Speaking of PEOPLE’S PILOT 2018: “I entered a screenplay contest & got terrible feedback. What do I do?”

by Larry Brody

Speaking of PEOPLE’S PILOT 2018, as we’ve been doing for the past couple of weeks, it’s time to interrupt my meticulously crafted series on the competition, how it works, and how entrants can maximize their chances to do well with this column about, well, how entrants in any creative contest can maximize their chances for the most important result of all – feeling good about themselves.

In other words, a recent entrant into another writing contest – not PEOPLE’S PILOT 2018, or any other year – send me the email the other day, and I believe it’s important to deal with the issues it brings up.

Dear LB,

[Not PEOPLE’S PILOT] came back with its quarter finalists, and as I suspected from the terrible feedback I got from them, I didn’t make it.

[The Other Contest] says they want to hear our feedback on their feedback, and given that this is the second time I’ve gotten comments like “The act breaks fell on the appropriate pages,” and “I didn’t like the protagonist because she was a ginger. You should make her a more sympathetic hair color. Auburn comes to mind,” I’m feeling more angry than disappointed and am fighting off the urge to blast these people with both barrels.

I worry that being too rough on these peeps would brand me as hard to work with, an egomaniac with a bad attitude, or something like that, but I’m also sick of quietening down and sitting in a corner and otherwise playing nice with everyone so I don’t damage my chances of having a career.

I’m tired of being frustrated, ignored, led astray, and being afraid to expressed a contrary opinion, and I’m hoping that you, as someone with years of experience and mountains of knowledge, and a reputation for being one of the great contrarians of our time can give me a suggestion or three about how to get a grip with myself, this show business bit, and living with reality as well as with my dream.

Best,

Discombobulated But Not Yet Suicidal

Dear DBNYS,

I definitely have a lot of thoughts about what you’ve said, but I’ll keep this as short as I can.

I haven’t read your script or the complete feedback you got, but I certainly understand your reaction to the two examples you gave. The first one is incredibly patronizing (or is it “condescending?” I get those two confused), and second one is irrelevant, an example of an inept reader trying to appear helpful by giving a specific yet totally meaningless suggestion.

In the long run, however, what you say here is more important to your future, so let me dig into it a bit:

I worry that being too rough on these peeps would brand me as hard to work with, an egomaniac with a bad attitude…, but I’m also sick of quietening down and…playing nice with everyone so I don’t damage my chances of having a career.

The way I see it, your concern is totally justified and yet totally unjustified at the time time because while it’s true that in a professional environment those who hold onto their creative viewpoint when said viewpoint is totally unjustified (because the work just plain doesn’t demonstrate the necessary talent) are pretty much  guaranteed to have a short professional shelf life, the situation here isn’t one I would consider professional at all.

The Other Contest – oh hell, just about any contest except those run by major media companies or shell-shocked veterans of those companies like, ahem, myself – isn’t a professional environment.

Far from being staffed by genuine gatekeepers or true creatives, most contests are staffed by people who, no matter how well-intentioned (or not, but Great Contrarian that I may be I don’t really want to open up that particular can of worms here) are just as new, naive, or inexperienced in the ways of our delightful Industry as you are.

Antagonizing them is meaningless in terms of your career unless they somehow become rich, powerful, and respected. And in a business where those who succeed are usually either those who are so good at what they do that the fact that their assholes gets overlooked or those who have played the corporate game so expertly even you would love them if you met them, even you do come face to face with the idiot who wrote your feedback (or hired whomever wrote the feedback), they’re probably going to have no memory whatsoever of any previous encounter.

And if they are true masters of the corporate game – and you truly are as talented as you hope and pray you are – even if they do remember they’re going to welcome you with open arms because they need what you can do for them…make ’em even richer, more powerful, and more respected.

Absolutely true story time:

Back in the early 1970s when I was freelancing for various broadcast network shows (yeah, that doesn’t happen anymore, I know, but keep reading anyway), I took an assignment on a highly regarded medical series and worked my butt off, as always, doing several drafts.

When they sent me the final, going-into-production-tomorrow version, I hated the further changes that had been made. The network had always said it was “uncomfortable with what I – and the show’s staff -had spent so many weeks on, and the discomfort was reflected by the fact that now original arena in which the story was set was gone, which meant that the premise – and the story itself – barely made sense

My Great Contrarian self went ballistic. I threw the script in the fireplace and burned it as thoroughly as I could while keeping it identifiable, then stuffed the combo pack of crisped pages and ashes into a 10 by 13 envelope along with a note that said, “Here’s what I think of your fucking rewrite!” and mailed it to the executive producer.

Did it harm my upward rise? Maybe, by keeping me from working at the studio the show was at for awhile, but everyone involved told their pals in the biz what I’d done, and that made me a kind of fascinating, idealistic rebel character that they all wanted to work with, and work with me many of them did, in a counterbalancing act that even my agent was happy about.

In other words, relax, DBNYS. Do what you need to do. Since you’re asking my opinion, though, I have to admit that from where I sit, I don’t really see much point in dumping on The Other Contest and its minions. That takes a lot of energy, and your energy is better off being focused on that place you call reality and how you can actively and positively combine it with that other place called your dream.

Next time: More specific PEOPLE’S PILOT 2018 advice. Not just because I want to appear helpful but because I genuinely want everyone out there to succeed!

Author: LB

A legendary figure in the television writing and production world with a career going back to the late ’60s, Larry Brody has written and produced hundreds of hours of American and worldwide television and is a consultant to production companies and networks in the U.S. and abroad . Shows written or produced by Brody have won several awards including - yes, it's true - Emmys, Writers Guild Awards, and the Humanitas Award.

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