Hello to the mysterious Red Baron, who emailed me with this yesterday:

I’m new to the scriptwriting business and I was wondering whether you could give me some advice. Last April I sent a script to a production company. They replied back positively in May, asking for a series treatment, character biographies etc. Since June, I haven’t heard anything back from them.

From your experience, how long does it take for production companies to reply back and do you think I should ask them for an update, or by asking them would I be jeopardising my chances?

First off, I’m happy to offer my experiences – but they’re obviously just mine. Others will have different outlooks and opinions, even of the same prodcos and people I’ve dealt with.

Secondly, I think only stalking producers, sending them a dozen dead roses and killing their pets, friends and family jeopardises a writer’s chances: asking for updates (as long as it’s not a barrage, but a politely worded email or phone call) should never cause a decent prodco to chuck you in the rejection pile. If it does, you’re probably better off without them!

Obviously, it can depend on the prodco and what they actually make. I’ve found TV companies to take longer than film companies for example. Interestingly, I’ve discovered new media producers (internet drama people in particular) take virtually no time at all. I sent an query email to one place and was emailed back within ten minutes! Another couple I’ve queried have responded in a similar speedy manner.

If it’s a VERY big prodco, *usually* they respond after rather a long time – anything between 4 and 6 months. The BBC have taken anything up to 8 months with me, as have ITV and Granada. With one company, I waited a whole year only to be told in no uncertain terms to get lost: damn! Sometimes though they respond immediately (by that I mean the same week, rather than the same day), usually because they really like you or your project: they’ll then usually ask a scribe to send more stuff and either get back to them very quickly again (usually for a meeting), or they never talk to you again! This has also happened to me.

Other times, middle-sized companies have not responded at all to me, though once, a company asked me to write some pitches, responded favourably, talked to me on the phone for a WHOLE HOUR, asked me to call back on the Friday – then dodged my call and never spoke to me again. That was really annoying.

Small companies I’ve found either respond IMMEDIATELY (literally within days) or never speak to you. Or worse, confirm receipt of stuff, say they WILL get back to you, then you never hear from them again.

Other times, the person I’ve been dealing with has moved on or been fired – that can also be annoying, ‘cos the replacement does not always want to follow up what their predeccessor was doing; some even make a point of starting with a completely new list of potential projects. When that happens, a politely worded query will tell you what you want to know: I find usually they will reply in a very polite manner wishing you “all the best for your future” – in other words, get lost. Again.

Sometimes, unexpected things happen. I had a great meeting with a producer once, followed it up with several emails, he was still really enthusiastic: then there was complete radio silence. I was miffed but moved on… Only to be contacted about a month after that to say he had been REALLY ILL, but was okay now, could we pick up where we left off? Also, very early in my career I was talking to an agent who seemed to love my work, then disappeared off the face of the planet. It was only a couple of years ago I discovered the poor man had actually DIED very suddenly of a heart attack.

Summing up then, don’t worry about following up the progress of your submissions – I find phone calls work better than emails; write a phone script if you feel nervous. Chances are someone’s assistant will just take a message anyway (remember to leave your email address or phone number so they can get back to you).If no one gets bacj to you, there’s your answer.

I wouldn’t phone more than twice and I wouldn’t email more than about twice either. I usually phone once and email once and then let it go. Having said that, some of my best opportunities have come from NOT letting it go for one reason or another – but just don’t bombard them with demands! Leave plenty of time between communications, else you run the risk of said person opening their inbox and going, “Them AGAIN!” Not good.

It is worth remembering too that just because you’ve been rejected once, doesn’t mean you can’t approach that person again. Some of my best contacts now have come from my repeated approaches! I’ll usually say something like:

“Hi, you may remember my script [blah] last year/ six months ago/etc, it was about [blah]. You passed, but you said [blah] about it. I was wondering if you’d like to read another script of mine?”

I find they will often say yes. That doesn’t mean they’ll take the next send of course, but you’re building up a profile in their head – and that IS good, because eventually you and this person may end up working together.

You have to play the long game, nothing happens “just like that”. I’m working with someone right now I met when I was 24 – it’s been nearly five years, but after reading three billion of my specs, he’s finally found the right project we BOTH want to make… And because we now know each other very well, it’s going to be 150% better than it could have been five years ago.

So don’t let rejection get you down. Feel free to follow up on your submissions (as long as it’s in a sensible manner) and chalk up the radio silences to experience. If you get any feedback, ALWAYS say thank you. If you can add that producer or company to your Facebook or similar – do so, though don’t bombard them with weird Superwall crap or chuck sheep at them. If you happen to be in their area, ask if your contact wants to go for a coffee, you’re buying: sometimes they say yes.

Be brave – it can pay dividends. What’s the worst they can do? Ignore you. ‘Nuff sed.

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5 Responses to When Is A Rejection A Rejection If I Don’t Hear Anything?

  1. laurence timms says:

    That is one hell of a useful bunch of information there. In fact, I’ve printed it out and stapled it to the back of my copy of Adrian Mead’s Making it as a Scriptwriter.

    Trees be damned.

    Thanks, Lucy.

  2. script doc says:

    Delays in hearing from production companies are caused by bottlenecks in the system. It is, by and large, easier to say ‘No’ than to say ‘Yes’, but no one really likes saying ‘No’ to an eager writer, so they try to avoid it. That’s one reason why you might not hear anything. But another reason is because a new decision-making level has been reached, and whoever has the power of saying ‘Yea’ or ‘Nay’ is dragging his or her heels. It happens all the time.
    You, as the writer, have an absolute right to know what’s happening with your project. As a rule of thumb, if the company’s excited and running with it, you’ll hear pretty soon. If it’s dead in the water, you’ll just have to wait until someone plucks up the courage to tell you so. But it is worth giving your contact a nudge. It could well be that your project has gone forward to Mr or Ms High-And-Mighty, who is trying to avoid taking a decision.
    The bad news is that S/He Who Holds The Power does not like to be rushed. They avoid making decisions because (as they see it) it’s their head on the block. In reality, it’s their ego. If they make the right decision, they get endless glory. If they make the wrong one they look like a fool. If you apply any pressure they are liable, out of frustration or pique, to reject your project out of hand.
    But, when all’s said and done, it’s better to know than to be kept waiting indefinitely. Any company which keeps you hanging on like that is doing you a major disservice.
    It’s possible that Mr or Ms Big is trying to sell your project to the Higher Powers. Fine – then your contact at the production company can tell you that everything’s in hand. But if Mr/Ms Big is simply stalling, you have a right to get an answer within a reasonable time. Speak to your contact every couple of weeks. If you get the feeling that nobody’s actually doing anything with your project, move on.

  3. Carlo Conda says:

    Here’s where you may start applying knowledge of social dynamics to networking and getting yourself out there.
    This may all be, daresay, like picking up women. Ha

  4. Stephen Gallagher says:

    I developed something with a BBC drama producer who sent the script over to the channel controller and was promised a response in two weeks.

    That was in 1995.

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