What If I Missed My Chance to Work On A Television Show?

career, personal stories, quitting, writer's room

A week after my boss agreed I could work half-time so I could pursue another opportunity (more on that later), news of this show broke:


HBO, Paramount Plot ‘Shutter Island’ Series ‘Ashecliffe’ With Martin Scorsese And Dennis Lehane

On one hand, it’s amazing, because I the researcher. I was in the room when Dennis and Tom crafted that story.

On the other hand, by going half-time, I had already shut myself out of the project.

When I saw this story, the emotional reaction was: “Oh man, I am an idiot. What did I just pass up?”

(For the record, Dennis was amazing about it. He said if the show went, he’d probably call me and see if I wanted to come aboard. But already my own life decisions (e.g., possibly leaving Los Angeles) were pulling me away.)

Intellectually, I know I made the right decision.

Emotionally, the questions start eating away at you. Questions like:

  • Did I just make a huge mistake?

  • Am I going to regret this for the rest of my life?

  • What opportunity did I just miss out on?

Why I Feel Regret

What do I do at these moments? How do I handle those pangs of regret?

I’ll get to that, but first, I want to talk about WHY we feel this way. Why do I feel regret… even though logically I made right  the decision?

  • It’s sexy. Look at the names thrown around in that article. That’s not an accident. It’s done to hype the project… and I start to think, “I made my choice NOT to be a part of that… am I insane?”

  • Time travel. All I see is the missed future and that future is bright: not long before soon, Ashecliffe goes… a year or 2 later, I’m staffed on the show. Couple years after that, I’m writing episodes… then winning Emmy’s… and after years of paying dues, my One Day arrives…

  • “Grass is greener.” This is related to time travel. The ordinary today pales in comparison to the impossibly bright tomorrow.

  • Peer pressure. I’m bombarded with emails and texts of congratulations from friends who don’t know I’ve taken a step away from the project.

How I Handle Regret

Jeff Bezos’s Regret Minimization Framework is the method of choice to make decisions.

However, how do you negotiate regret after you’ve made your decision?

These are the 4 steps I took, and they were critical to bring clarity back to my work. There’s a world of a difference between the work we do when we’re focused, and when we’re distracted by what could-have-been.

1. Revisit the 3 Factors To Take a Job

There are 3 factors in deciding to take a new job:

  • Where do you work with the best?

  • Where will you learn the most?

  • Where will you have the most impact?

(Notice where money falls in this schema? Exactly.)

If you were honest with yourself when you first visited these questions (before you made the decision) they shouldn’t have changed. For me, they hadn’t:

  • Work with the best – I was lucky to be offered a chance to work with two amazing people. In my mind, both are at the top of their respective fields, so this didn’t clarify my situation.

  • Learn the most – There were more projects, and more staff at the new job, and therefore, more opportunities to learn. With Dennis, being in the room when he’s working on breaking story was a dream come true, but those opportunities, by nature of the work, came far and few between.

  • Most impact – In working with Dennis, even in the best possible scenario, it’d be years before I’d be able to make a slgnificant impact. IF a show went, IF I got staffed, IF I got staffed again… best case scenario, I’d start to have impact in 3 to 4 years. Compare that to having impact right now, this moment.

2. How Many People Can Say “No”

An additional factor that I didn’t take into consideration until I learned it from James Altucher’s work is, “How many people can say ‘no’ to you?”

“In each situation my entire happiness seemed dependent on the decisions of one person. I gave power to that one person to make or break my life… the most important thing these rejections gave me was a sense that NEVER AGAIN should I rely on the whims of one person to choose my success or failure in any endeavor.”

This was something I never considered before. The impact still hasn’t fully set in, but for me, I think this has fundamentally raised the level of my game. Essentially what Altucher is saying is, “you can try barrelling through all the gates. Or you can bypass the gatekeepers completely.”

The Hollywood system of entertainment is littered with gatekeepers. Gatekeepers read scripts. They set schedules. They decide if a meeting or show or book will happen. I’ve been a gatekeeper.

Let me give you two specific examples of a gatekeeper killing a project at the 11th hour:

  1. Months ago, we nearly had a show greenlighted. We were told by a network exec: “go get your writer’s room ready.” We were reading scripts and setting meetings. A few days later, the network decided it wasn’t going forward with the show. Nothing is done until it’s done…

  2. Or even when it is. Take HIEROGLYPH. A show that was lauded as Fox’s GAME OF THRONES. Ordered from pilot script to straight-to-series by network head Kevin Reilly. Then Fox lets Reilly go… and with a pilot in the can, they decide to cancel HIEROGLYPH.

3. Stay Skeptical

What I mean by this is: recognize nothing is done until its done.

A straight-to-series show isn’t a show until all 13 episodes have aired.

A brilliant pilot script isn’t a brilliant piece of television until it’s greenlit, casted, shot, edited, aired and everyone’s talking about it the next day.

And a press release isn’t a pilot order. All the deals must close. The writers must assemble, they must break the story and craft something amazing. Then it has to translate to the screen. Then the network has to approve. And the audience must love it.

A press release is like a push-up bra. Everything looks sexier but nothing’s changed.

I’m not saying be a pessimist. Just skeptical.

4. Have An Abundance Mentality

When we treat each and every opportunity as “this is it! This is my one and only shot!” this is a scarcity mentality.

I think if you stay in the game, stay relevant, and keep adding value to others, opportunities will continue to pour. That’s the abundance mentality.

Inevitably, you’ll miss more opportunities.

But the one or two you knock out of the park is all anyone will remember.

A year ago, I interviewed a young woman for my desk. She told me about how she was kicking herself for a year, after deciding not to be a set PA on TRUE DETECTIVE because she wanted to work things out with her boyfriend.

“What if I never get an opportunity like that again?” she said.

Today, she’s a writer’s PA on BATES MOTEL.

An old boss and mentor once repped George R.R. Martin. At the time, he couldn’t give the books away.

Another boss let go of clients he loved like John Green and Ben Mezrich because of differences with the other agents.

We’re all going to miss opportunities. People blinded by post-decision regret will miss more.

At the intellectual level, it’s easy to know all of these things. Emotionally, it’s very different.

That’s why it’s worthwhile to go through these exercises, identifying why and what you can do about it.

2 comments… add one

  • Rachel

    Great post, something I definitely needed to read today. Trying to keep all of these steps in mind as I submit my latest screenplay to contests and fellowships. Enjoy Cork!

    • Chris Ming

      Thanks Rachel! Good luck with the submissions!

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