Balls of Steel: Don’t F*ck It Up!

“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.

Photo courtesy of ochuko.wordpress.com

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.

WHAT?!

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?”

Nope.

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.

19 thoughts on “Balls of Steel: Don’t F*ck It Up!

  1. Mike Nolan Sr

    Jeanne – I read an article that indicated there is a data base in Hollywood listing writers of bad scripts. Is is true? if so, how can you find out if your name is on the list?

  2. Leona Heraty

    Thanks Jeanne for an excellent article.

    I agree, as screenwriters, we have to put in the time and effort necessary to build our careers, just like we would in any field. However, it’s very important to take the time to live our lives to the fullest, and enjoy being with family and friends, not only because we want to celebrate the milestones (like your Mom’s 80th birthday), but also just to take a breather from writing and to recharge our creative batteries.

    Also, I think being around friends and family who are not screenwriters gives us a chance to hear how real people talk and how they feel about current issues of the day. I think this can only help us create more realistic dialog, and maybe these conversations will even spark creative plot ideas for us along the way!

    Let’s take time to smell the roses, and enjoy writing for the pure joy of putting our thoughts and feelings onto the blank page, to hopefully touch our readers and viewers minds and hearts as well. 🙂

  3. michael o'daniel

    For those who take flak from spouses, significant others or family members for putting the writing first — and that can be by far the biggest challenge you face as a writer, or in any other creative endeavor — I offer this quote from the Maestro, Duke Ellington. “It is often necessary to be selfish in order to properly support the ones you love.”

  4. Madeline

    Thank you Jeanne and all you people! I’m learning so much. I decided since last November learn more about screenwriting. I know im good but need to polished my craft. Your experience would help me be better everyday!

  5. Jeanne Veillette BowermanJeanne Veillette Bowerman Post author

    Film_Shark and Marina, deciding which events are truly created to help writers and which are founded on ripping us off are always a tough call. For me, I rely on my trusted friends to offer feedback on conferences/pitchfests they attended. One thing I never liked about EXPO was they made you pay per pitch and per session. That felt like nickel and dining me to death. I much prefer those that offer one price for pitching AND classes. Then, you can make the most of the event. Also, look at the instructors teaching. Make sure they’re reputable. Most events also post the companies coming to hear pitches. Research them. Make sure they aren’t teeny, tiny production companies only making low-budget films. Anyone can call themselves a producer. Bottom-line, do your research. Always take the time to check out the speakers and execs. It’s well worth it.

  6. Melissa

    This article showed up at just the right time for me. I take this advice not only for screenwriting, but for just writing period. We who write in whatever form are lucky and blessed beyond measure to be able to follow our dreams and hears. No matter how many it takes, we all get a shot at it. Being scared, not taking the chance, that’s f*cking it up. So don’t.

  7. Jeanne Veillette BowermanJeanne Veillette Bowerman Post author

    Fred, yes, I am married… with two teenagers. There’s no question, the pursuit of my screenwriting career has done damage to my personal life. Just this weekend, as I bit my nails, desperately wanting to get back to work while the extended family celebrated my mom’s 80th birthday, my cousin pulled me aside and said, “If you don’t stop and enjoy the people who love you, you’re going to regret it.” So I took a deep breath and enjoyed my mom’s day. Then I worked until 2am. I’ll definitely write about it. Thanks!

  8. marina

    I would love an answer to Film_Shark’s question, too:

    Regarding pitchfest events, I’ve noticed tons of them starting to crop up in the LA area. My question to you is how do you know if it is a legitimate pitchfest opportunity or just a money-making scam?

  9. Fred Bluhm

    Jeanne: A great article that’s LONG overdue. Thanks. Some food for thought for a future article. Not sure if you’re married or not, but those of us who are, and gladly work those 12-16 hours every day to develop that one script that might sell, oftentimes get flack from our spouses for spending so much time at the computer – especially when we have yet to sell anything. How do you explain to them that it takes time; it doesn’t happen overnight? Of course, the first time I do sell a script for a decent amount of money, she’ll say, “Why didn’t you start sooner?”
    Can’t win 🙂

  10. Film_ Shark

    Aspiring writers like that woman infuriate me because she muddies the waters for serious screenwriters like ourselves. Why they even go to those pitchfest events is beyond me. Script consultant Michael Hauge gives great advice on the subject of polished screenplays and the importance of rewrites.

    Regarding pitchfest events, I’ve noticed tons of them starting to crop up in the LA area. My question to you is how do you know if it is a legitimate pitchfest opportunity or just a money-making scam?

  11. Jeanne Veillette BowermanJeanne Veillette Bowerman Post author

    Jamie, business cards rule. Can you believe I even met some writers at GAPF who didn’t have any?! *headdesk*

    Princess, dead on, as always. Love your comment about the execs not being the enemy. Amen!

    Cassidy, it was great meeting you too!

  12. Cassidy McMillan

    GREAT article as always, and glad I got to chat with you after seminar at GAPF. Very on point article and hope all of us writers will get out there and not let fear stand in the way of great scripts getting produced! 🙂

  13. Princess Scribe

    Beautiful advice as always, Jeanne.

    I cannot for the life of me understand why someone would pitch a script that has not been polished to a ne’er do well. If your concept is good, and your pitch is solid, then you will, most likely, be asked for a read. And you better be ready. Why? Because every executive is in search of the next great story. And if they are interested in your script, they think that that might just be it. See, they want you to make their job easy for them. They want YOU to be the one. Then they can go home and relax. But to not send? You’ve not only fucked your career up, you’ve dashed their hopes as well. They are not the enemy. It’s a symbiotic relationship, that between the scribe and exec. I don’t know if I could have not groaned aloud if I had heard that…. 😉

  14. Jamie

    Best advice ever! Great column. I wasn’t even pitching, but I have a stack of business cards from managers and producers. You think I’m going to let them forget me? Not a chance in hell.

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