Nice? Or Cut-Throat?

–Knowing how and when to pull the plug.

I have a manager in the L.A. area who is currently shopping one of my screenplays. Although I’m proud of all of my projects, as any self-respecting writer should be, this is unarguably, one of the best scripts I’ve ever written.

The name of this screenplay is “The Month We Fell Apart.” Here is the log line, or “elevator pitch,” if you will:

A strong-willed woman’s rocky relationship with her parents takes a revelatory turn when all three receive a life-altering diagnosis.

Inspired by a true story, my own, TMWFA is a gut-punch. In the best possible way, in my humble opinion.

Four years ago, around Thanksgiving, actually, both my parents were diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer. One, right after the other. Both former smokers who had quit years earlier, neither one gave any sign that this malevolent beast was devouring them from the inside out. Pneumonia, again for both of them, was the lesser evil that eventually led to the discovery of the cancer.

My two siblings and I were stunned. How could this be? Both, at the same time. Moreover, how could two people in their 80s possibly fight a disease that had progressed to the point of no return?

The family meeting in the doctor’s office was beyond anything I could ever imagine. In my script, I liken it to gamblers at a casino (with the doctor as the “dealer”) who know, deep down, that the house always wins but are hopeful, nonetheless.

I will never forget that day. That dark, dreary, endless day when my parents were told, as their family sat helplessly and watched, that their number was up.

In spite of this, and with our tearful approval, my father chose to pursue a course of chemotherapy. A less aggressive form that would, at the most, buy him some time. My mother agreed to do the same because she and my father were together – on everything. And partly because her mind wasn’t really processing what was happening in her body. She was stunned, as were we all.

My angel of a sister moved our parents into her home and cared for them like someone possessed. For what she did for them, and for what her family gave up during this horrific time, she will forever be my hero.

Meanwhile, we tried to go on with our lives. Then, less than two months later, day I was undressing in front of the bedroom mirror and saw something that knocked the breath out of me.

There was a sizeable lump over my right breast. Yes. I actually saw this…thing. I had recently lost a lot of weight, on purpose, mind you, and had so little body fat that the lump was visible under my skin.

It was my Sigourney Weaver moment. Or, John Hurt. Take your pick.

On shaky legs, I ran to my husband and showed him. The blood drained from his face.

Long story short, it was breast cancer. Caught early, thankfully. The radiologist told me that losing weight probably saved my life.

I had a lumpectomy followed by four weeks of radiation and a pill for five years. Yes, I was blessed. My parents – not so much. They passed nine months later within two weeks of one another.

So, it was cancer, cancer, cancer, all the time. To say this was a surreal period in my family’s life is an understatement. Even now, I find it hard to process. I struggle to remember my parents in happier times, but the memory of them, in side by side beds in the same hospice room near the end, pushes all the good stuff aside.

It’s something I’m trying to get over, but it’s tough. A cocktail or two, helps.

Writing TMWFA was like opening a vein. I disclosed family secrets. I told the truth. Nothing was prettied up. Myself, especially. That said, the story is not all doom and gloom. My Jewish father and Italian mother were both characters, so there’s a lot of dark humor in the screenplay. Similar to “August: Osage County” but with Jews and more cancer.

My manager loves this script. I have a director who I worked with before who loves it, as well and is on board, if we can get the damn thing made. And therein lies the proverbial rub. Pause for rant:

Hollywood. Oh, Hollywood you pisser, you. You bastard. Why aren’t you jumping on this when you throw money at dreck like “Bad Grandmas?”

Okay. I got that out. Now, here’s the thing: I don’t know how hard my manager is working to sell my script. In my gut, I feel she’s not fully in the game. It’s been well over a year and we’ve gotten nowhere fast. Any meaningful connections that have been made, were made by me. I’m aggressive that way. A career in advertising and marketing thickened by skin considerably. I have no fear of “no.” I don’t like it. But rejection doesn’t knock me flat.

A couple of times, in email communications, my rep told me that she’s been “distracted,” but is continuing to “do what I can.” Sorry, but WTF am I supposed to say to that?

At the end of the day, my benefit is to her benefit, to the tune of ten or fifteen percent, so what’s the problem here?

Now, I’m grappling with whether or not I should have “the talk” with her. Or, conversely, if I should start looking for another rep, on the down-low. But, I know in my heart, and from experience, that this isn’t considered Kosher. Fair play.

But, on occasion, you have to say, “Screw fair play. This is about my dream, after all.”

I’m definitely in flip-flop mode. Once I’ve convinced myself to start querying for someone new, I think: What if she somehow learns that I’m putting out feelers for a new manager? She’s listed on my IMDB page as my rep, so anyone else I reach out to can easily see that. And, I don’t trust these people to not rat me out.

I realize I buried the lead in this story but I felt it was important for you to understand why I am so invested in this project. To say that it’s my blood, sweat and tears doesn’t adequately convey how I feel.

My heart is breaking. I have other projects I need to finish but I am stuck in this quagmire. TMWFA deserves to get made and I am committed to the process.

As someone who isn’t easily cowed, I don’t know why I just can’t talk to this person and ask, “Are you in, or out?” She is, after all, allegedly working for me.

Why am I being so damned nice? Why can’t I be cut-throat like my former employer who laid me off over the phone after fifteen years? Who shipped by stuff to me in crappy boxes that were falling apart. That’s the attitude I need to adopt.

Like cancer. Cut it out and screw it.

Perhaps I’m thinking that it’s better to have an ineffective manager than no manager at all. Can I continue to do myself this disservice?

Please tell me, as I’d love to know: What would you do?


Sherry McGuinn
Sherry McGuinn
Sherry McGuinn is a long-time, Chicago area, advertising/marketing writer, blogger and, for the last fifteen years, screenwriter. A big-time dreamer and proud of it, Sherry has had two short films produced, one in L.A., the other in New York. Both won several awards and screened at festivals but she is still "fighting the good fight," in order to become a full-time, working screenwriter. A passionate straight-shooter who never rests on her laurels, Sherry writes about damn near everything because how do you encapsulate…life? Unflinching in her determination to “just tell the truth,” Sherry strives to educate, engage and inspire others to follow their dreams. A lifelong animal lover and advocate, Sherry resides in a Chicago suburb with her husband and their three fabulous felines.

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  1. Great story. Often in life we have to be bold. Life gives us many gifts if we only reach and and accept them. While life owes us noting it does provide an abundance for if we have to courage to reach out and embrace what may be ours.

  2. I would like to propose that you set up a meeting with her with an agenda to listen to what feedback she has received about your work. Give her a week or two notice that you want a sit-down and discussion with her. It will either motivate her to get on the ball or show you that she has put your work on the back burner. Whatever the outcome you will gain some knowledge before you hire a new manager.

    • I’m in the Chicago area and she’s in L.A., so it will have to be over the phone. But, that’s okay. Thanks for the excellent advice. This community is wonderful.

    • Given the distance, I would recommend still doing something that sets this conversation apart from other “calls”. For instance use Skype or Zoom. Ask another person to participate. Just make sure she sees the meeting as different from other conversations.

  3. I’m so sorry for the pain you and your family have experienced, Sherry. Your story needs to be told through the project. I’m with Len on this one. Please keep us posted on how things evolve from here. I’m pretty certain you’re not done!

    • Will definitely keep you posted. Thank you! I don’t feel like I’m done. Not yet, anyway. I hope that’s a good sign.

  4. Sherry, I just want to send heartfelt kindness out to you and your journey – and I am cheering for you to have a win here and get your story to the big screen. I have nothing profound to say but that I wholeheartedly agree with Len Bernat’s suggestion. It feels so inline with who you are as well. Straight to the point and solution-focused.

    • Maureen, thank you for understanding. No, it isn’t easy. That said, I don’t have any time to waste. Who does?

  5. There are times that we encounter something that affords anyone very little to add to it. I see in your bio that you describe yourself as unflinching in your determination to “just tell the truth.” This is an epic example of that truth telling. My heartfelt sympathy for all that you have endured, and I believe you need, as Len Bernat has so aptly advised, to have a truth telling session with your manager. Sometimes we can’t leave our dreams, or prized possessions or creative works of this caliber, in the hands of others. It needs to be someone’s number one priority. I think your next manager should be you, as I don’t know if I could allow something this crucial to be someone else’s “when I have the time” thing. Thank you for sharing this.

    • Tom, first—thank you so much for your comment. I believe it’s time for me to put on my “big girl pants” and confront the situation. You and the other wonderful people here have helped me a great deal. It’s time to move forward.

  6. Sherry – Send your manager the link to this article with the simple message – We need to talk. Start be letting her tell you how she felt when she read the article. Then ask a simple question – Where do we go from here? That should enable both of you to create the next steps or you will both agree you need a new manager. But it will be a respectful discussion no matter what the outcome. Just my thoughts.