People, especially decision-makers in the entertainment industry, hate to say “no.” Delaying, dodging and disappearing is apparently much easier than offering a clear and direct rejection.
Instead of quickly passing on a pitch that they know won’t fly, they (or their people) delay, waffle, go dark, refuse to return calls and not respond to emails—leaving you in limbo, frustrated, depressed and stuck.
But, talented and creative people need to start demanding a timely “no” in order to move on and figure out a way to get their project to a “yes.”
The solution is setting a deadline for response—and if the deadline passes, be willing to walk away. I learned this strategy from Jerry Gottlieb, my first Los Angeles-based entertainment attorney, who died too soon. He was feared but respected by everyone we dealt with. He set firm deadlines for response and if we didn’t get an answer within a reasonable time period, we moved on.
Most of my filmmaking colleagues are not aware that prior to becoming an independent film and TV producer about ten years ago, I was a financial reporter and syndicated small business columnist for the Los Angeles Times, a producer for CNN and Bloomberg TV.
In 1988, my editor, Marty Baron, now executive editor of the Washington Post, offered me an opportunity to revive a defunct small business column for the L.A. Times.
As an investigative reporter specializing in white- collar crime, I knew nothing about running a small business. So, I just started interviewing business owners, documenting their strategies for success. One thing all successful business people did was setting firm deadlines for decisions and holding people accountable. They didn’t wait months for an answer. They couldn’t afford delays. If they didn’t get an answer, they simply moved on.
For years after stepping away from my journalism career, I was a well-paid keynote speaker and media spokesperson for companies selling products and services to small business owners including Sprint, American Express and Wells Fargo Bank.
I was in demand, keynoting glitzy events around the world. My endorsements sold stuff. If one company took too long to book me, I just moved on. It wasn’t personal. It was business.
Without a firm deadline, projects wither and die. Although business owners are more comfortable setting deadlines, most producers I know are terrified of setting a deadline for response. We apparently prefer to complain about feeling powerless and dependent on others to provide the financing, the talent, the distribution deal, etc.
But, confidently standing up for yourself and your project is critical for success. You’ll win some and lose some. Over the years, my reps have pulled several big and fabulous deals off the table. Sometimes, the deal came back. Others times it didn’t, but we just moved on to make another deal.
Walking away, with grace and cordiality shows that you have confidence and respect for the people you hope to work with—if not now, someday. Always keep the door open to future conversations, while moving in a new direction.
Try it. Setting a deadline and sticking can’t be any worse than waiting in limbo and watching your dream project drift away.
Jane Applegate has produced several award-winning features and documentaries. She’s currently producing a series pilot for a Caribbean-based cable network. Applegate is the author of four books on small business success and a production consultant for independent film and TV projects. firstname.lastname@example.org