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  • James Stranahan

How to Handle the Inevitable Rejections Hollywood Will Throw At You

I once heard about a guy who applied to over 30 colleges, including all of the Ivies. Can you imagine filling out all of those applications, let alone paying all of the application fees? The reason he did it, he confided, was because he had spent years studying his butt off in school and cramming for the SAT and ACT. He got his perfect score on the ACT, did almost as well on the SAT, and aced multiple SAT subject tests. He killed every class he took in high school - all AP-level, of course. After all the blood, sweat, and tears he put into developing himself into the quintessential student, he said he just wanted to see where he could get in. So, the guy applied to every ultra-selective school out there (torturing his teachers with all his requests for recommendations). He poured his heart out into the application essays, got everything in on time, then sat back all winter to wait until the responses came in that spring.


Rejection after rejection. Harvard nixed him. MIT waitlisted him, as did Brown, but neither one took him. With each “Sorry, you’re incredible, but we chose someone else,” he was faced with a decision: was he going to go postal? Second-guess himself? What-if himself to death?


None of those, actually. I laughed when I heard about what he did do.


At his school, there was a students’ room where everyone could hang out. The spring tradition, he told me, was for students to bring their university rejection letters to this room and tape them up on the walls for everyone to see.


So, that’s what he did. Stanford. University of Chicago. Yale. Duke. Dartmouth. University of Pennsylvania. He brought every “no” to his school and put them on the walls, and as a crowd of commiserators gathered around to look at his letters, he laughed along with them.


He was accepted by universities, of course, and eventually went to Emery. He didn’t know that he would do that, though. All he knew was that every time he opened an email, there it was: rejection. Yet, instead of letting himself get flattened by all the no’s, he gave them the middle finger and laughed. He let himself see the humor in being rejected by all the schools he had dreamed of attending for so long.


So, what does this have to do with Hollywood? I suspect you already know.


If you’re out here in the glorious city of LA, going to audition after audition as you try to make it in the world’s most brutal but exciting industry, you have already learned very quickly that it takes a while before your phone rings off the hook. It might take a while before it rings at all.


I know it was like that for me during my first few years here. I am making movies now and working with some wonderful talent, but trust me, it didn’t happen overnight. I had to pound the pavement just like everyone else does and go through audition after audition, only to hear the words, “Sorry.” If, incidentally, anyone even bothered to call me back.


What can you do when you hear your 200th rejection? When the part of your dreams is right there in front of you, and it goes to someone else and slips through your fingers?


Sigh. Maybe mutter a dirty word because you’re only human. Then sigh again, look up at the sky, and laugh.


Hollywood is for those who have the guts and conviction to stick it out. I won’t reveal how many rejections I’ve gotten over the years. The number might depress you, and the reality is that just because I’m where I’m at today doesn’t mean I won’t get another one.


These days, when someone tells me “no,” I think of my friend and the fun he had putting up his rejection letters for his entire school to see, and I think, “That’s me. When someone tells me I wasn’t chosen, I am going to be gracious about it and laugh.”


That, I think, will keep everything in its proper perspective. After all, it only takes one yes to turn things around and open the doors for you. Keep going until you get that yes.



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