How To Know It’s Time To Drop Your Idea And Move On

I’ve written about resilience, and how important it is not give up on your ideas, your projects, and your dreams – even in the face of opposition. I used my friend Producer Ken Wales as an example of someone who pitched a movie idea for years and years and eventually made it happen. But the truth is, there are situations when it’s actually better to let go of an idea and move on – even if you’ve spent years developing and writing it. The problem is – how do you know? What needs to happen before you realize it may be time to walk away? I’ve asked some experienced filmmakers in Hollywood about the danger signs that indicate when it’s time to drop a project and move on with your life:

From Movie and Television Writer-Producer Brian Bird:

1) When I get the same fatal note on the pitch or project from 2-3 people I trust, people who understand story and the business, and have earned the right to their opinion (not my mom or Aunt Connie from Albuquerque).

2) I have pitched the project at least 10 times without even a sniff of interest.  Either there is something wrong with the project, or I don’t have a clue what the marketplace is buying. (The 10 times might need to be adjusted upward a little given there are now hundreds of different buyers out there).

3) I am losing my own excitement for the idea.  When I’m pitching I can feel my passion for it draining away. At that point, it’s time to find a new idea to be passionate about.

From the Director of The Shack Stuart Hazeldine:

“If everyone has the same criticism I go away and work on that, but if everyone takes a strong dislike for different reasons I’d drop it.  Also if they all said the market isn’t looking for this right now, or I found out a few very similar projects just sold or are close to green light, same thing.”

—- So – the lesson here is that hope isn’t a strategy for launching projects, and even though you’re passionate, there are warning signs that it may be time to put it on a shelf and move on.  It takes a creative thinker that is on task, aware of the challenges, understands the industry, and is listening to people who know.  Don’t take chances and don’t waste time digging yourself deeper in a hole.  If the red warning lights start flashing, then it may very well be time to make a change.

Remember:  The idea isn’t always the point – creating something wonderful is the point.  So don’t get hung up on your idea.  Just move on to the next one.

What about you?  Do you have any recommendations for readers on when it’s time to drop a project?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Will Stern

    What a great coupling of this article and the previous. I feel like the 2 together are a subject that a LOT of creative people need to hear detailed information about. There are so many without the confidence to stay resilient, and so many others with over-confidence making the others “afraid to be like that guy”.

  • Truett

    This situation is especially true from a consulting standpoint. Many times there are internal struggles you have not been made aware of that are blocking your progression without your knowledge. If your ideas get dismissed 3 times just move on and take another direction. Yes, you may have been right and will probably be proven so in the future but there is simply no need to bang your head on that wall anymore. It’s all about perspective. You are on the outside looking in and they are on the inside looking out.

    • That’s a great point Truett. And I’ve found if you’re in a meeting with a client or colleague, and you keep pushing an idea they don’t like, it doesn’t help. Some people just won’t let it go, and it only makes things worse.

  • Could it be someone could have the right idea, but be trying to sell it in the wrong place? The idea works, but the venue is wrong?

    • Good question Nathan. I do know people who failed with a movie idea, but succeeded with the book version of the story. It’s the same reason we see successful books fail as movies or Broadway shows. Platforms and venues do matter.

      • Ejody

        Same with feature vs. episodic TV. I wrote a screenplay for a feature, and everyone I showed it to– including my agent– immediately said, “Forget this as a feature– this is a TV series!” So it’s been redesigned, I have a pilot script with a semi-Bible (future episodes, story arcs), and that’s what we’re pitching now.

        That doesn’t mean it will sell of course, just increasing the odds.