Posted by Dennis Cahlo
Taylor C. Baker Taylor C. Baker

Hello Stage 32 Community!

I am so excited to bring your today's blog from New York-based Stage 32 member and filmmaker Dennis Cahlo! I first met Dennis on Instagram after he posted an epic video talking about his experience pitching his project Lonely Hearts on Stage 32. I immediately reached out to Dennis to ask if he was interested in writing a blog for the Stage 32 community and he came back with brilliant enthusiasm and this awesome article about how to turn a "pass" into a positive experience!

This is an inspirational read for anyone pursing a career in entertainment - a road often littered with rejection.

Join Dennis and I on @stage32's Instagram on Thursday, 3/25 at 11am PST for a live chat about this blog!

Without further ado, take it away Dennis!

The Pass

You did it, my friend. You wrote for weeks upon weeks, and rewrote it again. When it was finished, there it sat in front of you. Your most brilliant screenplay and or pilot. After reading it and congratulating yourself, you knew it was pure gold. A work of unending genius. There will be so many execs and producers lined up with bags of money and praise because they have never read anything like this before. You take a deep breath as you open your Stage 32 account to peruse who is looking for your incredible new born child. You submit to a producer/exec/agent who you can tell will smell a hit when they read it.

And wait.

Two weeks go by and you've barely slept. One morning, after you’ve wiped the sleep from your eyes and poured your second cup of coffee before starting that awful freelance job you cannot wait to quit as soon as you sell your screenplay and or pilot, you open your email and there it is.

“The feedback you requested is ready.”

You anxiously open it and scroll past all the well thought out notes to the end and see the word PASS in big red letters on not just your screenplay but on you as a writer as well. Your stomach sinks. And at that very moment the freelance client you could not wait to tell you are never working for again e-mails you your (unpaid because you forgot to read the contract) revisions for the day. You close your laptop, stumble out the door in your bathrobe, walk to the bodega and buy a box of Entemann's donuts knowing full well that your career as a writer is over.

Buck up, hero. I am here to tell you all is not lost. In fact, this is the best thing that could ever have happened to you.

But first I have to tell you about the lunch table.


How to Turn A Pass Into A Positive Experience

Behind the Scenes of Lonely Hearts, Photo by: Justin Holeness


The Lunch Table

For me, the first year of high school was never ending drudgery filled with pain and rejection. I couldn't seem to fit in anywhere no matter how hard I tried. And what better place to learn one of life's greatest lessons than at the center of the high school universe where one could truly find their fellow kin.

The lunchroom.

Ah yes, the place where friendships were made for life or died a tragic death. My first go was trying to fit in with the popular kids. They ignored me and eventually started putting their unworn jackets in available seats as they saw me approach. I then tried to fit in with the graffiti kids. One day I boldly sat at their table and asked one of them to draw in my freshly bought “blackbook” (a book used to collect tags and blowups). One of them obliged by drawing something obscene with my name and face on it that I cannot, in good conscious, repeat here. The last table I tried were the metal heads but realized I was out of my depth when one of them made fun of the clothing I was wearing to try to fit in with the graffiti kids.

So I did what any kid would do. I gave up and sat alone at an empty table in the back of the lunch room where no one would sit because it smelled of old milk. I did this for several weeks and no one would sit with me. One day a friendly guy with a cool haircut and a sketchbook came up to me and asked if he could join my lone Siberian landscape. “This table smells like old milk,” he said, sitting down as I eagerly made space for him. Then he showed me all his cartoons and sketches. We sat week after week together and shared soggy fries and laughed and ate terrible hamburgers together. His name is Dave and he became my only friend before I eventually found my crew almost a year later.

He and I still talk to this very day.


How to Turn A Pass Into A Positive Experience

Behind the Scenes of Lonely Hearts, Photo by: Justin Holeness



My Very Own Pass

I will say that first and foremost I consider myself a director before I would ever consider myself a writer. I joined Stage 32 not just to sell my pilot/show but to get better at being a television and screen writer. My creative and real life partner Bethany Watson and I submitted our pilot based on our short film “Lonely Hearts” to several execs and producers through Stage 32 all of whom passed on the project but have given vital and incredible notes and feedback that are helping us get each new draft to the next level.

A producer for Sketch Films, most notably, passed but also encouraged us to keep going. She gave the kind of notes any writer would dream of. She told us how to improve the characters, the pilot, and that we truly had compelling characters worth fleshing out. The most incredible note she gave was that our pilot was not commercial and there is no reason for us to change that aspect of it. That that was its strength and to focus on it. Afterward, Bethany and I realized we had something very special with “Lonely Hearts'' and vowed never to give up on our dream of getting it to series. From those notes we crafted an incredible second draft that we have been revising and are getting ready to pitch it again.

And that's when I thought of my endless attempts to fit in somewhere in the vast high school landscape.


How to Turn A Pass Into A Positive Experience

Behind the Scenes of Lonely Hearts, Photo by: Justin Holeness


We as creatives all have our own voices and visions. We have mountains of ideas and endless imagination. These things are precious to us. We willingly put them out into the world to be judged and given a perceived value, even if we understand their pricelessness. When getting a pass it feels like a gut punch. Believe me, I know. But most of the time it means nothing about you as a creative or the value of your idea. Sometimes it just means that you've got a great idea but it's not a good fit. Or maybe your high concept sci-fi thriller wasn't right for the low budget indie producer. There are always so many reasons and it’s probably not that you are a bad writer. You may just need to work a little harder.

I am pretty sure, though, that one day out of the blue someone will come over and ask to sit at your lunch table. Because they see the good in you. They see the vision. The potential. And they might even want to share their soggy fries with you.

Keep pitching. Keep getting better with every single pass. Keep taking notes. Keep rewriting until the tips of your fingers are sore.

And never give up on your idea.


About Dennis Cahlo

How to Turn A Pass Into A Positive Experience

Dennis Cahlo has been making films since 2015 beginning with his short film "The Weekend" which garnered 30 festival awards and 40 official selections. Since then he has made "Death (And Disco Fries)" (2018) a short romantic comedy about death and regret, "Lonely Hearts" (2019) a horror comedy short and an ode to his love of the Giallo genre, and his first full length feature "In Flowers Through Space" a music documentary about the making of an album based on the Fibonacci sequence by E Scott Lindner.Currently he is adapting Lonely Hearts for television with creative partner Bethany Watson as well as developing several projects with comedian Krystyna Hutchinson.

Instagram: @denniscahlo
Twitter: @denniscahlo


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