greek tragedy: emerging from setbacks

In ALL, INTROSPECTION, WRITING EXERCISES by Stephanie Klein48 Comments

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They passed. The networks passed. It’s not an easy thing to admit or even to look at, written out like that, so buck-naked.

I pitched a half-hour comedy series, focused on the lives of three former sorority sisters, and the one woman who was rejected during rush, a decade after graduation, all living in the South. “Greek Tragedy” was a comedic look at rejection, with the tone of YaYa Sisterhood and Steel Magnolias meets Golden Girls and Designing Women. These women were “sisters,” and sisters will fight—they can whip out the biting insults and deliver a sad truth that’ll plant you on your ass—but in the end, they’ll see you through anything. It was a show with heart.

When we’re rejected, we question everything, and our confidence is rattled. Yet as universal as those feelings are, we all handle rejection so differently (and so did the characters of the show). “Greek Tragedy” explored how far each of us is willing to sacrifice our authenticity for likability, and ultimately how we emerge from the setbacks in our lives. It’s something we all live daily, something I know down to my bones and have faced so intimately.

An unspoken treat for fans: each character was based off a real God or Goddess from Greek mythology. I did for mythology what Clueless and Brigit Jones Diary did for Jane Austen’s Emma. I took weaver goddess Athena and turned her into a fashion reality contestant, the first to be unanimously “Auf’d,” landing her on her hands and knees, back with the women who’d shunned her years ago, now a seamstress at a dress shop, catering to privileged debutantes and momzillas. My version of foam-born Aphrodite? She was adopted from China, and being Asian, everyone assumed she’d be good at math, making her former sorority treasurer. Artemis/Diana, the huntress, became a female Simon Cowell, a child talent scout, hunting out girls at pageants and purity balls. In one scene, when asked if she’s ready, she responds with a mythic truth, “Shug, I was born ready, so ready that I helped my mama deliver my twin brother!” Apollo, her twin… I could go on, but that’s just the thing, I need to move on. I still dream about these characters. It’s hard to let go.

The pitch, at first, was far too long. I was told to bring it in at 20 minutes, which I’d done, but still, it felt far too long, weighed down in details. And that’s the feedback I received. It was too long, and my southern accent came off as mocking and cheesy. Okay, good note. I can work with that. I do actually listen to people. So I cut the pitch to 12 minutes, dropped the accent, and made it clear that I was enchanted with the South and had no intention of mocking it.

I also has great Producers.  The kind of talent that have brought us some of the most successful movies and television but the concept and characters were my baby.

“It’s in the good Lord’s hands now.” It’s what my grandfather would say if he were here.

What’s hardest to swallow with this is that I followed my bliss. I left it all out on the field. Put my heart into it, all the way. The characters were real to me. I knew which woman would say which line. It’s so hard letting go of everything you’ve been working on. But this is the way it goes. I’ve gone through it before. When “Straight Up And Dirty” didn’t get picked up, it felt like a crash, a disappointment. I took a week, sulked, felt sorry for myself. But then I moved onto the next. And that is what makes you a success. It’s what shapes you. Just continue to follow your heart, do what brings you joy, and you’ll be fine in the end.

How we respond to these misses, these disappointments, letdowns, failures, is what defines who we are. It’s not the triumphs and taste of success that makes us; it’s how we emerge from the setbacks in our lives. What makes us successful is how fast, how confidently, we’re able to rebound in the face of heartache, maintaining the same enthusiasm, if not more, in the pursuit of happiness.

I wanted this so much. I still want it, the opportunity to create a world and see it come to life, to have a team of creative writers, coming up with really fun ideas, brainstorming, laughing, working too hard, drinking too much coffee. My whole body comes alive when I tell stories of this world, when there’s this idea of camaraderie, of a writers’ room. But maybe this is meant to be a solo journey.

I will, I’m sure of it, become known for a romantic comedy. I will write one, a Nora Ephron, Nancy Meyers of a Baby Boom Harry Met Sally film. It will happen. Of course it will. They need a new generation, a new Ron Howard and Rob Reiner. I’m the young female version. And why couldn’t I do it? I’m a good writer. Anything can be learned. You work hard enough, read enough scripts, and you CAN do it. You can, no matter what anyone says. You have the talent; you just need to keep breaking it in.

Still, I would kill for a female mentor. I want one more than anything.

I need help and time with story, to be able to bang ideas off smart people, funny people, and I’ll be fine. I also must trust my own sensibilities. I know what’s funny is what’s true. Those odd behaviors we have, when someone walks in on us in the bathroom, and WE apologize to them. Those truthful odd behaviors are what’s funny. Humans are funny to watch, the way we don’t want to admit we were awoken in the middle of the night. The way when Deborah Winger has a bird glued to her face in Forget Paris, she tries to act composed and civilized, anything not to cause a scene. But she has a pigeon glued to her face! THAT is funny because it’s true. That is what excites me.

Remember this, Klein: I don’t want to be told what I can be doing. I want to be excited about what I’m doing, to have to be pulled away from it, not steered toward it. I don’t want to work on anything that doesn’t keep me out past dark, playing hide and seek, not realizing it’s even time for supper. Because that’s the only kind of joy I want to be chasing. Everything else is filler. 

Comments

  1. Stephanie,

    I’m so sorry; I can tell you are disappointed. You’re on the right track though, to think about sulking and starting again and finding a writing mentor. May I suggest STORY by Robert McKee? He holds conferences all over the world which are quite expensive (though probably worth it). I opted for the $25 book version. Even at page 50, I’d learned more about writing fiction than I had in a year of reading others short stories and writing my own.

    Best!

  2. That sucks. What if you made the Southern ladies vampires? I bet the execs would be knocking down the door then. Gheez…

  3. I read that MAD MEN was written 6 years before any channel agreed to put it on and even then it was because the guy who wrote it had just won an Emmy or something. Hollywood just wants familiar and safe. That’s why Kelsey Grammar keeps getting TV shows that fail.

  4. I think the idea is smart and right on point. You should write a script anyway. I say selfishly with a southern drawl.

  5. Stellar Post SK. One of my favorite interviews that Ingrid Vanderveldt and I did for ‘American Made’ was of Howard Shultz talking about the Gray area of Perserverance” – visit this blog post because at the end is his interview he gives an inspiring perspective on what you just described. Keep it going…
    http://www.lyngraft.com/producers/the-gray-area-of-perseverance/

    P.S. Ask Ingrid about the time the Networks turned us down for American Made – trust me – she can relate ‘-)

  6. firstly, I”m super sorry. Don’t give up, I’d watch a show you helped make, just because you helped make it.

    Secondly; please. Make it a book. I’d read it. You can write more than sucessful ‘memoirs’! Obviously. I would buy that in an instant..and then maybe it’ll be a movie instead!

    Lastly, no other network will take it? sometimes that happens.. :)

  7. I’d love to go to an S.Klein movie someday! I am also selfishly rooting for a Moose series or movie, young girls should have more complex options (and us older girls get to tag along to the movie too).
    We will be rooting for you.

  8. I don’t know if you’ve been watching Hot in Cleveland on the TVLand channel, but what you’ve pitched seems like a natural for that venue. Keep trying. Networks aren’t the only way to go.

    1. Agreed. I was thinking the exact same thing.

      ….and can we also get an update on “Moose-the movie”? I noticed there is something very similar on the radar now with ABC’s new show HUGE. UGH…if that replaces Moose we’ll start a write in campaign!!!

  9. Reading your post today, all I can think is “Why isn’t this a book or movie?” Frankly, I have such little time for TV these days and rarely have the attention span for a season of shows (yes, even with dvr). With this post, I’m already sold on the idea, just not the format. It would make a fantastic movie or a great read. Please, keep dreaming about these characters and a new way to give them life!

  10. ABC family would be PERFECT for this! Sort of like Greek but even better!! The southern ladies would love it!

  11. definitely make it into a novel. what a great way to develop the characters even further and you already have a print fan base.

  12. everyone falls in life so many times. the people that make it are the ones that keep going. the ones that truly believe in the story they were out to tell. i wrote a complete manuscript about an experience from one summer in los angeles and i sent it to 100 people. i got 20 responses back that said no thanks, the very generic kind. and one person took the time to give me a customized rejection, telling me everything that was wrong with my story and approach. and silence from everyone else. but i know that i have to keep going to keep pursuing my writing without trying to write for others. write not because you want to say something, but because you have something to say.

  13. “I will, I’m sure of it, become known for a romantic comedy. I will write one, a Nora Ephron, Nancy Meyers of a Baby Boom Harry Met Sally film. It will happen. Of course it will. They need a new generation, a new Ron Howard and Rob Reiner. I’m the young female version.”

    Self aggrandizing much?? It’s good to have goals, another to be delusional. Don’t you realize that there are thousands of talented people vying for this job description?

    1. No offense, Megan, but you’re kind of an a-hole (I think Stephanie would probably be too polite to say that, what with all her self-aggrandizing and all).

      1. I so agree, I read voraciously, novels, screenplays, blogs, magazines, etc. and consistently amazes me with her unique ability to conceptualize and verbalize. Nora’s got nothing on Stephanie, and she has times out of the under 50 market. New blood, new ideas, new energy, it’s all in the cards and why not Stephanie.

        I have walked alongside others on this path. I believe the stat is that 200 pilots get made a season and 12 get chosen. Who knows why the wind blows that way, but do not give up, SK. I have faith that this is just the first step and you can either go on to the next idea, or turn this into a play, or pitch it as a movie or put it in the drawer for awhile. Lots of options, lots of talent, I’m not worried, just waiting.

      2. How mature, to call anyone who disagrees with you (and has the respect to say it out loud) an a-hole. Better an a-hole than a yes person who fans the flames of completely unrealistic goals. I’m all for having dreams and working hard to achieve them; I’m definitely not for delusions of grandeur.

  14. Whether you get picked up or not, says NOT much about the quality of the work you brought to the table. AT ALL. From my perspective “here in Hollywood”, many many other factors play into a network´s decision.
    And getting picked up by one of the networks is SOOO unlikely to start with that you really shouldn´t be too disappointed!
    Go pitch to cable, I say! The likelihood of actually getting picked up is far better. And they allow for material that “deviates” from the network stuff i.e. more egde, more “specialized” interest…
    Hey, it´s far from over, yes? You just haven´t found the right home for your work yet. That may just take a while!

  15. My husband saw me watching your video AGAIN! You are so gorgeous! By the way, I hope you dont mind me asking, what ethnicity are you?

    1. Corinne, which video are you referring to? Is it something new? Just curious.

      I’m pretty sure Stephanie is Puerto Rican/Greek on her mother’s side and Russian/Austrian Jew on her father’s side.. raised Jewish, went to Hebrew School but also took part in some of her mother’s Greek Orthodox traditions.. Can you tell I’ve been reading this blog for a long time ;)

  16. I absolutely love the concept. Social rejection is a very interesting subject for me. With all the mindless crap on the air, this would have been very welcomed among my crowd. The problem is these networks appeal to the lowest common denominator. So the rest of us end up with very few smart TV shows.

    I’m not just shooting crap at you, I REALLY hope you do not give up on this idea. I’d definitely buy the book, but ultimately, I would love to see the visual on this one.

  17. You are fabulous. Never forget it. Courage and strength from here.

  18. Keep the faith, Stephanie. Every year they’re going to need more programs. And I agree…not just the “broadcast” networks. Seems to me like someone at Lifetime would have killed to have a show like that in their lineup.

    You know they’ll come back later and ask for it. As you said, go on to the next project. It’ll happen.

  19. How did this rejection hit you financially? Were you able to pay everyone who helped create the series? When Ingrid Vanderveldt produced American Made and it was rejected by the network that they thought they had in the bag, it left a wave of debt in Austin that left my team and others who made the show possible without full payment (some people weren’t paid at all for months of work). I don’t know how common this is, but it makes me fear being involved in the film/entertainment industry.

  20. I’m an Intellectual Property/Entertainment attorney and I can tell you that I’m seeing a lot of great projects being passed up right now. Everyone is blaming the economy. Unless it’s a sure thing (has stars connected to it, is a sequel, or is mind-blowingly exceptional) the studios aren’t comfortable putting money into things the way they were a few years ago. Half of Hollywood (the behind the scenes half) isn’t getting enough work right now. Give it some time. Study up, make your talent stronger, and then come back.

  21. Anyone watch Pretty Little Liars? Worth watching? I avoid ABC family shows, usually pretty tame

    1. I really like Pretty Little Liars, and I only started watching because it’s the summer and there’ nothing else on. I’ve been pleasantly surprised though, it’s well written and has kept me interest (which is NOT easy to do).

      And Stephanie, I have to agree with the others here, you need to keep pitching this idea, it’s really good! And ABC Family might be the right place for it…

  22. When success comes young, you think you’ll always have it. Welcome to the world that most people live in.

    This won’t be the last setback you face and in the greater scheme of things, it’s less important than some of the challenges you and your family have in front of you.

    Consider this a maturing experience. Most people face far more rejection than you have in your accomplished young life.

    I don’t think this will stop you, so I’m not going to encourage you to keep on–you already do that.

  23. Stephanie,
    I’m a huge fan of your work — have been since the day ‘Straight Up and Dirty’ was gifted to me when I was going through an engagement breakup. In fact, it was the most passed around book (from friend to friend to friend) in my collection until the last person just refused to return it. My point: you’re doing something right. You’re even doing it right by sharing this raw emotion on your blog.

    I’m sorry they passed on your series. I believe firmly that all things fall into place when they’re supposed to, so don’t give up. And if you take any pleasure in little victories, your honest post inspired me to show a little emotion on my blog today. I got more response than I ever have. Little win! Thank you :)

    @kimberlyfab

  24. “But then I moved onto the next. And that is what makes you a success. It’s what shapes you. Just continue to follow your heart, do what brings you joy, and you’ll be fine in the end.”

    Brilliantly put.

    I second (third? fourth?) the suggestions that you rework it into a novel, or possibly play. From there, maybe a movie or cable TV script. Perhaps the idea is too sophisticated for ordinary broadcast television, which seems to produce many tepid sitcoms these days.

  25. Ugh, that stinks Stephanie. I’m sorry. But you totally got me intrigued with the premise of your show – I hope you’ll consider turning it into a movie script or a novel! It sounds really great and I would definitely shell out the cash to buy/see it! Good luck!

  26. by no means should you be disappointed that a pitch didn’t get picked up. this happens all the time out here, and even when something gets to the pilot stage, i mean, so few shows ever get picked up for a season, or even last a whole season.

    i don’t know very much about hollywood, but that I do know.

    so yes keep trying, keep pitching, keep writing, and certainly do not see this not getting picked up as any kind of setback, because it really isn’t.

    you can find a female mentor. I emailed a successful female writer/producer on fbk of all things a while back and was pleasantly surprised to get a thoughtful, supportive message in response.

    read women and hollywood blog and join women in film.

    good luck
    xx

  27. Randy Travis was turned down by 13 record companies before he got a record deal. He was a singer, he knew thats what he did, he didn’t care if other ppl didn’t see his talent, he kept doing it, kept believing, and no one, I mean NO ONE would try 13 times at anything. He did and the rest is history.

    You are a writer. It’s what you do. It’s a part of who you are. You are gifted, talented, amazingly beautiful, and I hope you are putting pen to paper during this time. My most creative times as a singer are when I’m down. It’s hard to believe that, but it’s so true.

    I’m going to tell you what my dad always told me. So you took a ride and got pitched the fuck off. That’s cool. You dust your ass off, and get right back up on that horse and you try again. You haven’t failed as long as you are still trying.

    never.. ever.. ever.. ever.. ever.. ever.. give up. I want to see you back on Rachel Ray next year saying “Ya know Rachel, I had a couple of bumps in the road before I wrote my best seller “how to get told no and laugh your way all the way to the next office and sign a contract”. Keep writing. You are gifted and though I am a stranger to you, I believe in you.

    if my mind can concieve it, my heart can believe it, I know I can achieve it.

    *Hugs*

    Raine

  28. and honestly from the “shit” I’ve seen on tv these days, them turning you down is a COMPLIMENT. God forbid should I want to watch something that doesn’t include a jackass cartoon character saying more curse words in an hour then well.. ME HAHA.

    from what you described above, I see that as more of a movie than a television comedy. I LOVE LOVE LOVE indie films! LOVE! Good luck Ms.Thang, you will land on your feet, I have complete faith.

  29. Stephanie,

    As the old saying goes, success is equal parts aptitude and attitude; aptitude can be taught, attitude can’t.

    Honey, you’ve got both — the sky is the limit for you!

    If you want a female mentor, why not ask the female writers you are trying to emulate for tips directly? They can’t be THAT hard to track down (but pit-bull-like tenacity might come in handy).

    You never know — maybe one of them would even be interested in collaborating! You’re already very accomplished as a writer — it’s not like you’re some wet-behind-the-ears kid just out of school.

    Just some things to consider…

  30. Stephanie–wow! i love this post and can somewhat relate—I have been in the process of writing/rewriting a screenplay for a film I have had playing in my mind for the past 5+ years! I finally got the guts to just start writing it already–i’m so exciting about it I can hardly stand it. I, too, am certain that this movie will be made one day and people will love it! :-) A female mentor would be a godsend–sometime to help me navigate this “Hollywood” journey from Houston, TX.

  31. You know what Steph, no one is telling you anything you don’t know, but this what you’re saying, right now – is brilliant…just as much as you are. The ones who passed on it, will regret it, when the ones who don’t “pass” on it, pick it up. I know you’ll keep trudging forward because that is what you do. I think about Mad Men (literally the only show I’ll DVR and watch with little to no time being horseback as much as possible and working), how HBO passed it up, and AMC picked it up – look at it now. They have no clue – but someone will. Something you know, because you don’t give up. I admire you beyond words –

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