Porky’s. Why don’t you take it to Disney?’”
Imagine if Bob had given up or if the movie had never been made! How filmmakers overcome rejection involves patience. Sometimes you just have to find the right person at the right time to get a project off the ground.
Writing is rewriting
But if your projects keep getting rejected and people you respect offer you smart criticism, you might need to make some changes. Don’t send out a first draft before it’s been polished. You might find that your project eventually evolves into something else that’s even better than your original vision.
“The first draft of The Sixth Sense was a serial killer movie,” says screenwriter M. Night Shyamalan. “The film that was sold was the tenth draft. The first draft was a very powerful movie about a little kid who saw the victims of a serial killer, and the hunt for this serial killer. But it kept changing; bit by bit, the parts with the ghosts became more and more unique. I’ve never seen that expressed before, and then the serial killer parts—which were good—I’d seen before, and they started to go away, and go away, and go away, until I said, ‘That’s not even part of this movie anymore.’”
You’re allowed to get frustrated
You’re allowed to get upset when you don’t get a meeting with a producer, you don’t get your film into a festival, or you don’t win a screenwriting contest. You don’t have to remain positive all the time, and you’re allowed to take some time off. You don’t have to suppress your feelings. Venting to friends is definitely one method for how filmmakers overcome rejection! But the important thing is that you don’t let one roadblock stop you from pursuing your passion. Get back on that horse.
Also, remember that even professional screenwriters deal with setbacks. Eric Heisserer, the screenwriter of Arrival, says that he wrote nearly 100 drafts of the movie and that getting into the heads of its characters “was particularly difficult.”
He’d go watch other things, then come back to the page. “Oftentimes, I had a moment of depression,” he said. “But I could come back with a larger world view and imbue in the behavior of the Heptapods, a kind of tranquility that I just didn’t have as a human being writing the thing.”
Ultimately, how filmmakers overcome rejection is by turning setbacks into motivation. To keep pushing ahead, think about why you love what you do! Your project may get stronger and you may grow as an artist because of the obstacles you overcome. Also, don’t be afraid to connect with other writers and filmmakers.