A television pitch that I helped write was passed on by a production company this week. This isn’t, in itself, much of a surprise. Rejections happen all the time in life, let alone in television. But the manner of this particular rejection was, let’s say, interesting.
To be fair to the rejector, her words weren’t necessarily meant for our eyes — she was replying to another developer who’d forwarded our pitch to her — but nonetheless, I found those words, let’s persist in saying, interesting.
The email began:
It’s nice to hear from you — thanks for getting in touch with us about this project. I certainly admire their dedication and determination with this, they’re not ones to take no for an answer are they?!
The project wouldn’t be one for us though at the moment unfortunately […] It’s a real shame because, as I say, I really admire their chutzpah!
Sending a pitch out to television companies looking for scripts to develop isn’t usually what I’d call chutzpah and the language of this particular rejection could be read as patronising, but that would do a disservice to the truth: chutzpah is what it takes to get stuff made.
Chutzpah is exactly what T.S. Eliot’s J. Alfred Prufrock struggled with: ‘Do I dare disturb the universe?’ and later, equally as ambitious: ‘Do I dare to eat a peach?’
Needless to say, Prufrock ends his days gazing out to sea, wondering ‘would it have been worth while, to have bitten off the matter with a smile’? He’ll never know.
Chutzpah gets things moving. Chutzpah is what Prufrock needs to squeeze ‘the universe into a ball, to roll it towards some overwhelming question’.
That question, for Prufrock as for us, isn’t necessarily a cosmic one. It might be as simple as following up on an unanswered pitch I sent to the Guardian last week: I know you can’t reply to every pitch, but just checking — did you get my email?
The developer was absolutely right: dedication and determination are essential character traits – in pretty much every human endeavour, let alone the creative arts. We need to keep putting out what she calls chutzpah: a thick skin she just helped make thicker.
At the end of her TIFF masterclass on The Female Gaze, Jill Soloway, crediting filmmaker John Cassavetes, says:
The job of the artist is to inspire the people with money to pay for the art. The people with the money never want to pay for the art. They are only there to make the money.
[…] Half the job [of being an artist] is making the art and the other half is being a politician for your art and coming up with a believable, positive, forward-thinking, money-making story around why your story matters.
So what have you been rejected for recently? Follow it up: maybe with an even more forward-thinking, money-making story, or simply by trying to inspire some other person with money to pay for your art.
Now is not the time to step back into the shadows, like Prufrock, and cry out, ‘No!’:
I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two
Instead: follow up, finish the scene, be there when the curtain falls.