Writers, in general, don’t sell their first script, book or novel. They get lots of rejections.
Even the best writers had problems getting their scripts sold, and often their projects fell apart in development.
I’d like to point out that, as in Part 1, the writers of these scripts didn’t give up after massive rejection.
For one thing, they had great “Beta Testing.” That is, they had agents, managers, and other industry friends who read their work and judge it objectively. They could ask these friends, should I keep triyng to pitch and package this, or is it too much of a long shot? On top of that, they had persistence, and knew when to fight. And they all happened to be great at pitching and networking.
The point is it takes perseverance, and great internal confidence to fight the odds and win.
Keep that in mind. And remember you can get 1,000 “no’s,” but all you need is one “yes.”
5. The Blind Side, written by John Lee Hancock, was based on a book by Michael Lewis. The screenplay took a long time to find a home, but it was eventually packaged with Julia Roberts in the lead at Fox.
After a while, Roberts dropped out, and the project fell apart. After some discussion, Fox decided to have the script rewritten it with a male lead. They went down that road for a while, then the project fell apart again.
The film was dead in “development hell” until Alcon Entertainment (connected to Warner Brothers) stepped in and tried to revive it. They liked the script, and thought Sandra Bullock would be great in the lead role of the wealthy southern woman who befriends an African American football player.
Still there was another problem. The film had to be shot on a low budget. Alcon was able to get Bullock to waive her full salary for acting in the lead role. Instead they traded back-end profits, and she accepted.
The film was finally produced. Everything worked out for Bullock, who’s acting won her an Academy Award, and participated in the profits generate by the film which was a critical favorite and a big hit.
6. Home Alone, written by John Hughes, was one of many famous projects Hughes had produced in the 80s and 90s. The Breakfast Club, Vacation, and Planes, Trains and Automobiles were just a few of his successful films. However, the script to Home Alone kicked around for years, before finally finding a home at Warner Brothers.
Warners wasn’t nearly as excited about the script as they were about working with Chris Columbus, a rising young director. Columbus , however, wanted to direct Home Alone. Warners gave him 14 million dollars to make the film.
Unfortunately, Columbus couldn’t see directing the film without bumping up the budget to 17 million dollars. Believe it or not, this relatively minor change in budget killed the project. Warner Brothers apparently didn’t have that much faith in the film.
The film was dead. Fortunately, Columbus persevered, shopping the script around town, and eventually got lucky with Fox. They agreed to the 17 million dollar budget. Home Alone was revived by Columbus, and the film, and its sequels went on to make almost a billion dollars.
7. Ted written by Seth McFarlane, who had hit TV show on Fox called Family Guy. Since McFarlane had a development deal at Fox, he tried to get them interested in his script for Ted, (and co-written by Alec Sulkin). The screenplay told the story of a single guy who happens to have an obscenely funny talking teddy bear.
McFarlane wanted a 50 million dollar budget. At that price tag, Fox wasn’t interested. In fact, they felt much better about another comedy, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.
Ted was dropped from Fox’s development schedule. Once something like that gets around Hollywood, no other studios wants to be perceived as scrambling to pick up a rival studio’s “castoffs.”
Luckily for MacFarlane, his TV show Family Guy was very popular with studio insiders. He shopped the Ted script around town for a while, until Universal finally took an interest.
They didn’t balk at the 50 million dollar price tag. With Mark Walberg starring, and Seth voicing Ted, the film went on to make almost $200 million dollars.
To make matters worse for Fox, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter was a flop at the box office. Meanwhile, McFarlane is readying the sequel to Ted for Universal.
8. The Usual Suspects, written by Christopher McQuarrie was rejected by every major and minor studio in town. It was an extremely complex script. No one understood a word of it, except Kevin Spacey, for whom it had been written.
Slowing progress with the sale of The Usual Suspects was its maze-like storyline. A lot of studio executives couldn’t quite follow it. Luckily for McQuarrie, his old friend Bryan Singer, a director, struggled to find the movie a financier.
Singer filmed another script written by McQuarrie, that won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance. Suddenly, independent film financiers were interested in the next Singer/McQuarrie project.
Singer found it significantly less frustrating to find funding thanks to Sundance. Finally, Singer found the funding to shoot the film, and was able to get Kevin Spacey to play the key role of the man who turns out to me the mysteriousKeyser Soze.
When the film was shot, the jury was still out. McQuarrie remembers another film executive telling him, “remake it with Mel Gibson in there and you’ll have a hit.”
Spacey was always the first choice for Keyser Soze. When Miramax finally released The Usual Suspects, film, it was a big hit. It put both Bryan Singer on the map as well as McQuarrie.
McQuarrie’s screenplay won the Independent Spirit Award, and both the British and American Academy Awards. Spacey also won the Academy Award for best actor as Keyser Soze. The film was recently voted one of the 100 Greatest Screenplays by the Writers Guild of America.
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/psychotherapist click here.
Image credit: Creative Commons, Sandra Bullock, winner of the 2010 SAG Award for Oustanding Performance by a female actor, 2010 by Thomas Lewis, is licensed under CC By 2.0