Getting representation as a screenwriter/director: How to do it?
September 27, 2010 8:50 PM   Subscribe

Getting representation as a screenwriter/director: How to do it?

I need an agent and/or a manager. I have several sample screenplays, a director's reel, and have made a few films independently, some of which have been accepted to film festivals. For the sake of argument let's assume my work is good enough and focus on the "how to" of contacting potential representatives.

In the past I have sought representation as a writer. I followed the typical instructions from a book and sent query letters. That doesn't work. At best I got polite rejections, at worst returned with a note from the legal department saying they hadn't touched it.

So, what are other strategies? I would take an agent or a manager, whatever I can get. I have tried networking with people I know and haven't gotten anywhere yet. I detest cold-calling but will do it if I must. I have heard "network with assistants" but I don't know where to find the assistants or what to say to them. Are there modern internet-based approaches that might work (ie, LinkedIn)?

Also, I am even more clueless about how directors get agents then I was when I was approaching it as just a writer. Any insight there is greatly appreciated too. Thanks!

I saw this question but am hoping for new and/or director-specific insight. Thanks!
posted by drjimmy11 to Media & Arts (9 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I really think you'll find as many ways to get an agent as you will find writers. I've had my own serpentine path towards what is now top flight agency representation, but along the way I suffered through bad representation and no representation. For me, I was in film school where I teamed up with another writer and the two of us caught the interest of a lower level manager who somehow got a script of ours to an Oscar winning writer/director who wanted to attach himself to it and executive produce it. That interest got us top flight legal representation, which led to our dream agency representation.

I moved to LA 3 years ago. We were signed to this agency in July. You're going to want to be patient.

So, while every one has a different way to get "in," here are things I think you should do to definitely help yourself out.

1) Live in LA
2) Write write write write write.
3) Meet people, network, don't be afraid to let people read what you write.
4) Enter the top tier contests (but don't expect any one of them to be a silver bullet - I won many and placed high in the best competition and while it got me a number of meetings, it didn't lead to my current situation at all.)
5) Develop fans among lower level producers and managers and assistants who will champion you as they rise (somewhat quickly) through the ranks.
6) Create stuff. Your own webseries, for instance. Funny or Die. YouTube. A twitter feed. Get heat, somehow.
7) Find a group of writers on your level or slightly above who will swap scripts with you.

Be patient. Write a lot. Don't just polish that one script. Don't overwhelm people with your material, either. Pick and choose. I wouldn't tell people you've written 10 scripts. It will make them think, "Well, why hasn't someone noticed you before, then?" Just ask them what they're looking for an pitch a script if it fits. Good luck.

It's not an easy career.
posted by visual mechanic at 9:04 PM on September 27, 2010 [5 favorites]

You can't really get an agent without something to make them (or rather, their assistant) want to read your script. By "something" I mean awards, connections, or the like. If you have any way to get the script into an actor's hand (any actor with a recognizable name, I'm not talking only Tom Cruise but even a TV actor of note) on your own, and if they're interested in your work, you'll probably be able to get someone to read your script just based on the actor's interest.

Most people need to get their foot in the door on their own before they can get an agent's interest-- whether that means you win some contests, or get an article written up about you in an indie filmmakers magazine, or get the interest of an actor on your own. Everyone wants an agent but agents only want to bother with people they think will make them money. Make it as obvious as you can that you are going to be successful, with or without their help, and they'll want to jump on the bandwagon and sign you.
posted by np312 at 9:15 PM on September 27, 2010

Read screenwriter/director John August's blog. Tons of useful info.
posted by BlahLaLa at 9:36 PM on September 27, 2010

James Gunn also addresses a number of questions like this in his Formspring if you look back through it (just be ready to read through some bizarre stuff too).
posted by sharding at 10:08 PM on September 27, 2010

The Bitter Script Reader wisely points out that he and his ilk are the folks you need to get your script past in his blog intro, and goes on to detail some of what they're looking for (and running away from).
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 11:09 PM on September 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

A friend of mine managed to get a very good agent just from going to a PitchFest. I don't know how common that is, but it happened. From what I understand, they haven't sold her screenplays yet, but are constantly working with her to tweak what she's already written. She lives in NYC and the agency is bi-coastal, though her specific agent is in LA. I don't know if they'd have better luck getting her other writing gigs if she lived there, but I know that she has to travel to LA quite a lot now. In any case, it sounds to me like it's a lot like being an actor with an agent; it helps to have their stamp of approval, but most of the work and networking is on you.
posted by zerbinetta at 11:48 PM on September 27, 2010

If you have contacts - work them. Obviously, you don't have such, or you'd have used them (as you yourself said). If you have no contacts, your road will be somewhat harder. What follows, is that road. Are you in LA? If not, move here. Your only other option - and a weaker one, at that, at least for features, is NYC. Without moving to LA, and without contacts, your chances are equal to winning the lottery. Let's assume you already are in LA. So, is there a producer who has read your stuff and expressed interest in it? Ask him to intro you to an agent. If no producer expressed an interest in your material, then sorry, your stuff is not strong enough. When you had your stuff shown at a festival was it a major festival? If it was not, then it's a waste of time from the point of view of representation (there's only a few - like seven - of these). If you were shown at a major festival, did you actually attend the festival? If no, do so. If yes, but no agents/managers/producers approached you, then sorry, your material is not strong enough. Realistically, if you don't have contacts, the advice is to develop them - it's easier to develop contacts you don't have at the moment and which can lead you to getting representation, than getting representation through the means I outlined above.
posted by VikingSword at 12:19 PM on September 28, 2010

Response by poster: Yes I live in L.A., as stated in my profile. Again, the question is emphatically not about the "strength" of my "material."
posted by drjimmy11 at 7:18 PM on September 28, 2010

FWIW, my response is based on having worked at one of the three big agencies. Cold calling and submitting material that wasn't solicited is basically a waste of time. At one point we had an agent in charge of independents, and as happens I worked his desk for a few weeks when his assistant was out sick. That was also the only time I read unsolicited material. It was part of my job. I actually liked one script. The agent was responsible for picking up unrepped talent writing/directing. He only read what the assistant recommended - and the assistant rarely recommended material. To my knowledge, he never watched director reels. The way he picked people for representation, was at major festivals. Never - as far as I know - did he pick anybody any other way. By sheer coincidence, tomorrow I am meeting his regular assistant from back in the day, and I'll ask him about how the process worked. Subsequently the agent left the business, and the department was abolished.

Otherwise, the #1 rule, is that agents never read stuff that's not their clients. If you manage to somehow get your material to an agent (example: your uncle is a dear friend of the agent, and he asks him as a favor to read your stuff) - the agent will still not read your stuff. What will happen is that he'll give it to his assistant - and then a day later or whenever it's time to get back to your uncle, the agent will ask his assistant for a 30 second summary, then get on the phone and BS his way through.

As part of my training I was in the story department for some time. I had to do coverage for a couple of months. I never read or saw anyone read material that was not solicited. Solicited of course can mean a director who is a client who is looking for material - this client may have a friend or whoever come up with a script, at which point, yes, the agency will look at that script and cover it.

Junior agents will often hip pocket clients - i.e. not represent them officially as part of the agency, or be on a client list, but will do favors for them, like send them jobs or solicit jobs for them, submit writing samples etc. These are often friends, or someone the agent feels has potential, but no track record and therefore is not someone the agency will put on their client list. How do these people come to the notice of the agent? The usual stuff - networking, or meeting at a festival, or someone the agent got from a manager friend etc.

Paradoxically, agencies are not in the business of "discovering" talent - only in representing. You have a much bigger chance of getting representation, if you submit your material or your reel to a producer or to a studio exec. I've seen this repeatedly. An exec likes the material, and will call an agent telling him "hey, this is someone interesting" - this can happen even if the exec does not actually get involved with the material, though obviously, if s/he does, it's a done deal. I'm not counting "discovering" of talent, when you win a festival and every agent in town tries to get you to sign with him/her - you're already discovered by then.

When I first came to work at the agency, we had a meet-and-greet session after hiring, and various questions were answered. When asked how best to get representation, this particular agent said something that I found to be pretty universal: "don't come to an agent - have the agent come to you". In other words, they only want you when you're proven goods on some level, like for example, a talented director of commercials - like, say, Michel Gondry - who wants to do features.

Merely having a few independent features under your belt, will not be enough, and can actually work against you. Make one that gets noticed, and you're on. Make ones that are not noticed, and it's better to keep quiet.

A key thing to remember is that what used to be true for writers - there are millions of script out there, and you gotta stand out - is nowadays true for directors... there are tons and tons of little films out there and you gotta stand out. You won't believe how many DVDs sit in stacks in corners of the offices of various studio execs - submissions the execs have no time to watch.

Best advice I can give you comes from Tarantino in answer to a question about how to get noticed and break in with all these thousands of films out there. Tarantino's answer, in the link I gave you, is "make Reservoir Dogs" - IOW, do something huge to get noticed. It's basically the same thing with winning big screenplay contests etc. All ways of having the agent come to you, not you to him.

To get represented, you must be desirable. That applies for major agencies. It's easier to have an agent or manager take you on, "discover" you, if that agent works for a small agency or one-man-shop. So perhaps start there. They are more amenable to being approached by an unknown.

Since you are in LA, work your contacts. Yes, I know you said you did, but keep on doing it. At some point you'll get to someone who knows some manager or another, and they'll give them your material. If you are working - even completely independently - you will be in regular contact with talent, both above and below the line - there's always someone who knows someone. Be patient, and don't give up.

Caveat #1 - I'm completely out of the game at this point, and this is knowledge that's current as of 5 years ago, though I doubt much has changed in that respect.

Caveat #2 - this applies to the major agencies. There are tons of smaller agencies and one-man-shops, where the rules may be somewhat more lax.
posted by VikingSword at 10:49 PM on September 28, 2010

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