It’s Okay To Say No

I found myself in an interesting situation last month when independent producer, let’s call him “Michael,” reached out to me.

He was ready to pounce on a project with money supposedly in hand and needed to mobilize quickly.

His eagerness was overwhelming as he bulldozed through small talk and gave me a heavy-handed breakdown of an ambitious television endeavor. After I received his pitch, Michael handed me a pilot DVD. His hope? I’d go home, review footage, like it and sign on.

The following morning the telephone calls began. Only 10 hours after our meeting, Michael called and texted me repeatedly. Each message was more urgent then the last. Why hadn’t I gotten back to him? The investors are waiting! And the doozy “I gave you my one and only DVD and I must have it back because I have a meeting across town, I need you to drive an hour and a half to me now!”

Red flag city!

As nice as the payday would have been, I had to turn him down on-the-spot, because my philosophy is to only take on clients who are the caliber of people I want to work with. The only difference between A-list and craigslist is which people you decide to take on. Don’t be afraid to lay down the “no” smack down. Like Pretty Woman, you decide who, you decide when, you decide how much.

The only difference between A-list and craigslist
is which people you decide to take on.

Days later, I settled down on my porch to share cigars with some buddies when our not so intrepid producer showed up unannounced. As you may imagine, it was not a good scene. As I sent him on his way, Michael seemed devastated, but not as devastated as I would have been with a final product by the hands of this guy.

Clearly my stalker producer is an extreme example.

But what if you’ve already signed onto a project? This producer could have behaved differently up-front and then started to act a fool mid-project. What happens when the work is untenable and it’s on-going?

Walking away from work you’ve invested your time, heart and money is a hard thing to do and indeed a decision you shouldn’t take likely. A good friend, Cory, was in this very position – he produced his close friend Gary’s film. They’d worked together before, but never on a project this ambitious. What started as a collaborative process, degenerated to a pissing match between two friends.

We’ve all been there.

We enter a project with good intentions, an ambitious goal, we’re thwarted by the ineptitude or the bad direction of others. Gary, a first time director, was unwilling to move on any major creative decisions. And since they were “friends first” it was doubly tenuous ground to navigate.

Naturally, I took Cory out for drinks. He lamented that he just wanted to make the best film he could. Somewhere between our Vodka and Tonics and Seven and Sevens (it was senior drink night!) this jewel of wisdom emerged from Grandpa’s cocktail: “there are friends you make films with and there are friends you don’t.” Indeed.

There are friends you make films with
and there are friends you don’t.

Ultimately, Cory continued to work until the bitter end, bitter as it was. When you invest your time, it’s hard to walk away, especially when you try to save a sinking ship. The film, though better through his diligence, never reached even a quarter of its potential.

Declining to work with someone doesn’t mean you’ve burned the bridge.

If done delicately, you can preserve your relationships and make a graceful exit. Whether it’s an overzealous producer or an underwhelming auteur, use “no” as a tool for protection. In an industry of aggressive “yes” cut to the root, and set your boundaries.

If you know it and you feel it, say “no” to anything but the best for you.

-Merrel Davis.

Merrel Davis is a script analyst based in Los Angeles. He’s worked as a video editor, writer, producer, director, graphic designer and cinematographer on various projects including cutting HD video for the 2008 Bejing Olympics. He’s the creator of ‘Screenwriter Karaoke‘, a successful monthly networking event and is currently working on a feature and a web miniseries.

Creative Commons License photo credit: TheCabaal

4 thoughts on “It’s Okay To Say No”

  1. No doesn’t work with a pathological Exec Producer. The good news is, he reneged on his fiduciary responsibilities, so I was able to give him a different credit and marginalize his input, however, I believe the final product may have suffered as a result.

  2. I’m familiar with the pain of walking away. Healthiest thing I’ve zone as a writer. I wanted to adapt a book. It was to be my dream project. The rights were available. I was elated and began to make overtures to the publisher. My manager went behind my back, scooped up the rights and announced he was the producer. A year of rewrites and frustration followed as this excellent story was transformed into a vulgar farce thanks to the manager’s constant barrage of bad notes. His producing partner left the project, tired of the hilarious bad notes and power-tripping. I finally had enough, called my manager and told him I was done and he was fired. My co-writer wasn’t pleased. Two years later, the script is still being rewritten and it’s even worse. Last week my old co-writer calls and begs me to come back. I’m not a glutton for punishment.


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