The 5 Types of “No” In Hollywood And What They Actually Mean

By:

Deciphering Hollywood Speak

Every writer dreads hearing the words “no” from a Hollywood producer, agent or manager. But the truth is that you’ll probably get very few direct rejections, even if you’re not selling anything.

How can that be?

Let’s be real for a minute. Producers, agents and managers are like everyone else: they dislike handing out rejection. They don’t enjoy telling a writer that they don’t want to buy the script. And yet that’s part of their job. They’re required to pick and choose their projects. Let’s face it: not everyone who reads your work is going to like it. Some songs make you want to get up and dance, and some don’t. That’s the nature of the beast.

Of course, no producer, agent or manager wants to burn their bridges by hurting a writer’s feelings with a direct rejection. Instead, writers are often offered a complex set of responses and non-responses that we are expected to sort out.

So let’s go over a few of the common responses from Hollywood producers, agents and managers and think about what they mean for you and your work.

"Let it goooooo....." Frozen (2013) Photo courtesy: Walt Disney Pictures

“Let it goooooo…..” Frozen (2013) Photo courtesy: Walt Disney Pictures

No 1 – Radio silence

This is by far the most common response from producers, agents and managers, and also the least popular among writers. What will happen is this: you send in the material, and then you hear nothing.

You contact them again, and you hear nothing.

Now, it’s certainly true that sometimes a producer’s reading docket is backfilled with projects and scripts that need to be read, and that can take time, but if it’s been longer than a few weeks, and they haven’t responded to your calls or emails, then it’s very possible you’re getting ghosted with the silent no. Sit down with a cookie and try to work out some way to let it go.

File under: avoid hurt feelings at all cost. Orphan (2009) Photo courtesy: Warner Bros.

File under: avoid hurt feelings at all cost. Orphan (2009) Photo courtesy: Warner Bros.

No 2 – We love it but we have a similar project

There’s no real way to know if a producer, agent, or manager is telling the truth about this or not, but they certainly could be.

It depends on how one defines “similar.” Do they already have another rom-com? Or do they have another rom-com that’s set in Texas featuring two funeral directors with pickle-shaped birthmarks which, wouldn’t you know it, is exactly the same as your story?

Either way, this is a no. More cookies.

Mmmmm, cake. Marie Antoinette (2006) Photo courtesy: Columbia Pictures

Mmmmm, cake. Marie Antoinette (2006) Photo courtesy: Columbia Pictures

No 3 – This has a lot of potential but…

This sounds a lot like a compliment, but it’s actually a version of “no.”

They may be telling the truth that they  enjoyed the work, but the bottom line is that they didn’t enjoy it enough to buy it. That’s the hard truth of this one. Go directly to cookie. Or pretty little pink cakes. Whatever.

 

Waiting for a response is like... Maze Runner: Scorch Trials (2015) Photo courtesy: 20th Century Fox

Waiting for a response is like… Maze Runner: Scorch Trials (2015) Photo courtesy: 20th Century Fox

No 4 – We loved it but we need someone else to read it

This is a solid “maybe.” Unfortunately, it means you’ll have to wait to see what they do. Also, it’s possible this will lead to radio silence (see #1 above). Still: it could be very positive if they’re moving it up the chain.

Keep your head in the game! Creed (2015) Photo courtesy: Warner Bros.

Keep your head in the game! Creed (2015) Photo courtesy: Warner Bros.

No 5 – We liked it but have some notes

This is another solid “maybe.” They may offer great notes or terrible notes, and even if you make the changes, they may still pass, but at least you have another shot at getting your foot in their door. If they’ve thought up notes, though, it means they’re invested enough in the project to spend valuable time considering changes. It also means they’re willing to spend time reading another version. This is a good sign. You’ll probably need a cookie to celebrate!

When we start writing, we hope that producers, agents and managers will bang down the door to get to us. We can get disappointed with the sheer volume of rejection in this town. But we just have to remember: no one in this town has ever succeeded without hearing some version of the responses listed above. Rejection is a part of Hollywood life. The important thing is to stay focused — and keep moving forward.

author-avatar

Jennie Evenson is the author of "Shakespeare for Screenwriters" (Michael Wiese, 2013) and the forthcoming "Storytelling Secrets of the Masters." As a writer in LA, Evenson worked as a consultant for Netflix and developed ideas at production houses from DreamWorks to Focus Features. You can follow her on Twitter: @JM_Evenson

21 Replies to "The 5 Types of "No" In Hollywood And What They Actually Mean"

  • comment-avatar
    Sean October 21, 2016 (12:40 pm)

    How about “What were you thinking?” or “Who in the world do you think wants to sit through this?”

  • comment-avatar
    Mario October 21, 2016 (12:41 pm)

    I heard (and I believe it) that only one thing means yes in Hollywood, and that’s money! Everything else just means no…

  • comment-avatar
    Martin October 21, 2016 (1:32 pm)

    If screenwriting is so hard why are there so many poor and bang average movies made? Or are there just many great movies written which never see the light of day?

    • comment-avatar
      Kathy Ayers October 21, 2016 (2:39 pm)

      There are so many poor movies made, among other reasons, exactly because screenwriting is so hard.

    • comment-avatar
      John October 21, 2016 (3:48 pm)

      It’s all about who knows who, and how long they’ve known them. Or in the real world (not “Hollywood”) it’s known as “well that sounded like a good idea on paper.”

    • comment-avatar
      Mario October 24, 2016 (7:06 am)

      A possible explanation for this is that even the worst movies start from decent scripts but get messed up along the way by non-writer people meddling with the story, or bad acting, things like that. Of course, some bad scripts also do get into production, for whatever reasons. It’s just all so very suggestive…, all you need is one person with money liking a script and wanting to produce it, and when those people happens to have bad taste, bad movies get made!

    • comment-avatar
      Elizabeth October 24, 2016 (2:23 pm)

      There are so many bad movies because they’re requested by producers and written by hired hands with limited time and a big name attached. They don’t have to produce quality. The thing is going to be made regardless.

    • comment-avatar
      Cindy January 30, 2017 (11:42 am)

      Scripts go through many hands before they get made and get changed and interpreted in many ways. It’s due to either people involved wanting to put their finger prints on it, or someone footing the money influencing decisions, or a named actor having issues with something for some reason, even once shooting begins things can change outside of anyone’s control (weather, accidents, all kinds of unpredictable things ALWAYS happen), and these are just a few of what can change a script before it turns into a movie.

      Yet even in spite of this, in order for it to get accepted, for anyone with the power to make it is willing to put their reputation and money on the line, the script really must be dynamic!

  • comment-avatar
    Morgan October 21, 2016 (2:13 pm)

    Rejection is part of every life. We face it daily–writer or non-writer. Trying to figure out the ‘real’ reason behind the no is pointless unless you actually get feedback. ‘Reader’ got in a fight with spouse at breakfast, kids missed the bus, had to take them to school, stuck in traffic, late for work, boss is down their throat about something, spilled coffee on shirt/blouse, lost card key for copy machine, has appointment tomorrow with the IRS auditor–not having a good day. Then, your script lands square in the middle of the screen. The title, “Everything is Coming Up Roses,” a light comedy about the joys of family life. Maybe he/she just goes ballistic and flags it reject without reading another word. Or, they decided to stay home today, migraine. Ron from the ‘reader’ pool gets your script. He’s in a really good mood filling in for a superior and hungry to prove himself. He flags your script a maybe. It is so subjective. A no to a script is not necessarily a no to you. Don’t take it personally. Hard to do but far preferable to sitting around in your bathrobe, watching commercial television, and scooping Haagen-Dazs on your cookies. Stay away from the cookies altogether, go for a walk instead. Unless they are double chocolate chip fresh out of the oven, then it’s a maybe. Make up your own story behind the no. It could be your next script. ‘A harried script reader discovers family secrets when his long lost cousin’s script lands on his desk,’ or something like that. As the article says…just keep your nose pointed toward your goal.

  • comment-avatar
    Luke nz October 21, 2016 (3:37 pm)

    It’s not what can the Film industry do for me, but rather, what can I do for the Film industry. A script as the first link in the chain must be exceptional because it supports the creative team in bringing this story to life. The bottom line isn’t what it once was which means we all have to work smarter without always thinking of no as a quality issue. Here in New Zealand we have a film commission with funding grants and a raft of stuff to improve story and how it’s conveyed, but we struggle the same as everywhere else. Getting Professional feedback from industry experts is like trying to find Rocking horse shit, this however should’t take away from the fun we have looking.

  • comment-avatar
    Luke nz October 21, 2016 (4:14 pm)

    I few years ago I read Jennie’s “Shakespeare for screenwriters” book and loved it. The structure and lay out especially, as it made the wisdom allot more transferable. I found it that valuable I got my local library to purchase a copy. Thanks Luke

    • comment-avatar
      JM Evenson October 22, 2016 (10:33 am)

      Thanks, Luke NZ! I hate to sound corny, but I really did enjoy writing the book. I’m glad to hear you found it useful.

  • comment-avatar
    John Connell October 21, 2016 (7:37 pm)

    There are so many poor movies made because:
    1. Too many cooks changed the original so much that the final product is a mere amalgam of b.s.
    2. Too many re-writes caused a loss of the soul of the writer. Cause? See #1.
    3. A rich patron wanted to see his nephew/niece in a movie.
    4. A rich actor wanted to see himself/herself in a movie. He/She convinced #3.
    5. The Government “Funding Company for New and Fascinating Projects” had to use up its annual allotment of funds.
    6. Enough. You get the idea.

  • comment-avatar
    Christy Marx October 21, 2016 (10:33 pm)

    You left out one of my all-time favorites: “This is too good for us.”

    • comment-avatar
      Elizabeth October 24, 2016 (2:26 pm)

      The funny thing is, I actually go a prose story turn-down just like that. It was for a very popular women’s magazine and it was a different (more depth, character, etc) than their standard fare. The editor called it “an excellent story” in a handwritten note and regretted that it wasn’t what they published. Best turn-down EVER.

  • comment-avatar
    robbert smit October 22, 2016 (2:38 am)

    The fact that we as a species can contemplate imaging or own existence is amazing enough. Rejection in anyone’s language is painful, be it script or otherwise. Writing. Do it because you love it.

  • comment-avatar
    May West October 23, 2016 (1:51 pm)

    HARD FACT 1: Money is what makes Hollywood go around. They need something original, different, exceptional – but familiar.
    HARD FACT 2: Every one and their auntie think/believe they’re a brilliant screenwriter – churning out (more of the same old same old ) crappy plots. Producers, agents and managers have had (read) enough of this same old-same old crappy plots. It goes straight to the waste paper basket. ( I know. I’m a reader.)
    Unless you make them sit up and take NOTICE -with something truly exceptional and original -but with the promise of box office success – you’re nothing – a nobody. Tall order, right? Means only one thing: go back to the drawing and only then, when you’ve delivered the goods, go straight to those powerful connections (you’ve should have built up in the interim). Good luck.

  • comment-avatar
    Dov Simens October 26, 2016 (1:29 pm)

    To make it simple. The script is either Great or it S*cks. If it is great you will get a cash offer (Purchase, option, buyout). If it s*cks you will get no response when you phone them or a non-responsive reply like “needs just a little work”, or “Act II is a little weak”, or “a couple of characters need fleshing out”, or…

    Welcome to Hollywood.
    Dov Simens

  • comment-avatar
    Dave November 2, 2016 (6:10 am)

    It’s all about money… and Hollywood don’t want to waste money on newcomers when they can rehash over and make anew remakes featuring a-listers… then wonder why they flop…
    Give all those newcomers a chance and see what they will do for you!

  • comment-avatar
    Rick Eager November 10, 2016 (11:36 am)

    My buddy wrote a great “Action” movie. Everyone who read it loved it! He handed a hard copy to a producer we met in a coffee shop who sat down with us and opened it. Here’s how it went… The producer reads page1, then page2, then page3, then closes the script and hands it back to my buddy. He says, “Sorry. I can’t do nothin’ for ya.” My buddy says, “What do you mean?” The producer says, “On page 1, you have written a character that can only be played by 1 or 2 people in town and I can’t afford them. On page 2, you have a 86 story building being blown up. I can’t afford that, nor the special effect. On page 3, the hero, whom we’ve already discussed that we can’t afford, gets whisked off the collapsing roof just in time by a hybrid, jet powered helicopter. Your first 3 pages are the budgets for 2 or 3 full feature movies. No thank you.” What did I learn at my buddies expense? A writer needs to think about budgets. If you write something, you need to show the producer how it can be done on an acceptable budget. Sometimes that requires research, phone calls and emails. You need to put in the work and think a little like a business person because that’s how they think. In doing so, it could mean the difference in getting your movie made.

  • comment-avatar
    Donna Mosera November 14, 2016 (5:24 pm)

    Interesting story – gave very first script to head of major studio at noon He called at 6 am and said he was up all night reading it and loved it. Thought it would make a better tv series than a feature and sent it to a department head who called a couple of weeks later and told me that they decided to pass. My mistake? Later phone conversation when studio head asked if I had anything else and I told him I did not. Stupid and very unprofessional not to have anything else in the cupboard. These chances don’t come around often.

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published.

Join Our Magazine
Get a free subscription to ScreenwritingU Magazine and download over 40 Academy Nominated screenplays.
No Thanks
Thanks for Joining ScreenwritingU Magazine!
We respect your privacy. Your information is safe and will never be shared.
Don't miss out. Join today!
×
×