It’s like the age-old question, “What is the meaning of life?” Well, not quite, but there is no perfect answer about how to find representation as a screenwriter. As with anything in life, it’s mostly timing and luck. It does help if you’re always professional in your actions and attitude. This is no time for amateur hour. If you want to play in the big leagues, you have to rise to the occasion with your writing ability and professionalism. Of course, talent is always a given and then it depends on the type of material you create. If you only have one script and it’s not spectacular, it won’t cut it in today’s marketplace.
Established agents and managers want you to already be an established writer who has credits and is working. Unless your spec has garnered a bidding war between the studios, few reps want to “break” a new writer. It’s just too much work in the current marketplace of Hollywood. Today everyone wants a sure thing and we know that does not exist, but they continue to believe it’s out there — somewhere. I can understand their point of view from a business perspective, because there is no shortage of talented writers or good scripts in Hollywood.
Sadly today there are fewer movies being made and even fewer writing jobs available to a growing pool of talent. Selling a script or landing a job is a numbers game at best when only 70 spec screenplays sold in 2016 according to the Scoggins Report. So, is an established agent or manager going to risk taking you as a client and hoping they can break a new writer? The agency needs their agents to make money and if you do not work, they will likely drop you as a client. It may seem harsh, but remember Hollywood is a harsh business.
The reality? Most aspiring screenwriters are not ready for an agent because they are not writing at the professional level needed to compete in a crowded marketplace. If you get lucky with your first script, you still will not have the experience of dealing with rewrites and the delicate dance needed to please executives and producers to push the project through the development process. It takes experience writing and everything that involves from the good and successful to the bad and failure. I find many aspirants finish their first draft of their first script and believe they are ready to go out and “find” an agent. As if it’s a given that just because you put words on 100 pages of paper and call it a screenplay someone cares. They don’t. You make them care by writing an excellent screenplay that showcases your talent and they have to take notice.
I know sometimes it can feel like you’re in the middle of the ocean waving a flashlight trying to get noticed. When there are 50,000 projects registered with the Writers Guild every year and only half of the WGA professional writers report any income in any given year, you have good reason to feel this way. Everyone either has a script or is writing a script in Los Angeles. I know people who are not writers, but they’re working a screenplay because, “it’s fun.” I suppose it is fun if you don’t rely on writing to pay your bills… or you’re not trying to carve out a career in this highly competitive business.
So, you may ask, “If I’m a writer just starting out, how can I get someone to represent me if I don’t have credits?” I suggest you make some noise. Get some HEAT! Have agents saying, “Why don’t I know about this writer? How can I read your script?” Now, that’s not easy to do, but you should aspire to do your best work and get noticed. During your journey as a screenwriter, never wait for someone to discover you. Get out there, hustle and network — and always keep writing. Also enter the top screenwriting contests to see if your talent and screenplay can really compete. If you win or place you can get some important forward movement.
After college I made some noise when my script placed in the top 1% of the semi-finalists in the Academy’s prestigious Nicholl Screenwriting Fellowship as a top 20 screenplay. I was able to leverage that achievement into getting read by a few agents and managers. At least this was some type of accolade in lieu of credits. Agents and managers will warm to you a little easier once you have credits because it means you are a paid professional. My first agent took me on as a “hip pocket client.” That meant he didn’t sign me, but would help me shepherd my script around town because he saw its potential. Being a pocket client is like being on probation without the agent having to commit to you. If he sold my script he might have to sign me to the agency proper. If not, he was free to let me go. My agent brokered my first option deal and he received his commission. He still didn’t sign me, but that was okay. I was now a working and represented screenwriter in Hollywood.
Again, you may ask, ‘If it’s so hard to get representation, how will I ever work in Hollywood?” You’ll work because you will continue to write, hustle and network. You’ll also find your own jobs anyway. Even when I had an agent and manager, I would generally always find my own work through my connections or relationships and then turn the offer over to them. Only once did I get a job because my agent represented a producer who then hired me. You’ll also continue to hone your craft and become a better screenwriter. Most of my screenwriting assignments have not been from an agent finding me the job, but from my working relationships with producers and directors. The longer you stay in the game, the odds are you will eventually sell something.
I’ve had a better experience with literary managers. They generally cultivate your career over a longer period and help develop your material. Many writers have been with their managers for years, but have had far more agents over the long haul. The few managers I’ve had in my career were not from query letters, but from contacts though mutual friends. Usually, my manager then introduces me to agents they know or have worked with before to round out our team. Sending out query letters to try to find representation is like rolling dice. A better use of your time is to ask your personal contacts if they know an agent or manager and have them introduce you. It’s all about personal relationships in this business.
Agents and managers are picky with the material they like. No rep wants a new client with a project that might be a difficult sell. Every time they go out with a script, their reputation is on the line. If your script doesn’t sell and everyone doesn’t “loooove” it, your first time out with a failure is forgiven. Unfortunately, if your next script doesn’t sell, their contacts may wonder if the agent has lost their touch. Now with blood in the water, the sharks are circling and it will never end well for you.
When they read you and don’t like your material, they respond with, “I didn’t loooooove it.” I believe there are different levels of love for them. If they just “love” it — it’s not enough, they have to really “looooooove” it to respond to the material and move forward with you as a client. Again, they are considering you and your script from a marketing point of view. They never want to say no, but leave it with, “I’m open to reading anything else you have in the future.” Sure, just don’t send them another script they won’t “loooooove” or can’t sell. They won’t return your calls and you won’t be able to get past their assistant. It’s like a bad relationship when someone doesn’t want to face the break up in person. They just stop taking your calls until you finally get the hint.
I became exhausted trying to please reps that continued to ask me to jump through hoops with my material. It always felt like my work was never good enough and maybe it wasn’t at the time. So, I decided to make some noise and co-founded a sketch comedy troupe. We wrote and performed a live showcase once a month for three years. It felt empowering. We had a loyal following and a creative space to invite agents and managers down to see our show. As a result of our show, we produced a comedy pilot and found a manager that shopped it to the networks. We weren’t waiting for anyone else to give us permission to create. We decided to make some noise and it paid off.
Never forget this simple fact: NO ONE CARES. It’s not a bad thing — just reality. No one will ever care about your script or your career as much as you do. If you understand this fact you will save yourself years of heartache and disappointment. Your career needs nurturing and you’re the only person who knows exactly what you want to accomplish as a writer. If you do hook an agent or manager, it’s a business relationship and you’ll need to discuss a game plan for your long-term goals. The most successful relationships build trust by communication. Strive for this with your representation.
You need to take responsibility for your career and you can’t leave it in the hands of others. This is your dream, so don’t allow just anyone in your corner. Just because someone wants to represent you, doesn’t always mean they are the right fit for you. It’s a business, and agents and managers size you up to see your career potential. Are you a one-script wonder or diva — or a writing workhorse with a body of work? Are you good in a room pitching your ideas — or are you horrible live? Are you a “team player” who can execute notes well, collaborate and can meet deadlines — or do you bristle at criticism and turn in your work late? This is all part of being a professional screenwriter. Potential reps will look for these traits because your potential employers will as well.
You get one shot to impress an agent or manager with your material. If you are calling them looking for validation, you are in a powerless place. You are the talent — never forget this fact. Your writing is the source of their livelihood — you write and they negotiate and sell it for you. The way to find representation is to make some noise by writing or producing honest and truthful stories. If your material is genuine and shows off your incredible writing talent, representation will find you—everything else is timing and luck (a prepared writer meets an opportunity).
Keep writing and keep filling your blank pages.
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“Deliberate practice, by its nature, must be hard. When you want to get good at something, how you spend your time practicing is far more important than the amount of time you spend. Regular practice simply isn’t enough. To improve, we must watch ourselves fail, and learn from our mistakes.”—Florida State University’s Anders Ericsson
“If you’re worried about failing, you ought to get into a different business, because statistics will tell you that sixty or seventy percent of the time you’re going to fail. By fail I mean that the movie won’t make money. Just do the best you can every time. And if you’re going to stay in the movies, and you like movies—and I love them—you’d better love them a lot, because it’s going to take all of your time. If you want to be in the movies, it’s going to break your heart.“—Richard Brooks, director of Blackboard Jungle, Sweet Bird of Youth, In Cold Blood, Looking for Mr. Goodbar
“Ultimately, we all have to decide for ourselves what constitutes failure. But the world is quite eager to give you a set of criteria if you let it. [F]ailure means a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself to be anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena where I believe I truly belonged. [R]ock bottom became the solid foundation on which I built my life.” ~ J.K. Rowling
“Remember Stephen King’s First Rule of Writers and Agents, learned by bitter personal experience: You don’t need one until you’re making enough for someone to steal… and if you’re making that much, you’ll be able to take your pick of good agents.” ― Stephen King
Do “you have the patience to wait until your mud settles and the water is clear?”
― Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching
4 thoughts on “How do I find an agent or manager to represent me?”
Couldn’t have said it better myself.
Wow, this was very insightful!! It gave me a lot of food for thought. It was interesting to get another take on the issue.
Thanks for shooting me with your link.
This agent is from Las Vegas. His name is Carlos. Have him call me at 808-854-7700. My last movie was Battleship. I now reside in New Mexico. Thanks. Thomas Paulson
Contact me about representing.