Breaking In: Translating Hollywood-Speak

“Hollywood is the only place in the world where you can die of encouragement.”

Some say the quotation above (or some version of it) comes from Dorothy Parker, others say it originated with film critic Pauline Kael. But whoever said it first, it’s as true today as when it was first uttered.

Knowing how to interpret what you’re told by people in Hollywood is a skill that every screenwriter must have. So here is my guide to translation:

If they say …

“We loved your script, but we’re just not doing films in that genre right now.”

They really mean ….

“We hate your script, but we’re afraid to say so in case you become famous and we need to go crawling back to you some day.”

If they say…

“Tom Hanks is interested and there’s lots of buzz.”

They really mean…

“Tom Hanks told us to ‘buzz off,’ and we’re still desperately trying to get the script to him through his dry cleaner.”

If they say …

“Your script is on the top of the stack. We’ll get to it soon.”

They really mean …

“If you were a famous screenwriter or had a famous agent, we’d have read your script weeks ago. But in this case, we’ll get around to it when Lindsay Lohan is elected President.”

If they say …

“It’s not quite there yet.”

They really mean …

“It needs a ton of work.”

If they say …

“I love you.”

They really mean …

Absolutely, positively, nothing.

If they say …

“There’s no money to pay you anything up front, but we’ll give you a great back-end deal.”

They really mean …

“You will never see a dime from this project. If you’re foolish or desperate enough to write for free, we won’t stop you.”

If they say …

“Your research was really impressive!”

They really mean …

“Your story is terrible.”

If they say …

“We really enjoyed reading your script.” (But they don’t option it, buy it, or represent it.)

What they really mean is …

Next!

If they say …

“We don’t take unsolicited submissions.”

What they really mean is …

Your pitch/query letter didn’t interest us, or you don’t know somebody we know.

If they say …

“Even though this one isn’t quite right for us, please send us your next script.”

They really mean …

“Even though this one isn’t quite right for us, please send us your next script.”

Yes, sometimes a cigar is really just a cigar. Even in Hollywood.

Keep pitching. See you next month.

3 thoughts on “Breaking In: Translating Hollywood-Speak

  1. Film_Shark

    Staton,

    I like your article. This is my favorite quote: “We loved your script, but we’re just not doing films in that genre right now.”

    They really mean ….

    “We hate your script, but we’re afraid to say so in case you become famous and we need to go crawling back to you some day.”

    When I go to Sundance in January, I will be armed with some scripts. I will never feel embarrassed to ask someone in the industry to take a look at my work. Networking is important in the film industry. The old adage holds true, ‘it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.’

    Cheers,
    Dan

  2. Ian

    Wow. That was a real eye opener. The first quote was something I thought they really meant.

    “We loved your script, but we’re just not doing films in that genre right now.”

    When I start pitching and sending out letters, I’ll be more prepared. Thanks.

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