This week a guest blog by screenwriter ANNALISA D’INNELLA, who has been on the Channel 4 screenwriting course this year.
Annalisa is working on original projects with several independent production companies. She also has a series in development with Channel 4. She is represented by Casarotto Ramsay & Associates.
Looking through the list of topics Philip suggested I could cover for this guest blog, one of them jumped out and sang to me: REJECTION. Yes. Rejection. I can write about rejection. I am a self-appointed rejection expert. So much so that I have, over the years, developed a Three-Step Personal Rejection Coping Strategy that I deploy as soon as the dreaded gut- punch drops into my inbox. Allow me to share it with you.
Most writers have wilderness years – a period of time when you learn your craft. I had an embarrassingly long wilderness stretch. I sat alone at my desk writing terrible script after terrible script in the certain knowledge that all my friends and family secretly pitied me. During this period, I would send these terrible scripts off to schemes and competitions and they would – quite rightly – be rejected. As time passed, I noticed a pattern emerge. The rejection emails would make me feel furious and miserable for exactly two days. On the third day, I would, inexplicably, perk up. So Step 1 of my coping strategy is to tell myself – this is going to hurt. But in exactly 48 I will feel better.
Most screenwriters are relentless optimists. We have to be. No matter how many times we are knocked down, the urge to create will always force us back on our feet. And, for me, this process always takes exactly 48 hours.
Step 2 is buy a punchbag. (this step is self-explanatory)
There’s another kind of rejection common in our industry. The one that falls under the heading ‘bad luck’. You’ve worked for a year on a script about, say, snowboarding. The commissioner loves it but has just greenlit a massive snowboarding show. It’s nobody’s fault. If anything it validates how brilliantly zeitgeisty you are. But it still hurts. For this occasion, I present to you: Step 3: mark the demise of your script-baby with (overblown if possible) ceremony and ritual. For me, this means wearing black. The sheer melodrama of the practice is usually enough to amuse me out of my self-pity.
I once explained to my actor friend, Kevin, that I was ‘in mourning’ for a project that had perished. He understood instantly: ‘that’s genius’ he responded. ‘Send me a selfie’. He does it too now. Like a Victorian widow. (we should buy veils).
The pilot I wrote this year for 4Screenwriting 2020 received five competing option offers and is now in development with Channel 4. On hearing the news, I called Kevin who hooted in jubilation while I remained shocked and wordless. I had no idea how to process what was happening. ‘Wear yellow!’ he commanded. So I did.
When I was a child, I wanted to be an actor. My mother (an actor herself for a short time) had warned me against the profession. ‘You can’t be an actor, darling’ she regularly chimed ‘you’re TERRIBLE at rejection’. Rejection still knocks me flat every time. I’m still sensitive. My self-esteem crumbles all too easily. But I’d like to think I’m getting better at it.
The other reason my Mother was against my joining the acting profession was because I am disabled. I was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa – an incurable degenerative eye condition – when I was 14 years old. Her protective instinct is completely understandable. She didn’t want me to fall in love with acting only to experience the heartbreak of having to abandon it when my eyes packed in. My Dad (a visual artist) steered me away from painting for the same reason. They were terrified for my future (though they did their best to hide it). How would I have relationships, a family, any sort of job? These seemed reasonable questions when I was young. Blind people were invisible. We’d certainly never met any in person. And we never really saw them represented on screen. Indeed, the Hollywood versions of blindness all seemed to be young women who were either tragically inspirational or about-to-be-murdered. In our ignorance, we didn’t think blind people could have jobs – let alone jobs in show business. How wildly ill-informed and wrong we were.
Last year, I met an actor who was in a huge, high-profile National Theatre production. She’s visually-impaired. She told me the team had adapted elements of their back-stage protocol to make it easier to get on and off the stage. We’d only just met, and I’m not a hugger, but I hugged her.
I write scripts about all sorts of different subjects. I don’t always write about disability, but I have come to feel an increasing responsibility to create brilliant roles for disabled actors. Disabled people make up 20% of the population (not that you’d know it if you watch British drama). No matter what my scripts are about, I will always create at least one great role for a disabled actor.
I love my job. I write because I’m foolish and optimistic. I write because I’m a problem-solver. I write because I can’t seem to stop myself. And because it’s where I feel most at home. I hope that, today, any disabled kid who wants to write or act will feel there’s a home for them in our industry. Because – as long as they can learn to cope with the relentless rejection – I think there is.
Thank you so much to Annalisa for being generous enough to take the time to write this and share it with us.
The next newsletter on Friday December 11th
November 27th 2020