May 20, 2015 § 2 Comments
I recently spoke to a screenwriter friend of mine who asked me about making changes to his spec from his agent’s notes. He obviously wasn’t happy with the prospect of reworking the script and wanted to know if this was a customary procedure. My advice was—make the changes. I told him this was the agent’s first test to see if my friend was a team player and collaborator when it came to changes. If my friend bristles at every note the agent gives, how would he react if the agent secures him a job and he flips out when the producer or executive gives notes? My friend could shoot himself in the foot early on by the way he reacts to his agent’s suggestions.
It’s been my experience that many agents don’t take a lot of time to give notes and managers tend to do this more because of their development or production backgrounds. I told my friend that it’s a question of how much he is willing to change his script and risk that the changes will help the agent feel confident about sending it out. You must remember, agents need to feel confident with the material they send out because it’s their reputation on the line with the producers and executives, and if they send out something that is substandard and it doesn’t sell, it doesn’t look good for their image.
Also depending on the size of the agency, the agent has a boss who is looking to see if the agent is commissioning and how many clients are selling and working. Also don’t forget that coveted holiday bonus or the invite to the agency’s Bermuda retreat. If an agent’s ten clients are not working and the agent can’t sell anything from them or secure jobs, how will that look to the agency or the business? The agent’s sensibilities will be in question and it’s a downward spiral from there.
Generally, I’ve had my managers give me more detailed notes than any agent. Usually my managers came from a production or development background and could actually help with story and getting the script ready to unleash upon Hollywood. My agents in the past had very little notes (not sure if that was good or bad) and once my agent was confident enough in my script to send it out to forty production companies. Yes, the script was “sent out wide” as they say on a Wednesday with a strategy forged by my agent and manager at the time with hopes for a bidding war.
Unfortunately at the time, my writing partner and I were uncredited and unknown screenwriters, and no producer really stepped up to the plate to buy our script by Friday at 5:00 PM. Needless to say it was a long and brutal weekend after that. On that Monday, the responses came in and mostly positive, but no sale. We heard that a few of the producers took our script to the studio level where they had their deals and it was considered, but again looking back the script was not strong enough to garner a sale. We took nearly a dozen meetings as a result, pitched our new idea and got back to writing.
After our big send out, our agent at the time asked us, “What other specs do you have?” Luckily we did have another comedy spec and he agreed to send it out, but to only ten companies. It was a lackluster strategy and again, that script didn’t garner a sale, but more meetings and opened doors. At this point our agent was pretty much done with us—and it felt like we were clinging by a mere finger hold outside on the agency’s tenth story patio waiting to be pushed. This is when my writing partner pitched our agent an old idea that he dusted off right there in the office. My eyes went wide as I didn’t know he was going to do that and went along for the ride. After the big song and dance, spinning plates and jumping through hoops, our agent ponders the pitch for a moment, his eyes go wide and he tells us: “GO WRITE THAT MOVIE!”
So, for next six weeks we hammered out that movie. We completed a first draft and our manager sent it to our agent and it took him three weeks to read it. This was not a good omen. Finally, the phone rang and it was our manager with the bad news, “Yeah, he read your new spec. He didn’t really care for it and said, ‘It’s not for me.'” BZZZT. That was our agent’s way of telling our manager and us that he was done trying to break us into the biz. He now had two clients who had two specs that did not sell and a new script that wasn’t what he expected. It was time to cut us loose. We learned a valuable lesson the hard way.
It’s a delicate dance and you risk offending an agent or manager if you refuse to make changes in your script. Now, you must believe that the changes will make the script more marketable and easier to compete professionally, but who ever knows? I’ve been in situations where you make the changes and the agent reads the next draft and it turns him off even more. At this point you can’t tell your agent, “Yeah, but these were your notes that I executed.” It doesn’t matter because you live or die by what’s on the page regardless of who suggested the changes. It’s the writer who ultimately gets the blame for the misdirection not the person who foisted a bunch of lame ideas upon the writer.
It’s always a long haul journey to reach any level of screenwriting success. You’ll get burned, cheated, rejected, criticized, ridiculed, and a myriad other forms of disrespect, but if you have someone in your corner whose interest helps champion your script, weigh the risks and benefits.
My friend is an aspiring screenwriter with no credits and agents don’t like to break unknown writers. Agents love writers who have credits and are working, as it makes them easier to sell and send out for jobs. It’s rare that your spec is “the one” that agents have looked for all of their careers—no offense. The reality is it’s just another one in the pile and heat will garner more of their interest than if they have to work from scratch and develop a script with you that could take months. What if the writer isn’t capable of executing the agent’s notes? This could be another test for the agent to see if the writer does land a job, will he/she be able to execute the producer’s notes and stay on the job or get fired? If a writer gets fired, it doesn’t look good for the agent’s reputation either—and of course it damages the writer’s reputation too by getting canned.
If an agent wants to develop your script with you, strongly consider doing the work necessary to make the agent feel confident about sending out your spec. It’s also a test to see if you are a client who is open to changes and is a team player. You must have multiple projects in the marketplace at all times and not be a one-script wonder—and when your spec goes out and doesn’t sell—lather, rinse and repeat. That’s how it works, your spec opens doors, you pitch and plant your flag and get them to say “come back” and you write a new script and go out with another and another until something breaks— or they break you!
Keep screenwriting and filling your blank pages because if you stop—you’ll never have any chance at success.
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“… That’s why an artist must be a warrior and, like all warriors, artists over time acquire modesty and humility. They may, some of them, conduct themselves flamboyantly in public. But alone with the work they are chase and humble. They know they are not the source of the creations they bring into being. They only facilitate. They carry. They are the willing and skilled instruments of the gods and goddesses they serve.“—Steven Pressfield, “The War of Art”
“Always dream and shoot higher than you know you can do. Don’t bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself.”—William Falukner
“Life beats down and crushes the soul and art reminds you that you have one.” ― Stella Adler
“Cheat your landlord if you can and must, but do not try to shortchange the Muse. It cannot be done. You can’t fake quality any more than you can fake a good meal.”— William S. Burroughs
“When the last dime is gone, I’ll sit on the curb outside with a pencil and a ten cent notebook and start the whole thing over again.” — Preston Sturges
“Work inspires inspiration. Keep working. If you succeed, keep working. If you fail, keep working. If you’re interested, keep working. If you’re bored, keep working.”—Michael Crichton
July 10, 2013 § 1 Comment
It’s so important not to waste time with someone who doesn’t have your best interests in mind for your career. I’d rather not have any representation than someone who I think is working for me every day and eventually I find out is not. Time burns so quickly in Hollywood and aspiring screenwriters get so excited with any rep shows them any interest in their work. Agents or managers show their real interest by their concrete actions and game plans. Are they reading your material and getting back to you in a timely manner? Giving you great notes and suggestions? Making plans for the long haul and following up on leads and contacts? Setting up meetings? Sending out your material to producers and executives who need to get to know you and your work?
I once found a manager on the internet. Yes, any story that starts out like this probably ends in tragedy. Again, this was when I started out in the business and was happy for anyone to read my stuff. Well, this cautionary tale ended with an important life lesson—always trust your instincts. This manager and I played E-mail tag and I sent over a few scripts and he wanted to meet. We had breakfast (he paid) and he laid out a game plan to get me working. I liked that he was thinking of the bigger picture and wanted to hit the ground running. I was already working on stuff, but as always, needed to meet a larger circle of producers who might offer more writing assignments.
Our working relationship appeared as if it was going well until the communication began to slow on his end. Never a good sign. I was living up to the bargain on my end, working on pitches, executing his notes on my existing scripts, but I could sense that something wasn’t quite right. He had one lead on a producer that never ended up with a meeting and that was pretty much it for him. It was foreshadowing where our working relationship was going—nowhere. It fizzled out and he stopped returning calls and E-mails. It was then I learned that he was actually my neighbor who lives not more than one-hundred yards from me. He was done, baby done.
Time passed and I was at a local coffee-house, enjoying a coffee and reading the newspaper when I recognize this very same “manager.” No surprise, because I would see him around the neighborhood every once in a while but he never did recognize me, as if I wasn’t even worthy of remembering. That’s okay, my anonymity allowed me to eavesdrop on him and listen while he told the very same spiel to two young and eager looking writers. I just listened, feeling very much undercover, as he didn’t know who I was, and I felt like leaning over and warning these guys of my experience with this bottom feeder. Who knows, would they suffer the same fate? Or maybe these were the guys who he would catapult into super stardom. Bottom line, like any relationship, if it’s not working after many attempts, get out. Your time is precious too and better to spend it working and not spinning your wheels with a rep who promises the world and delivers nothing. You’ve worked too damn hard to entrust your journey to an amateur.
Years ago when I had a writing partner, we once snagged an agent at a mid-level agency with the help of our then manager. This agent was young and a real firecracker. He was the guy who could get our career jump started in a big way. He loved to sell specs and our new comedy spec and went out wide on a Wednesday — forty companies, do or die. Friday came, end of business day and no bidding war. Not a good sign. That was a horrible weekend to slog through. Monday came along with the responses, overall good feedback, but no sale. A few of the producers even sent it to the studio level for consideration, but no takers. We did get a handful of meetings and everyone told us they “wanted to keep us on their radar.” A catch phrase in Hollywood for “my development exec will keep in touch if he keeps his job.”
We were thankful for the experience and spent the next few months writing another spec and ready to do the same song and dance routine again. Okay, that first script with him didn’t sell and was now burned out. It had been around town and was now a writing sample or a door stop. Now granted, this agent only sold spec scripts, and he told us when we first met him that he would not send us out for writing assignments. He only sold specs for “big money.” We loved it because we only wrote specs, so this what the perfect agent, right? Looking back, a spec sale is like winning the Super Lotto and we were gambling with our scripts every time we went out.
The agent then asked if we had anything else and we delivered up another comedy spec. He went out to ten companies, not forty, and it was a half-assed send out to companies that didn’t really make this type of movie. Again, no sale but a few meetings. He just burned up two of our specs that didn’t sell and now we had no more specs in our arsenal. Sending out a spec is always like rolling the dice, you’re taking a huge gamble that it will not sell. Specs take time and effort and sacrifice while you work your crappy job to pay the bills as you write your precious spec.
Our then manger called another summit meeting with the agent who asked us, “What else do you have?” After he just burned through two of our specs. My writing partner at the time pulled an old pitch out of his ass, much to my surprise, dusted it off at the meeting and pitched it like we were in the process of writing it. The agent’s eyes popped open, he responded to the material and told us to write that movie! We spent the next few months writing THAT movie—and when we finished, our manager sent the agent the script. It took him three weeks to read it and he get back to our manager with this response: “it’s not for me.”
Did you just hear the dial tone? He’s done. Three strikes and we’re out. “Not for him?” This was an idea that he championed… loved… told us to write and now it’s not for him? Easy to say “go write it.” Harder to like it and send it out. Welcome to the world of representation. It’s easier to get a rep if you already have heat or a project that already has interest. It’s harder for them to roll up their sleeves and get on with the difficult job of breaking a new and unproven screenwriter in Hollywood.
You quickly learn —no one truly cares like you do about your career. They read five pages and if it doesn’t happen, they’re done. The only person who really does care about your career is you because you live it and sacrifice for it every day. If you remember this fact you won’t be surprised when those people who you think have your best interests in mind—really do not. If you write something that someone believes they can sell, they will become interested. If you write something that has a lot of interest before you find representation—they will flock to it like a moth to a flame.
I was courting a manager once and every time I would send over something, he never “loved it.” He would never tell me to go away, because of the outside chance I just might come up with something one day that he liked. So, I helped a mutual friend with a sitcom idea and he got a known actress/singer interested, suddenly this manager took us both out to dinner and “loved it.” He was super interested. He actually gave us notes and told us he would go into meetings with us and shepherd the project—only because there was interest. He didn’t have to work hard and find that interest—we came to him with the interest already built-in. So much less work for him. But as you’ll quickly find out, interest changes like the wind and one minute a project is hot and the next it’s not.
Just be careful who you bring into your inner circle to shepherd your career moves. Just as agents and managers have to be picky with the clients they choose to rep, you should also be picky with who you entrust to further your career. Be realistic with your expectations, but always keep your radar up for that gut feeling when you suspect your rep may not be living up to their end of the bargain. Be aware of passing time and how much or how little forward movement has happened with this new addition to your team.
Sure, it’s great to have a rep, but you need someone who is not just along for the ride and has you doing most of the work. You are responsible for creating new and solid material and you should never stray from that discipline even if you don’t secure representation. My old writing partner and I used to say, “Just because there is a signature on a contract doesn’t mean someone will work that much harder.” It means if things are not working out, you both have about six months to legally end the relationship. Remember, you can never get back wasted time because you thought your rep was pushing you as a writer and your projects, but in reality you stalled and missed so many important opportunities as a result.
Keep screenwriting and keep the faith.
Did you just complete your latest magnum opus? Time for in-depth professional script consultation/editing? Check out my services by clicking on the blue icon below for the link to my website. You never get a second chance to make a first great impression with your script. Make the time to get it right before you unleash it upon Hollywood.
“Act without expectation.” —Lao Tzu
“Work inspires inspiration. Keep working. If you succeed, keep working. If you fail, keep working. If you’re interested, keep working. If you’re bored, keep working.”—Michael Crichton
April 19, 2013 § 1 Comment
Ah, there is truly nothing like finding solid representation that not only believes in you and your talent, but gives you that extra confidence and hope of building a career. Representation on its own doesn’t always mean a sale or success, but a manager or agent is an important member on your team as you forge a screenwriting career. It’s always going to be an adventure, but we love adventure, right? If you’re “hot” you will attract interest, but just never get “cold” as the interest will chill like that martini you’ll be drinking to drown your sorrows.
Finding an agent or manager is a lot like dating, except it’s your script out there in the trenches and hopefully it’s charming and attractive enough for the agent or manager to believe in it to sell. Bottom line, if you write a fantastic script it will find its way to someone who will recognize your amazing storytelling ability. Write a script that will have agents and managers calling to find YOU — not the other way around. Spend your time working on your craft and being the best writer you can be and the rest will fall into place.
That being said, I’ve had probably five different managers and agents during the course of my adventures in the screentrade to date—some were fantastic and others were not. Some agents were at big agencies and managers at both boutique and big management companies. The problem was that like any relationship, during our march up the mountain together, it took time to figure out who wasn’t really working at the level that I thought they were to further my career. Precious time.
The worst situation is when you fall into the false sense of security—being so thankful for any representation that you completely loose sight of the fact time marches on and now it’s been a year with a few meetings or maybe only a handful of submissions. We always want our latest screenplay to sell and move us forward on the playing field of Hollywood, right? It’s a team effort, so you must always provide new material to your rep, but you’ll need to see real signs the rep is doing the best job to provide the tactics and plan the missions to get you into the inmost cave.
Okay, if your first screenplay goes out and doesn’t sell but gets you meetings, that’s okay—it’s your second and third projects that will usually determine if the rep’s interest fizzles and they cut you loose. The agent or manager usually does not have the time to hang on with the hopes their client will eventually sell something or get work. It’s also their reputation out there and how does it look if their client repeatedly does not work?
Sure it could be the marketplace and the fact that it’s damn near impossible to sell anything, but surely it will focus back on you as the rep’s confidence wanes in your talent and ability to craft projects that sell. You’ll stick around longer if you have a solid body of work and continually give new material to your rep to put into the pipeline. Don’t be a “one script wonder” because it will probably take a handful of solid screenplays to make some noise. Also be a master at executing notes because this is so important when you do land a job. Your ability to execute script notes will determine if you stay on the project or get fired.
One day you may turn in a new script and your rep says, “it’s not for me.” Did you hear the other shoe drop? Just because a signature is on a representation contract doesn’t always mean someone is burning the midnight oil to find you work. Never, please never forget this: You must always be out making new contacts and building new film industry relationships because you can’t entrust everything to your rep to do even when they are fantastic. You need to do the work as well. It’s now a team effort—you can’t drop off a script and expect in a few weeks the job offers to come rolling in. The journey of one screenplay could take a year or more so get ready. Sure, you may sell your first script to the first company that reads it—but that’s like winning the lottery. How much did you win from your last scratcher or Powerball ticket? It’s the long marathon screenwriter who survives.
Also, do not judge yourself as a writer only by some agent or manager’s opinion of your work. I once received feedback back in the day on my script from an agent who held court at a powerful and mighty agency. He said only bad things about my script—this was a script that had just nearly won the Academy’s prestigious Nicholl Fellowship at the Motion Picture Academy! It placed in the top few dozen of all entries the year it was entered and it eventually went on to being produced and distributed worldwide. Who knows the reasoning behind any given feedback? I think we as writers know in our hearts if something is good, clear and speaks the truth. Get in touch with writing the truth and scripts that represent your unique voice.
If you think about the sheer volume of scripts out there it could make your brain freeze. I just read about the 7,251 scripts entered in the Nicholl Fellowship screenwriting contest for 2013. That’s a staggering amount of writers all doing their best to get their script over the wall. More sobering stats: On the average about 100 specs sell in Hollywood each year. Spec scripts sold in Hollywood in 2012: 132 scripts. 2011: 110 scripts. 2010: 55 scripts. 2009: 68 scripts. 2008: 87 scripts. WGAw’s annual report for 2014 states that only 4,745 writers made any income in the previous year throughout the guild. Do you still want to be a screenwriter? Of course you do! Who are you kidding? You love it more than anything else — or you’d better! It’s in your blood.
Write something from your heart that tells the truth and it will eventually find a believer. Always be involved in chartering the course of your career and remember. Trust others, but keep tight reins and do your best to not waste precious time with those who promise the world and deliver nothing. You know the sacrifices and time it takes to craft your projects. Surround yourself with like-minded people who truly champion your overall career as a writer, not just one project. Hollywood is a place where everyone says they’ll read your script because they want credit for their good intentions—it’s the follow through that’s a bitch.
Write something that will make noise and have agents and managers calling to find YOU — not the other way around.
It is your responsibility to charter the course and take the helm. Never allow precious time to waste with an agent or manager in your corner who doesn’t truly believe in your talents and ability as much as you do. Time is too precious on our adventure. Remember this simple statement and write it down and post it near your computer:
” There will never be anyone who cares about your career as much as you do.” Read my article: “Always Remember It’s Your Career.”
Some insights from author Steven Pressfield in his amazing book “The War of Art”:
For the Artist to define himself hierarchically is fatal. Let’s examine why. First let’s look at what happens in a hierarchical orientation. An individual who defines himself by his place in a pecking order will:
1) Compare against all others in the order, seeking to elevate his station by advancing against those above him, while defending his place against those beneath.
2) Evaluate his happiness/success/achievement by his rank within the hierarchy, feeling most satisfied when he’s high and most miserable when he’s low.
3) Act toward others based on their rank in the hierarchy, to the exclusion of all other factors.
4) Evaluate his every move solely by the effect it produces on others. He will act for others, dress for others, speak for others, and think for others.
But the Artist cannot look to others to validate his efforts or his calling. If you don’t believe me, ask Van Gogh, who produced masterpiece after masterpiece and never found a buyer his whole life. In the hierarchy, the Artist faces outward. Meeting someone new he asks himself, “What can this person do for me?” “How can this person advance my standing?” In hierarchy, the Artist looks up and looks down. The one place he can’t look is that place he must: within—Steven Pressfield
Speaking of screenplays… did you just finish your latest magnum opus and need in-depth consultation? Check out my services by clicking the blue icon below for the link to my website and more information.
May 31, 2012 § 4 Comments
Okay, so you found representation from an agent or manager, or both. Congratulations! This important business relationship is vital to forging a career as a working screenwriter. How do you maintain a working relationship with these new members of your team? It’s a delicate balance as you focus on creating material and they focus on establishing your career. Your representation will send out your script and if it doesn’t sell—you’ll take pitch meetings and then get back to working on your next magnum opus—lather, rinse, and repeat. Continually give your agent or manager the ammunition they need to stay in the battle and they will see you as a productive client who can produce material. Be known as a “worker bee.” They want you to work and so do you. They also want to know that you’re a team player who is open to rewrites and criticism.
Never forget, it will always be your career and no one will ever care about it as much as you do. How could they? You live and breathe it every moment of every day. This is why you can’t rest and just trust others to guide the way. Take responsibility for being the CEO of your company—YOU, INCORPORATED.
My first agent was from a mutual friend’s referral. He really liked my spec screenplay and took me on as a hip pocket client. This is what agents often do with new clients they are trying to break into the business. They won’t sign you officially, but will send out your script and test the waters. If something happens with your project and you get an offer of money, they will most likely sign you. I’ve never found being singed by an agent made them work any harder for me. Their actions speak louder than any ink on a contract. You also have to remember agents either have clients who are working or clients they are trying to get working again. An agent lives or dies by the ten-percent commissions of clients and time is understandably allocated to those clients who are making money. So, a pocket client shouldn’t expect the daily focus like a signed client should. Sadly, many agents don’t like to sign new writers as it takes time to establish a career and lost time is money. They love to sign a writer who is already on a television series or has two hit movies out—that’s a no brainer.
I’ve always had better relationships with managers than agents in the past. My managers always found me an agent they personally knew and brought them on the team to help build my career. My experience has been that managers spend the time to develop your career and not just look to land you a job. My manager is also my producing partner on a project and more management companies are getting involved in producing their client’s material as well as guiding their careers. My experience has been that my manager is always the conduit to my agent. I usually talk more to my manager on a regular basis than my agent. When it comes time to send out a project, the three of us meet, pool contacts, they present their strategy, and set the wheels in motion.
Keep in touch with your representation, but don’t harass them. Know when it’s important to check in and keep them updated. ’ve found E-mail is the best way, but keep it concise and to the point. If they’re developing a strategy to send out a particular project, be actively involved and ask questions and offer opinions. You can’t sequester yourself away and not keep up to date with business in Hollywood. Know who is reading your script, make suggestions, and if you have industry contacts you want them to call, let them know. Even if your project doesn’t sell, if your representation sees positive feedback they’ll feel more confident to send you out again and focus on your career.
Make a list of every project you have completed that’s ready for consideration and promotion. You can’t expect them to push ten of your scripts, so go over your list with them and target specific material they believe could move you farther along on your career path. Keep track of the endless details as precious information can slip through the cracks. You are the final guardian of your career. Take your job seriously. It will take a considerable amount of planning and time to go out with just one project and receive feedback, so be considerate of Hollywood’s time warp and learn patience.
When your agent or manager gives you feedback on your screenplay, listen and seriously consider the changes as they are putting their reputations on the line with every script they send out. If you execute the notes quickly and efficiently, you will show them you’re adept at fast rewrites and you’re a screenwriter who can work on a schedule. Their worst fear would be if they secured you a job and you couldn’t deliver the goods. That would make both of you look bad and would harm your career. Your attitude and work ethic is as important as your talent.
As business relationships go in Hollywood, your representation is vital to establishing a career as a professional screenwriter. When you include your entertainment attorney, you now have a trio of business partners to guide and protect you. Your attorney can keep the checks and balances intact between the entire team. Over time, a bond of trust will form as you share your triumphs and successes together. Time is a precious commodity in life and pursuing your career. Just because someone is “interested” in you doesn’t always mean they will actively work to further your career. Real interest garners real action.
The relationship between a client and an agent or manager works both ways. Do not waste time with anyone who is not a professional and does not put your best interests first. Conversely, always be a professional who is reliable, open to notes and changes, and constantly writes new material. Strive to build a professional relationship with your representation that involves open and constant communication. You’ll need everyone on the team working in tandem to build and establish your career as a screenwriter in Hollywood. Remember, it’s your career so take responsibility for the choices you make, as they will directly affect your life and finances.
Keep writing and filling your blank pages because if you stop—you’re guaranteed to never have a shot at any success.
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“The professional prepares mentally to absorb blows and to deliver them. His aim is to take what the day gives him. He is prepared to be prudent and prepared to be reckless, to take a beating when he has to, and to go for the throat when he can. He understands the field alters every day. His goal is not victory (success will come by itself when it wants to) but to handle himself, his insides, as sturdily as he can.”—Steven Pressfield, “The War of Art”
“The reason actors, artists, writers have agents is because we’ll do it for nothing. That’s a basic fact – you gotta do it.” —Morgan Freeman
“Defer no time, delays have dangerous ends.” —William Shakespeare
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
December 23, 2011 § 4 Comments
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