What goes up…

Less than a month ago we won Best Feature in the D.C. Independent Film Festival.

Talk back

The post screening talk back, featuring Producer Beau Genot, Catia Ojeda (Nina), Writer/Director Alex “Top of the World” Goldberg, Producer Katie Rosin, and Milena Govich (Prudence). Photo: Elias Savada

Three weeks later and I’m engaged in a bitter email feud with the head of a mediocre script competition about being unfairly judged in a contest where my EXCELLENT script didn’t crack the top 100.

Oh, and this competition ended LAST YEAR. I was notified of my rejection five months ago.

So… how does this fall from grace happen so quickly?

A show business life exists on a rollercoaster. The highs are awesome and the views are amazing (Look, I can see J. Law’s ankle tattoo from here!) but in an instant it all drops out from under you. Then you are in a dark tunnel, can’t even see your own shadow, and the heights are a distant memory.

YES the movie life can be glamorous, especially our time at the festival, but I share the following with you because it is hard. And there is often rejection. Relentless rejection.

The downward spiraling began at the fest, actually. Before leaving D.C. we found out about two other film festival rejections. Not a big deal.

Upon landing in Los Angeles we returned to normalcy. There is still a lot of administrative work to do on the movie. So we kept at it. We didn’t have any pending festivals in March, but there were five in April so it would be great to get things in order before then. But the downward slide continued…

  • I received a rejection from a prestigious writers conference for one of my plays. No shocker, but still disappointing. Even more disappointing: within an hour two writer friends were celebrating their acceptance to the same festival on Facebook.
  • Another film festival rejection: guess we aren’t going to TriBeCa.
  • Was notified that my ranking on a technical writing website (the bulk of my income for the past few years) has dropped from 4 stars to 3 stars. This will make a big difference in my income. I appealed the demotion. My request was denied.
  • Another film festival rejection: guess we aren’t going to San Francisco.

“Now wait a second,” I hear you say. “You’ve been in this business for a while. You know all about rejection. Stop yer bitchin’.”

Valid point, imaginary you. I signed up for this. And should be prepared. In fact, we’ve been doing some lobbying on our behalf. Yes, you could submit your film to a festival, do nothing, and wait until you get the response in your inbox. Or you can lobby. We still have nearly a dozen festivals pending and there are multiple festivals where we have networked heavily, utilizing personal contacts from investors, artists in our movie, and other supporters. One of our investors premiered her recent film at a certain Midwestern film festival where we applied. She set me up with the head of the festival and we have been corresponding. Our prospects look good. Great, even.

But as we wait for the official decision the slide continues…

  • I attended an acting class with the Antaeus Theatre Company where the students did scenes from one of my plays. For this I was paid a stipend. It was a great experience. So why is this part of my downward spiral? Because I realized that when my check for the stipend arrives it will be THE FIRST MONEY I HAVE MADE IN 2018. Which is because-
  • -I am unemployed. Other than my technical job listed before, which has been dry so far this year. My wife, forever a freelance actor, is unemployed until the next job comes in. But she hasn’t had a single audition in two months, right about the same time she told her agents she was pregnant. So if you are keeping score that’s two unemployed artists, and a mortgage, and a three-year-old in preschool, and another kid on the way.
  • Tax time. Pulling receipts together to meet with our tax preparer. Looking at all the submissions for competitions and festivals from 2017. While some are still pending, most were rejections.

And that’s when I noticed for one submission I did not receive the feedback I paid extra to receive. And that was the last straw. I hastily wrote the competition, waited a day, and angrily wrote again. The head of the competition cheerfully wrote me back and sent my coverage, which he claimed was sent two months ago. I didn’t receive it.

I read the coverage and it was glowing. The reader loved it. Gave only one slight note. I quickly wrote back, (almost) calmly explaining that this barely constitutes as feedback and since it was so glowing, how did it not make the top 100? His answer was less than convincing. Clearly, this competition was not worth my time or money.

But rather engage in a back and forth, I took a step back and realized that it IS a roller coaster. And I’m at the bottom. And things will turn up.

Then we got the email from that midwestern festival we were eagerly anticipating:

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Shit.

I guess this coaster still has some downhill before we climb up again. Out of five potential festivals we could attend in April, only one is still pending.

Keep pushing. Keep climbing. We won Best Feature at our first festival. We’ll get into another.

Right?

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Chasing Rejection

It’s one thing to spew out words on the interwebs. Hold a mirror up to myself, navel gaze, and tell the world (the world being the dozens of you who still read this blog). It’s another thing to follow through.

But I did! Take that, haters. As discussed in my previous entry, I continued to pretend that I had pressing deadlines. In fact, I had another big submission to do and finished it earlier today. Now I have another big deadline next week. Even though my chances of getting accepted into these festivals or conferences or workshops are long shots, it still gives me immense satisfaction to finish the job. Putting the big envelope in the mail used to be such a cathartic moment; now, of course, hitting send on the online form almost gives the same feeling. I have kept a log of all my submissions for the past 9 years.  By “submissions,” I consider festivals, publishers, competitions, and theaters with open submissions. I don’t count film and TV scripts to producers and agents, as those submissions fall into a grey area. I also don’t count collaborations, jobs for which I am hired, or other freelance gigs that come from networking (which is a lot).

So how do I measure success? Not necessarily by victories alone. If I apply to a prestigious event, for example the O’Neill Playwrights Conference or the Nicholl Screenplay Fellowship, then I consider it a success if that script makes it to the semifinal level. Or if I make honorable mention or runner-up in a screenplay contest.

I keep these stats in a detailed spreadsheet so I can track and follow up on everything, minimizing what falls through the cracks. So what’s my success rate? Well, that’s private.

Unknown

Oh, who am I kidding, blogging is about revealing all your private details, right? I’m also wearing grey Hanes boxer-briefs right now, FYI. So what is my success rate?

14%.

Technically, 13.79%…but I’m an optimist.

For every 100 scripts I submit (and believe me, that number jumped north of 100 years ago) only 14 times am I successful, by my own definition of success.

That means that for every 100 times I sit down to prepare a submission, which takes anywhere from 15 minutes to days of prep work including writing support essays, getting recommendation letters, and last minute script revisions, I am rejected 86 times.

Got that? I AM REJECTED 86% OF THE TIME. A .140 batting average would not get me to the majors.  Making 14% of my free throws would get me cut from any basketball team in any league. Getting 14% of the vote would certainly not get me elected to any political office, not even Florida in 2000.

But in my world, 14% makes me a success.

Why? Am I delusional? Only my imaginary friend Wallace knows that for sure.  But I know there are many factors in why someone gets rejected, and often it’s luck. A few months ago I got a very nice rejection letter from an artistic director at a theater in Ireland who said they absolutely loved my play Broad Daylight, but already had a similar play slated for their upcoming festival written by a local writer, and they favor local writers. A rejection, right? But not really.

Because I’m putting it out there. I’m putting myself out there.

14% success is better than 0% success. Because only not trying is failing.

So now, with each deadline met, with each application out in the mail (or e-mail), I pat myself on the back FOR A SECOND and say, “what’s the next deadline?” And I start up again.

And that’s how it’s going to go. There is always another festival or competition to enter. There is always another draft to finish. There is always another script to begin.

I have to finish this blog entry now. I have many more rejections to chase.

Exciting Update! (or, how I learned to stop worrying about doing revisions and love the process)

This blog was created to chart the progress of a movie I will write and direct. This week I have made zero progress on that script. None. Not one inch of forward progress. And yet, it has been a pretty productive week.

Let me back up. A long time ago (December of 2009) I had a nightmare. When I woke up that nightmare became an inspiration. Later that day that inspiration became 27 pages of a new script. Within a month I had a completed draft of a play called It is Done.

In early 2011 I got together with some of my favorite theater actors and director, and we staged a reading of the script as part of a reading series at Astoria Performing Arts Center in New York. That led to another reading at The Dramatists Guild. One thing led to another, and we were able to stage a production of the play, which is set in a bar, in a private bar in Midtown Manhattan, in late 2011. And it was good. And the audiences and (most of) the critics agreed.

Ean Sheehy, Catia Ojeda and Matt Kalman in the New York Production

Ean Sheehy, Catia Ojeda and Matt Kalman in the New York Production

In early 2012, my wife and I decided to give Los Angeles a try. The streets are paved with jobs, and there aren’t ANY writers in L.A. so producers  should all be clamoring for my skills, right? Right?!? Well, as an added incentive, the co-producers of the New York production  wanted to stage a production there, so what better calling card for my writing career, right? And so, It is Done was done at the Pig ‘n Whistle, a bar in Hollywood, in May of 2012.

NOT the cast of the Hollywood Production, with apologies to Andre Tenerelli, Michael McCartney, and Catia Ojeda

NOT the cast of the Hollywood Production, with apologies to Andre Tenerelli, Michael McCartney, and Catia Ojeda

And it was good. And the audiences and (most of) the critics agreed. And so did a movie producer. A college friend of mine runs a production company, and one of her co-producers loved the show and felt that their company should turn it into a movie. This was appealing to me. So I signed a contract. And so, It is Done was to be developed by Ambush Entertainment, out of Los Angeles. And that was another reason that convinced me and my wife that setting up our home base in Los Angeles instead of New York was a good idea.

And then, months later, I got a phone call from my friend who runs the production company. Turns out the producer who wanted to make my play into a movie left the company, so they were not going to make It is Done. That producer even left moviemaking for reality TV, so he couldn’t take the script with him. It is Done the movie was done. Depressing? Sure. But it was very considerate of my friend to let me know; they could have easily just sat on the script until the option ran out. Contrary to what you may have heard about show business, honesty and respect are still commodities in this town.

And then, months later, I am hired to write a script for another director. And while we are working on that script, he lets me know that he has a window to direct a movie in the fall. However, he doesn’t feel our script, or any other he has in his arsenal, will be ready to go into pre-production later in the summer. But do I know of any writers with scripts that take place in minimal locations?

And that is how It is Done moved from Ambush Entertainment to MirrorCore Productions. And is scheduled to be shot in Colorado in November. THIS November.

All this means that I have work to do, as a revised draft of the screenplay is due by August 1st. A very real deadline.

So while the script I should be telling you about is stagnant, I am getting closer to having a movie made. So really, I’m staying on topic, right?

Stay tuned…things are getting busier.