Opportunities Ahead: Proceed with Cautionary Tale

Every day for the last month, I have been opening my email as a hardened Army Ranger might approach a live grenade. I am both hoping to finding a response from the “Big Time Executive”, and hoping not to find it. You see, like the fabled Mr. Toad of the literary classic, Wind in the Willows, I dropped what I had, to reach for something better. And it was a mistake. A Big Time mistake.

After months of rewriting two high concept scripts, which nearly drove me insane, I sent them off to my most trusted readers. While I waited for their notes, I planned to clear my head, perhaps learn to crochet. This lasted two days and exactly eight rows of hopelessly lopsided yarn stitches. Instead of wisely rewarding my brain with a much deserved vacation, I dusted off my screenwriting business plan and checked off the next item on the list: Prepare pitches.

Now, I’ve delivered pitches in-person and by email. I even had a chance to give a successful elevator pitch and was amazed to hear the Exec say, “Master’s Key? That script just landed on my desk.” To this day, I still have no idea how my script ended up on that producer’s pile.

Since I had two projects to pitch this time, I decided to streamline the process using “The Virtual Pitchfest”, an online service that gives writers access to an ever-growing roster of Hollywood agents, managers, and producers. I first heard about the service through a referral by Lee Jessup, my friend and career guru. When Lee vets you, I listen — and so I signed up for my first batch of ten pitches. The process of selecting my targeted executives, uploading my letters, and hitting “send” was simple. It was in fact, too simple.

VPF’s major competitive advantage is that it guarantees a response from any executive that receives your query. I was delighted to receive a handful of read requests. Feeling confident in my latest drafts, despite not yet having heard from my most trusted readers, I celebrated by sending the scripts out. Less than two hours later, I received my mentors’ feedback, which pointed out some typos and a major missed opportunity in one script’s plot. My confidence and sanity popped like the tires on Mr. Toad’s coveted motorcar.

I went back to work, rewriting both high concept scripts. Once again, I sent them out for review. Meanwhile, Lee gifted me with a personal introduction to the Big Time Executive. He was high on my list based on his company’s past projects and associated talent. I took an entire day to pen a six line email that succinctly expressed my respect for his professional opinion and my SAT-like knowledge of his projects. He offered to read; and after a careful rewrite, I sent him the script.

Over a month and one follow-up email later, I still hadn’t heard back from the Big Time Executive. I double-checked our exchanged emails, and discovered that in my zeal to get the script to him, I had sent him an old draft.

I know, I couldn’t believe it, either.

Now, I had a choice: I could take my lumps and hope time would erase my faux-pas from his memory; or I could redeem myself. The late Hollywood legend, Billy Wilder, once said, “Trust your instinct. Your mistakes might as well be your own, instead of someone else’s.” In other words, it’s our screw-ups that make us who we are. I decided to reach out to the Big Time Executive once again, but not to ask for another chance. I wanted to ensure that my idiocy didn’t reflect poorly on Lee, the person who has believed in my talent from the very first script. I didn’t expect a response, let alone what happened next.

Less than a day later, he wrote back and offered to read another script of mine.

Popular lore portrays Hollywood as an inaccessible Olympus, filled with godlike creatures passing cruel judgement on humble writers. I now know several of these exultant Execs, and they are just like us. They work to keep their jobs and homes, while creating something that moves the world just a little bit. I still think of Mr. Toad sitting by the side of the road in his smashed-up motorcar but I now know the thrill isn’t in how fast I get there; it’s taking the time to appreciate and celebrate everyone who’s helping me on the journey.