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JACK MATHEWS

Feeling Rejected? That's Hollywood

October 15, 1986|JACK MATHEWS

Were you turned away at the last cattle call? Does being an extra make you feel ordinary? Have you had a script returned with a note that said, "Don't give up your day job?" Did you hire a limo to take you to an audition and your driver got the part?

Rejection.

They ought to put the word up on the hill in place of the Hollywood sign. Same number of letters and it's more accurate. If rejection left physical scars, the only role anyone here could play is Quasimodo.

Look up rejection in the dictionary (it is cruelly placed just before rejoice ). There are several definitions, all bad. To reject is "to discard or throw out as worthless," "to pass over," "to deny acceptance, care, love, etc."

This isn't a joke. Rejection is such a common occurrence that the dictionary actually designates the participants as the rejectee and the rejector.

It is hard not to personalize it when you are the rejectee, discarded as worthless, useless or substandard. But learning how to reject rejection is the only way to survive in the entertainment industry, according to psychotherapist Andrea Schalman, who will discuss rejection as an occupational hazard during a seven-hour forum Saturday at UCLA.

"It is easier said than done, but keeping your sense of self-worth through rejection and not personalizing it is really the key," says Schalman, who has conducted workshops on rejection for singles as clinical director of the South Bay Free Clinic. "People can learn to use the experience of being rejected as an opportunity to learn about themselves and become stronger."

Schalman is the only non-entertainment industry person on the UCLA Extension panel that will include actor James Woods, talent agent Ken Sherman, film directors Douglas Day Stewart and Edward Zwick, film producers Lawrence Turman and Mark Rosenberg, and writers Carl Lumbly and Bob Eisele.

The seminar, perhaps the first ever held on the subject of being dumped on, will be moderated by entertainment journalist Stephen Farber.

The panelists will attack rejection from both sides, offering tips on how to deal with rejection, which is as steady as the California sun, and insights into why the rejectors (agents, network and studio executives) behave the way they do.

"I'm hoping they can learn what the demands on our end are, so that when we're approached by them, it will be on a completely professional level," says Sherman, an agent for Paul Kohner Inc. "Most of the time, reasons for rejecting (an actor or writer) have nothing to do with that person."

Often, the response to rejection is outrage and anger, which is about as productive as putting a bullet in a dead engine. Sherman remembers an incident where a writer came in to retrieve his rejected manuscript and began leafing through the pages. On the back of Page 51, the writer had placed a small gob of glue, sealing it to Page 52. When he found the seal unbroken, he became furious.

"He began screaming at me, 'You agents have no respect for writers, you can't even read all the way through a script,' " Sherman says. "He had obviously been rejected a number of times and was a bit naive about what agents go through day to day. You read 15 to 20 pages in a script. You know by then whether it's a writer you feel you can work with productively. It's a personal judgment. It doesn't mean the script is no good."

There are no pure rejectors in Hollywood. Everybody faces the big NO once in a while. Farber said that while writing his book "Hollywood Dynasties," the head of one of the major studios told him he spent most of his time on one end or the other of rejection. He could tell a producer he has a go project, then have a star tell him it's no.

Sherman knows something about rejection, too. A few years ago, he was building up his own agency when two of his top money-earning clients--writers--announced they were dropping him to go with major agencies. This after he had nurtured their careers from nothing.

"I felt abandoned, betrayed, used and very angry," Sherman says. "I didn't deal with it very well. I couldn't work. I was waiting for the next one to leave. I thought, 'Why am I building a business to have it leave me?' "

One of the things Sherman says he wants to leave Saturday's audience with is the encouragement to not take rejection as qualified criticism. This is a business of intuition (the euphemism for guessing), so you plod on. Sherman says he had 22 rejections to the movie rights for Richard Rashke's novel "Escape From Sobibor," set in a Polish concentration camp, before producer Martin Starger bought it. The movie is now in post-production.

"I had 22 people send me letters saying, 'Gee, Ken, I don't know what to do with a concentration camp story.' The 23rd says, 'Yes, I want to do it.' That doesn't mean 22 people were wrong. The material just didn't grab them. . . . You have to believe in yourself, despite the rejection. If you don't, you are not going to find anybody who will help you get it done."

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