Love you guys! Thank you for your contributions to this site and my daily writing life. I am fortunate to get tons of email from Cat! readers and I am very happy to answer it all. I asked one writer if it was okay to share his question and my answer and was given the go-ahead — it’s about getting an agent…
“It seems very difficult,” Dennis Orris wrote me, “to find an agent or agency to even look at one of my scripts. Other than query letters and phone calls is there any other way to find someone to represent me?”
Thank you for this question, Dennis. I say this to writers all the time, and will address it in future, but believe it or not, finding an agent is not the most important thing on your to-do list. The most important thing is writing a great screenplay. If you build it, they will come — and that’s a fact. But let’s say you have your script in hand, it’s vetted, you know it’s great, and you’re ready to begin marketing it. What then?
1. I do recommend query letters and email queries. They work. But if you are not getting 4-10 responses for every 100 email or query letter you send — it’s not the agent, it’s your pitch! Either your idea is a non-starter or the way you’re telling it is; this is one reason I am so big on this blog about logline exercises.
2. Seek a manager instead of an agent. A manager is very often what I call a “stealth producer.” In addition to representing you, he or she wants to be attached to your project, which adds to their interest. I think looking for a manager first is a great plan. We are seeking “partners,” and the right manager can be a helpful one.
3. Managers can help you seek other “attachments” that will help get your movie made, though you can seek these too: talent, financing, directors, special effects packages. All these add-ons to a project will give it more momentum so someone will more likely want to join…. because no one likes to “go first.”
4. Short film, trailer, poster, pr campaign — if there is an element in your script that might lend itself to building some buzz, by all means try it. Can you create separate products, fan sites, or a YouTube short that will build curiosity? Can you, if yours is a true story, query newspapers and magazines to write a non-fiction piece about your subject to create interest? Perhaps even posting a teaser — 10 pages of your script — on your home site or writers group page — I still get inquiries from my screenplayers.net page.
5. Other routes like contests, film festivals, etc. are also good if easy or enjoyable for you. I recommend the Final Draft contest, the Nicholls Fellowship, and many of the Pitchfests including The Great American Pitchfest and Screenwriting Expo– but don’t go expecting them to whip out their checkbook and buy your script on the spot; this is about building contacts and resources beyond just today.
And of course I also recommend networking in our Save the Cat! Writers Groups, on our Forum, and taking a workshop or online class. It’s who you know — so know somebody! Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
p.s. And speaking of Cat! success stories, Bob DeRosa has an item on the front page Variety about the attaching of Ashton Kutcher to his comedy, Five Killers. Check our News archives for info. Also Cat! alum, Brian Edgar, is on page 2 with news that his historic epic, 1066, sold. Congrats guys!
- Tall Tales
Great info as always…You mentioned taking an online class, can you recommend any?
- Bradford Richardson
Love back at ‘cha, Blake. Thanks to you, (and that Cat), I now have a marketable spine upon which to hang my wild ideas. With a little luck, I’ll be the Cat’s next, Bob DeRosa.
“How do I get an agent?” — a timeless question, isn’t it?
Blake highlights in his post that professionally executed screenplay is absolutely necessary to even start thinking about getting representation. But if you happen to have such a baby, then he lists a few vetted ways how to seek for a dream agent.
Although I agree with every word in Blake’s post, there’s something there that strikes me. It’s the proportion of these two points. In my opinion, the space dedicated to each is inversely proportional to their importance. This seemingly inconspicuous and unintended mistake, repeated in most books on screenwriting I had pleasure to read, more likely has its origin in countless conversations between professionals and rookies, that probably go like this:
Aspiring writer: So how do I get an agent? (Meaning: I’ve got the hottest script on earth that will sell on the spot If I only can get an agent, but whenever I spot one they run away from me like from disease. Tell me please what should I do?!)
Blake: You don’t need to worry so much about it. Take your time, learn your craft, don’t rush yourself. Believe me or not, but when you finally get to the professional level, it will happen by itself.
Aspiring writer: Naturally. But let’s suppose I finally wrote one and still don’t have any representation. What then? (Meaning: Hello man! Wake up! I’m standing here and I have it, have it! So in the name of Christ tell me how to catch that bastard, so I can cash the check, give up that dilapidated pad of mine and solemnly quit that frustrating job I can’t stand anymore.)
Blake: Well, in that case I can recommend… (Meaning: If you really feel you have to do it, then what can I do? Try these…, but if you’re not ready yet, you’re just shooting at your feet.)
Did you know that when asked about intelligence, most people ascribe themselves a bit higher one than the average in the population? This is of course mathematically impossible for everybody to have a feature higher then an average. My point here is that we are naturally equipped in a psychological mechanics that constantly cheat our self-image. If you gaze at all the people rashly attempting to break into the sceenwriting business, then you may notice those mechanics at work. It’s not a coincidence that everybody thinks they have a better script than the others, or at least better than average. And that explains why more people worry about getting an agent than improving their craft, no matter what the Hollywood inner circle professionals say. But if you still think it doesn’t apply to you, well… you’ve got a problem, too.
Hopefully I don’t offend anybody, but in my opinion, if you compare creating professionally executed screenplay with getting an agent, the second is a piece of cake. I’ll even risk a thesis that it’s actually the last question that should trouble your mind.
If you want to sell a script you have to pass at least two Hollywood readers. One to get the representation, one within the studio system. Whatever you think of them, they are smart, they read a lot of scripts of all kinds and they can smell a tiny flaw of your work a mile away. And when they do, they can and will use it against you. That’s their job.
Great idea, correct structure, intriguing plot, witty dialogue — that’s not enough to please them. They ask for more, and the list of their expectations is long: believable characters, separate voices, inner conflicts, subtext in dialogue and off-the-nose scenes, reversals, white space — just to name a few.
Terry Rossio writes in one of his columns (www.wordplayer.com) that it’s practically impossible to write a screenplay to a professional level not establishing some industry connections somewhere on the way. I think he knows what he’s saying.
You absolutely need a professional to critique your work as you progress, not only to point out the mistakes you’re inevitably going to make but also prevent you from developing bad habits. The good news is that the same route of contacts can help you get an agent when you eventually reach a desired level. And even without sending a single query letter!
But let’s assume you have a fantastic script, perfectly executed in every detail, and for some reason nobody wants to read it. There’s another manner we can add to Blake’s list.
Many producers, agents and managers co-operate with particular readers that provide coverage services. Do the research, pick the right one and submit. If the material is truly great, chances are she will mention it to that agent. If she doesn’t think it’s great, at least you get a professional feedback.
- Brett Slater
Great post, Alex, but let’s not forget that Arthur Miller was told by the “experts” of his time that his play was unproducable and that no one would go see a play with the word “death” in the title.
Brett, you’re absolutely right. Rejection from an average reader is not necessarily a determinant of anybody’s professionalism. Sometimes they’re just too picky, academic and rash with rejections. They can be wrong, we all know that happens.
But most of the time they’re not. Nobody would pay them if they were constantly rejecting brilliant screenplays.
The bottom line is, before seeking for representation, we all need to be honest with ourselves. And for many reasons, this can be the most difficult thing for a writer to do.
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Blake is so right, then again, he always is. While agent and studio walls may seem high, with some creativity and persistence, it’s simply not that hard to get read. And remember these folks you’re trying to get read you, when they do read new writers, read a lot of material that is simply not ready for the market, an agent, or manager. Blake is right. The real trick is a killer log line and a great script!