Writers, in general, don’t sell their first script, book or novel. They get lots of rejections, over and over. Only the most driven and committed writers are able to stay with their commitment for the years it may take to see success.
In an effort to demonstrate to new writers how thick their skin must be to handle rejection, and shed light on the roller coaster of getting packages together, only to watch them fall apart, I want to run down how even the best scripts had major problems getting sold, and often fell apart in studio development.
The point is it takes perserverence, and great internal confidence to fight the odds and win.
William Goldman once said “nobody knows anything” in Hollywood. Studio executives make decisions based on what worked last week, or which scripts their girlfriends liked.
Keep that in mind. And remember you can get 1,000 “no’s,” but all you need is one “yes.”
1. Pulp Fiction.” “The worst thing ever written. It makes no sense. Someone’s dead and then they’re alive. It’s too long, violent and unfilmable.” – Columbia TriStar Executive.
Pulp Fiction, written by Roger Avery and Quentin Tarantino had a difficult time finding a home. Before that, and before Reservoir Dogs, Tarantino struggled writing for 5 years. True Romance was rejected by all the studios.
Tarantino was a terrific networker. He loved to talk about movies. Smart movie people started to really take to him. If it wasn’t for his ability to discuss any aspect of any film with anybody, there probably never would have been a Pulp Fiction.
Finally Harvey Weinstein at Miramax saw the brilliance in the script. Miramax funded the film, which went on to win the Palme D’or at Cannes, and the script won an Academy Award. Since then, Tarantino has been writing and directed a string of powerful and edgy hit films.
2. Star Wars was based on George Lucas’ childhood love of space opera serials like Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers. The script he had been shopping around wasn’t, in fact, that great. The film was also considered too expensive to make.
At Fox, Alan Ladd wasn’t really clear on what the film would look like. However, he was a fan of Lucas’. He liked American Grafitti, and it was a huge hit. Fox bought the script and had Lucas reworking the project for two years.
Lucas got the idea to fashion it after Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress which gave the film its sort of mystical themes of mastery of “marshal arts,” and the mythology of “the force.”
Fox really invested in Lucas, not Star Wars. The summer of 1977, Star Wars became a huge hit. Lucas would be making sequels and prequels the rest of his career.
3. Raiders of the Lost Ark was viewed by most studio executives as a movie about an archeologist looking for relics during World War II. The script was written by Lawrence Kasdan from ideas by Lucas and Speilberg. However, shopping the script, both Lucas and Speilberg were rejected all over town. And this was after the success of Jaws and Star Wars.
One problem with the project was that Speilberg had already made a film about World War II called 1941, and it was considered a flop. The other problem was it was deemed too expensive. Finally, after shopping the script again, Paramount agreed to fund it, as long as Speilberg could shoot it for under 18 million.
Speilberg had no big stars, and had to shoot the film quickly and inexpensively. He kept the number of takes to a minimum. It turned out Spielberg could shoot fast, with a minimum of retakes.
That’s eventually what made Raiders work, and it became another huge hit, followed by equally successful sequels.
4. Back to the Future, written by Bob Gale, unbelievably, might never have been produced. In the 80s bawdy teen comedies were big successes at the box office. Many studios viewed the film as a “cute, warm and fuzzy film without enough sex.”
Ironically, Disney passed on it because the idea of a teenager going back in time, and fending off advances from his own mother seemed too perverse for them.
Somewhere along the line, director Robert Zemeckis became a fan of the script. After filming the hit movie Romancing the Stone, Zemeckis could choose his next project. He chose Back to the Future, and Universal bought the script.
Shooting was rocky at first. Zemeckis had to let Eric Stoltz go and hired Michael J. Fox. Finally, the film wrapped. Back to the Future and the two sequels went on to be huge hit films, and are some of the most popular films of the 80s.
For more information on what it takes to succeed as a writer in Hollywood, how to stay committed when you know your script is great, and how to handle rejection, call for free advice from a 20 year film & TV veteran writer/producer and psychotherapist click here.
Next week Famous Rejected Screenplays 5-8