How Movie Studios Rejected Scripts During the Silent-Film Era: A Cold, 17-Point Checklist Circa 1915


Born dur­ing the era of silent movies, the Essanay Film Man­u­fac­tur­ing Com­pa­ny pro­duced a series of Char­lie Chap­lin films in 1915, most notably includ­ing The TrampThe Essanay doc­u­ment above shows us one thing: It did­n’t take long for the film indus­try to mas­ter the cold rejec­tion let­ter. Film­mak­ers could pour their heart and soul into writ­ing a script. And what did they get in return? A list of 17 pos­si­ble rea­sons to reject a man­u­script, with a deflat­ing check mark next to a par­tic­u­lar item. That’s it. No fur­ther expla­na­tion offered.

Essanay closed in 1925, prob­a­bly to the delight of some. You can still find some of Essanay’s films in our col­lec­tion of 65 Free Char­lie Chap­lin Films Online.

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Relat­ed Con­tent:

Gertrude Stein Gets a Snarky Rejec­tion Let­ter from Pub­lish­er (1912)

Read Rejec­tion Let­ters Sent to Three Famous Artists: Sylvia Plath, Kurt Von­negut & Andy Warhol

No Women Need Apply: A Dis­heart­en­ing 1938 Rejec­tion Let­ter from Dis­ney Ani­ma­tion

T.S. Eliot, as Faber & Faber Edi­tor, Rejects George Orwell’s “Trot­skyite” Nov­el Ani­mal Farm (1944)

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  • B K Bridgeworths says:

    Think of how many scripts a stu­dio would receive at the dawn of the movie indus­try. It’s so new that every­one wants to get in, so they write up every­thing they can think of.

    The stu­dio prob­a­bly had lit­tle choice but to cre­ate a form let­ter.

  • Robert Nagle says:

    I don’t think the form let­ter nature of the rejec­tion is nec­es­sar­i­ly imper­son­al. It sticks to objec­tive crit­i­cisms. Prob­a­bly you can’t pin a rejec­tion on a sin­gle rea­son, but it is help­ful to know which rea­son is clos­est to the truth.

    It is hard to put into polite words a rea­son for rejec­tion, so this list of rea­sons is help­ful.

    About a decade ago I pre­pared “truth­ful rejec­tion slips” for fic­tion writ­ers. It pro­vides help­ful feed­back while not try­ing to sug­ar coat it.

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