“Don’t f*ck it up!” is an expression I’ve heard a lot as I scratch and claw my way into the industry. It seems the more doors I break open, the more I hear it.
The first time this ever-so-popular Hollywood expression passed my ears, it scared me to my toes. Then after a moment, I thought, “Wait…do they think I’m stupid? Of course I’m not going to f*ck it up!”
But you’d be surprised how many people do.
Take last weekend’s Great American Pitchfest (GAPF). During one of the sessions, a woman stood up, asking advice. It seems the prior year she pitched 12 companies who all asked for her to submit her script. Now, that’s an impressive opportunity. What could possibly go wrong there?
She never sent it to a single one of them.
When asked why, she simply said she didn’t think her script was good enough.
Oh, it gets better. Apparently, not having sent it wasn’t her current dilemma. That day, she wanted to know if she should re-pitch those same companies.
The panelist asked the obvious question, “If you didn’t think it was good enough last year, I’m assuming you’ve rewritten it?”
OK, now that’s f*cking it up in a major way.
When a door is opened wide for you, do everything you possibly can to keep it open, which means, send a great script. I totally understand the nerves after a pitchfest, and the fear your script isn’t good enough, but don’t just ignore the pitch requests. Rewrite the script and then send it. Even if it takes you a month to do it, DO IT! But to spend the money to go to an event, put your work out there, pitch to a dozen interested companies, and then walk away is beyond ridiculous.
Maybe that’s an extreme way of falling flat on your bum. Let’s look at the simple ways you can trip up:
- Going to an event, collecting a bunch of business cards… and then not emailing them, letting the cards collect dust.
- Sending your script before you’ve even left the lobby, without proofreading it to be sure you’ve fixed typos.
- Pitching a project you know needs to be rewritten, but you run out of time.
I could go on and on about the little ways to mess up your chances, but I’m confident you get the point.
What do all of these mistakes have in common? A lack of confidence and fear of failure.
There’s one Dr. Phil-ism that always crosses my lips when I see a writer repeating mistakes either out of fear or laziness:
How’s that working for you?
Probably isn’t. So, stop it!
Do the rewrite, nurture the contacts, send the scripts in, and stay up for a week straight if you need to. Seriously, do you think Paul Haggis, Charlie Kaufman, or Christopher Nolan got to where they are by being wusses or being lazy? They did it by working hard… harder than the next guy.
Before you say, “But they’re the exception,” I assure you, you can be too. Do you think they were born successful? Hell, no! They worked hard to get to where they are, and you better believe they didn’t pass up opportunities, either earned or handed to them.
What’s the worst that can happen if you take the leap and submit your script? The company passes. Big whoop. It happens every day. But with every “pass,” you learn something about your writing to make it better.
Rejection is not something to fear. You should welcome it. Every “no” is a new chance to grow in your craft and in your understanding of the business. Ask questions, understand where you went wrong, dive back in, and keep trying to make your writing better.
It isn’t rocket science, people. Even Scarlett O’Hara rolled up her sleeves and worked hard to save Tara.
I have some pretty major opportunities happening this very minute in my career. I could easily curl in a ball out of fear, but where would that leave me? In big, fat failure land.
I ain’t ever livin’ there.
Instead, I’m going to continue my insane schedule of 12 to 16-hr workdays until I get the job done. If for some reason these opportunities don’t pan out, it won’t be because I was too lazy to do the work.
I realize there are a million things in this industry we have no control over, but there are things we do – our writing, our work ethic, and our character. No one can take those from you, but you have to work hard to keep them untarnished.
Next time someone says, “Don’t f*ck it up.” I want you to stare them straight in the eye, giving them your best Dirty Harry, and say, “Not a chance in hell.”
If you were at GAPF this past weekend, in the next couple of days, send an email to every single person whose card you collected, find them on Facebook or Stage 32, and stay connected. It’s the only way to keep growing your network, which then increases your opportunities at opening more doors… and hearing, “Don’t f*ck it up” from even more people.
Now put on your big-girl panties and get to work.