Dealing With Rejection As A Producer

Rejection is something we’ve all felt. Be it that job you really wanted, or the cute boy you like. Everybody has dealt with rejection, and it’s not easy. Some professions open themselves up to it much more than others. Actors, for instance, go to hundreds of auditions and might only get one job out of it all. Same with writers, artists, dancers, directors. Either they don’t get the job, or the scholarship, or the competition prize, or the festival selection or the award. It’s all part of being a creative.

So when I started producing, I didn’t think I’d be dealing with that much rejection. After all, I just make the shoot happen and hopefully get it seen by people. Ah, naïveté. I deal with a lot of rejection as well, just in the same way every other filmmaker does. Here’s a list of rejections I have had in the past two weeks alone:

  • Three producing jobs
  • Four other filmmaking jobs
  •  A ‘no thank you’ from a charity that could have publicised a crowdfunding campaign
  • Two more ‘no thank you’s from charities
  • Five rejections from actors, or their agents, saying ‘but thanks for thinking of them’
  • A rejection from a potential guest for the radio show I produce (in five months, this is first person who has said ‘no’ to being a guest)
  • Two funding competitions

And that’s just in two weeks. It’s not nice. I actually woke up to a rejection email yesterday. I guess that’s what happens when you’re emailing American companies – they email in the middle of the night so, bleary-eyed and still hopeful, you open the email only to get the usual.

Rejections for jobs, I don’t mind. I’ve only been at this for two or so years now but I’m already used to it. And even though the job might have been great, and you could have used the money, it’s fine. There are hundreds of other jobs, and there’ll be jobs in the future. So it’s all good.

But rejections from actors or agents are a bit different. Recently I’ve been working on something that’s in a bit of a time-crunch. We didn’t have the time or resources to put out an ad and audition fifty people. So I went straight to agents. It’s a short film for charity, it’s the lead role, I wasn’t anticipating it to be hugely difficult. But every agent and actor who seemed so interested at the beginning came back to me after a week and they all said the same thing:

‘X has decided that this isn’t the one for her, but thank you for thinking of her’

If you’re an agent, I implore you, come up with a different way of wording that.

The reason this one is hard is because it means more work, but it also means I feel hurt on behalf of the writer and director. It’s a good script, a good story, it’s going to be shown in schools and at events. But it feels like it’s ‘not good enough’ for whoever it is, and that feels like a judgement on the quality of work. This, rather than being a ‘we’d like someone with more experience…’, feels like a personal rejection. It’s harsh and uncomfortable, so I have to remember that we are already 95% cast, we have all our crew in place so these people all believe in it. It’s just this one person. But I know that it still hurts, so I often tell directors that ‘she’s potentially in the running for a big project at the moment’ and that softens the blow. It’s not necessarily true (although it might be, who knows) but when it happens so often, I don’t want the director to feel that rejection so keenly. It doesn’t help anyone.

Rejections from investors, funding bodies and charities is much the same. It’s another person that doesn’t believe in your work so won’t help you out. This one is tough, because again it is more work. It’s more time researching people that might fund your project, that might sponsor or publicise it. Then it’s more meetings, more convincing, more time. After a while, it can start to feel like time is running out, that you’ll never get this project made, that you’re letting the team down. But film is a tricky business, and despite what people say, very few of them are willing to take risks. I mean, nobody would greenlight La La Land until Damien Chazelle proved he was a great director with Whiplash. So what I remember most is that

a) There are thousands of organisations, investors, charities that you can still try.

b) Just because no one is interested right now, doesn’t mean that they won’t be in six months time.

It’s a tired old trope, but don’t give up. If you stop believing in the project then that means that nobody believes in it, and it’ll never get made.

I think a lot of us believe things happen overnight, or at worst maybe take a week or so. That couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s a long, and sometimes tiring or boring battle. But what I like to remember is that The Greatest Showman spent seven years in development, and after all that, they had to get a meeting together with the whole cast and all investors in order to greenlight the project. And do you know how long it took to arrange that meeting? Eight months. Yeah, nothing happens overnight. Except for miserable old ‘thanks but no thanks’ emails. So maybe it’s actually that nothing good happens overnight. But while you’re waiting for all those good things, have a watch of The Greatest Showman and La La Land and remember how long it took for these brilliant films to even come close to being made!


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