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I’m a Successful Failure in Hollywood

Being hung up on was one of the most pivotal moments of my career


I’m a successful failure.

My career has been riddled with one failure after the next. Yet I am still here, still making a good living and still loving it. But how? How can I survive off of droplets of success while enduring a downpour of failure and still have a good career? I work in Hollywood, that's how!

Some 99.9% of what I create is rejected and never sees the light of day. Those odds clearly suck, but it's the reality of Hollywood. Can you imagine if a doctor, lawyer or an air traffic controller didn’t succeed 99.9% of the time? Yikes!

So why do it? Why create a career around a profession with such bad odds? Simply put, I like the challenge and the thrill of it. When something is so difficult, it makes achieving success that much more gratifying. Hollywood is addicting, like playing the lottery, only you have some control over what numbers come out.

When I was starting out in the business, I was on the phone with an agent at a talent agency. I was pitching myself as a prospective client. I explained that although I hadn’t sold a show before, I would be a good bet. Right in the middle of my sentence the agent cut me off …

"Keith, do you have a show on TV?"

I stopped and thought, what’s wrong with this guy, I just told him I needed his help to get me in front of the right people in order to sell a show. I said, "What?" And he said, "If I go home and turned on the TV and flipped through the channels would I find a show that you created on air?" I said, "Well, no” and he cut in and said, "Well when you have a show on air call me" (click) and the phone call was over.

So there I sat, thinking what the hell just happened! I was so frustrated and dejected. But soon after that call I came to the realization that I was not going to be deterred or discouraged by the word "No." Even if I got a hundred no’s and just one yes, that one yes would be enough to keep me going. Looking back on it now, being hung up on was one of the most pivotal moments of my career.

As you can imagine I'm not alone in rejection and success. Take my friend Vin Di Bona, Vin created “America’s Funniest Home Videos.” He once pitched a show 136 times before he sold it. That’s 135 rejections on one project. How’s that for resilience.

So despite the fact that myself, and others, have had doors slammed in our faces before we barely had a chance to knock, we stuck with it. Personally, failure has, along with giving me rhinoceros like tough skin, taught me to be creative, tenacious, aggressive and fearless. I learned to hold rejection at arms length, not to internalize it or take it personally.

So, after reading this, if you still think you want to pursue a career in Hollywood then know going in that the odds are against you, but the odds haven’t stopped me. So why should they stop you?

Keith Fenimore is an award-winning creative executive who lives in New York and works for the King of All Media on original series and specials for Howard TV. He's also co-author of the book "Hire Me, Hollywood."