Please don't ask me
August 27, 2013 5:55 AM   Subscribe

How do I kindly decline my struggling-writer friends' numerous requests that I submit their screenplays to my agent, without causing any bad feelings or strife?

I have been lucky in that I make a living from writing screenplays. I'm not super-successful, but I do have an agent at one of the top agencies in LA. I got this far not from asking anyone's help to pull strings on my behalf, but through a mixture of hard work and luck in contests and the like.

Many of my friends are struggling writers, and when they ask me to read their scripts I always comply and spend many hours reading and giving notes. We're talking 4 or 5 friends' scripts a month which translates to 12+ hours of my time a month. But I like being able to help out in this manner and my friends always appreciate the notes. It's how I feel most comfortable helping.

Maybe it's because we're all getting older, but in the past year each and every one of my struggling writer friends has asked, hinted, or flat out begged me to submit their work to my agent as a personal favor. We are talking 10 + friends asking this of me this year alone. First of all, it puts me in a bad position because, in my opinion, their work is often okay but not stellar enough samples to make them stand out from the hundreds of scripts that my agent reads every year. They range from amateurish to fine but not particularly original.

The two times I've read something that DID stand out to me as better than the rest, I've offered to submit them to my agent of my own accord. (And even those got rejected!) It is impossible for me to tell my friends that I don't think their work is good enough to get them signed, without sounding like I am talking down to them. But honestly it reflects poorly on me if I recommend writing to my reps that I personally feel to be sub-par.

My agent has never liked anything I've sent him that comes from my social circle. And as is often the case in H'wood, he deals with this by taking weeks to read the submissions, then going to extreme lengths to avoid the subject. So then I have to act as the ambassador on my friends' behalf, repeatedly bugging him to read and then to give me something to tell them re: why he didn't like it, and even then some of my friends ask if they can send ANOTHER sample and the cycle just repeats.

I have even had friends act like it is my personal responsibility to make sure their scripts fall into the right hands. I have come to dread that inevitable " do you think you could send it to your agent?" conversation. I usually tell them the truth, which is that I've recently submitted something and I don't like to overload the agent with requests.

But then they ask again a couple weeks later. And again. And again. Plus, I've lost friendships over people who are mad at ME when the agent didn't like their work. I just want to tell people that unless I say "This is great, I'd like to show it to my agent" it means I don't want to show it to my agent.

How can I do this is a way that is sensitive to the fact that they don't have many avenues by which to get their work read? The requests happen frequently enough that I can't have a sit-down heart-to-heart with all of them. Is there a diplomatic phrase I can use that will tell them "I love you as a friend and while I think you've got potential as a writer, IMO this particular script isn't good enough and I'm tired of going out on a limb for work I don't believe in?" I hate feeling like a gatekeeper but I also hate feeling like I'm under an obligation to promote their careers no matter the quality of their work.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (44 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Polite lie? "My agent has asked me not to submit scripts from my friends anymore." This is almost true, in that he responds very poorly to those scripts and is sort of passive-aggressively telling you to cut it out.
posted by jeather at 5:59 AM on August 27, 2013 [71 favorites]

Ouch that is sensitive. Poor thing.

A little white lie might suffice, "While I think this is good, it's not the sort of thing my agent typically bites on." Is one way. Especially if its in a different genre than what you usually write, or a different medium (TV instead of film.)

Another thing you could say is, "My agent isn't reviewing the work of anyone who isn't already a client."

Or, if you want a little real world, "I wish I could, but if I sent my agent every script everyone asks me to submit, she'd never be able to do her day job!"

If someone gets aggressive about it, I suggest being more direct, "I'm not willing to do that."

Just a simple statement.

If your friends don't get it, or if they get upset with you, it makes one wonder...were they just using you for your contacts.

Hang in there!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:02 AM on August 27, 2013 [8 favorites]

What about throwing the burden back on your friends? Something to the effect of, "Look, it's hard enough to get my own work attention -- if I'm going to submit this and call in a serious favor, this absolutely needs to be your best work possible. Take another look at this and then make it the absolute best it can be." Which 1. encourages workmanship, 2. discourages the sort of desperate straw-grabbing that can lead to innumerable requests from certain someones, and 3. makes clear that this is no small favor they're asking.

Then, once they've given you their best, review at your leisure and decide what to submit, if anything at all?

If nothing else, they'll be better for off for having critically looked at their own work and edited accordingly. White lie as needed.
posted by charlemangy at 6:10 AM on August 27, 2013 [4 favorites]

I'd probably just go with the, "I don't do that," type line. If they push, you can tell them you need to keep work and friends separate. If they push more, give them the procedure for submitting their script - the same procedure everyone else follows. If they continue to push, they clearly have issues with respecting your boundaries.
posted by routergirl at 6:12 AM on August 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

"I'm sorry. I've been burned by that before. I'm afraid I can't do that."
posted by inturnaround at 6:15 AM on August 27, 2013 [6 favorites]

The two times I've read something that DID stand out to me as better than the rest, I've offered to submit them to my agent of my own accord.

You've got to stop doing that - word got around among your circle that you were an 'in' and they are using you. They're not asking for honest critique from your professional perspective, they are giving you submissions just like they would to any other agent. You've become another rung on their ladder to success.

Tell people that your agent does not accept unsolicited submissions, even from their own talent. That should shut down the hopefuls and narrow it down to the people who actually care about your opinion, not the opportunity you represent.
posted by Think_Long at 6:24 AM on August 27, 2013 [16 favorites]

"When my agent gets a screenplay from me, he assumes I'm doing someone a favor and that it's not any good on its merits so whenever he does get around to looking at it, it's with a biased eye. You have a better chance submitting a great screenplay to the agency via their normal process."
posted by mikepop at 6:25 AM on August 27, 2013 [44 favorites]

If you've already given back comments on why their work is subpar, why are they asking you to submit their work anyway?

It seems to me like you don't really need to white lie. If you don't think their work is up to it, could you just tell them as much in your comments? I think this would be both kind and, conveniently, it's also the truth.
posted by spaceheater at 6:25 AM on August 27, 2013

I agree to keep it simple. Another one could be "my agent doesn't take unsolicited scripts unless they go through the normal channels." And do that for the ones you think are good, too. You can put in a good word later if need be.
posted by sm1tten at 6:26 AM on August 27, 2013 [4 favorites]

I like mikepop's suggested phrasing.

You might also throw in something about how "I have zero pull/influence, if you understood my place in the pecking order you'd see that submitting it through me is doing you no favors. I'm not successful enough that recommending my friends means anything to my agent, and in fact it could hurt you."
posted by Unified Theory at 6:31 AM on August 27, 2013 [8 favorites]

I like jeather's answer: "My agent has asked me not to submit scripts from my friends anymore."

Maybe you can add a judo-move to this to re-direct the energy right away. Have some pre-printed sheets/cards ready with a few agencies' contact public contact info, and maybe even a a simple 1-2-3 of how best to submit a screenplay.

"My agent has asked me not to submit scripts from my friends anymore. (Hand them one of your sheets) But here's something that might help submit your work. Good luck! It's a tough game!"
posted by The Deej at 6:39 AM on August 27, 2013 [5 favorites]

If you leave ANY ambiguity, you're in trouble. Shut it down 100% and make it clear it's a blanket policy. "My agent doesn't look at scripts from my friends. Sorry, no exceptions."

In the future don't submit ANYTHING your friends write to your agent unless it is absolutely 100% blows-you-away good. In the unlikely event of that happening, make it clear to the friend that you're submitting it because you think it's amazing and giving it to your agent is a favor to the agent, not a favor to the friend.

And yeeesh, stop bugging your agent to read these -- you're going out on a limb and risking your own professional relationship for writers who can't be bothered to build their own relationships the way you did. Don't do that.
posted by pie ninja at 6:48 AM on August 27, 2013 [23 favorites]

Just say no, and then give the well-worded honest answer you've already written:

My agent has never liked anything I've sent him that comes from my social circle. And as is often the case in H'wood, he deals with this by taking weeks to read the submissions, then going to extreme lengths to avoid the subject. So then I have to act as the ambassador on my friends' behalf, repeatedly bugging him to read and then to give me something to tell them re: why he didn't like it.

And then add something to the effect of "you'll have a much better chance of getting something picked up if your script isn't being read (maybe) as a favor to a nagging client." Or "you need someone who's friends with my agent's boss." Or similar.
posted by snuffleupagus at 7:07 AM on August 27, 2013 [5 favorites]

You could say, truthfully, "I don't think my agent would be the right fit for you. He has a pretty narrow focus; I've tried submitting this kind of script to him in the past and he wasn't interested. Plus he takes forever to get back to me about unsolicited work, and I'd hate to leave you hanging waiting for an answer. Why don't you try [X resource] for finding your own agent?"
posted by BlueJae at 7:09 AM on August 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Your agent is used to being the bad guy; let her be. There's no need for you to act as an agent to your agent, because you're not. It's a lovely thing to provide honest critique, but when they try to get you to push their screenplay, you're a means to an end for them, and you should feel no guilt in saying something like jeather or mikepop outlined. Avoid suggesting that you're exercising your judgement of their work; just say straight out that you are, for agent reasons, not a conduit anymore.
posted by fatbird at 7:31 AM on August 27, 2013

"I love you man, but I don't have enough fingers to count the number of friends who've asked me to do this exact favor for them in the past year. My agent dislikes it enough that I've regretted it the few times I've ever tried. I can't do it anymore. If I do, I won't have an agent anymore."
posted by jon1270 at 7:34 AM on August 27, 2013 [8 favorites]

You've been incredibly kind to submit some work, and bug your agent about it, and to critique screenplays for friends. I'd spend some time writing 1 page on How To Get An Agent To Read Your Screenplay. Probably a list of books that cover formatting and other issues. Include a paragraph about why your agent doesn't want you to submit unsolicited work. The 1st time someone asks, which is probably usually in person, give them a response based on the above. After that, just send them the link.

If you have trouble saying no, remind yourself that you have gone well beyond the requirements of friendship by critiquing scripts, that some of your fellow writers are blatantly using you, and that you're providing the best advice possible by acting as a pre-screener.
posted by theora55 at 7:42 AM on August 27, 2013

I've been in your exact position, except with my literary agent. I've been honest about it ("this isn't the type of work my agent likes") and it was taken really poorly. Because in essence, you're rejecting their work, and since they're on the other side of the wall, agentwise, they might not really understand the importance of fit.

I really think this is a place where white lies are the way to go.

You've got to stop doing that - word got around among your circle that you were an 'in' and they are using you. They're not asking for honest critique from your professional perspective, they are giving you submissions just like they would to any other agent. You've become another rung on their ladder to success.

I actually really disagree with this, because there's a unique joy in stumbling across work that your agent might like, too. I've had success in these cases with specifically asking these people to keep it on the DL, stressing that this isn't a favor you do for just anyone. Because it's not. But yeah, I don't think there's any reason to throw out the baby with the bathwater.

(Then again, I have a pretty open relationship with my agent about these kinds of things.)

That being said, it's up to your friends--not you--to nag your agent and send out status queries. When they bug you about it, throw your hands in the air and say, "Sorry, these things take time." Really, not your job to nag.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:46 AM on August 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

Professional favours.... I am in an industry where they are rife, and what I tell people is that my knowledge and services are worth money and in this economy I do need to charge. I do use friend rates and educational rates, but I often use my connections and give advice for free. In your case you can advise (truthfully) that you have a very poor record of passing along scripts, but would be very happy to do script coaching or editing at cost rate, etc., or to refer them to an excellent class for screen writers at a discount.
posted by Mistress at 7:48 AM on August 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

I would discuss this with your agent. Explain that you do not want to submit scripts if agent does not want them. Then ask agent what to tell the blokes when they ask. Agent will give you an out. You need to partner with agent and make it a joint problem, not your problem.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 7:52 AM on August 27, 2013 [3 favorites]

"My agent only wants scripts submitted through the front-door submission process, so, sorry but I can't slip him any more scripts from my friends."

This is true. Your agent doesn't want to read your friends' scripts. In my opinion, you have really been sticking your neck out for your friends, and you should not do it any more for the sake of your professional reputation.

You can spend as much time critiquing the scripts as you want to, but make it clear that you won't submit any more of them. My guess is that after you make this clear, you'll only be asked for critiques by people who actually want critiques.

I have gotta say, I like your friends' damn cheek. I would be very careful about asking anyone to critique my script; if I did, it would obviously be because I was too inexperienced in the industry to evaluate whether my own script was worthy of submission. I most certainly would never ask a friend to submit it for me; if they offered I would pass out with gratitude because I would be very well aware of what a huge and unexpected favour they were doing for me.
posted by tel3path at 7:58 AM on August 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

BEFORE THEY ASK: Oh man, this friend of mine keeps asking me to submit his script to my agent. No way. Even if it's good, my agent is totally not interested, but he keeps bugging me and bugging me. I love him, but damn. It's not going to happen.

This kind of complaint serves an excellent function of letting them know beforehand what your boundaries are without you having to reject them.

AFTER THEY ASK: Hey, look, I don't mind reading it but I'm not going to submit it to my agent. I don't think it's the way to go and he gets annoyed at this stuff. Let me know if you need advice about getting into a contest. That's how I got my break.
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:18 AM on August 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

In addition to the great advice above (tell them no, my agent doesn't accept unsolicited submissions), I would consider this: by allowing them to use you as a "connection," you are perpetuating the Hollywood myth that everything is about connections.

It's not. Sure, there are a few untalented hacks out there who work their way into jobs because of who they know.

But, in most cases, it really is about two things: talent and savvy.

If your friends aren't talented enough to write a script that will catch the eyes of an office or win a contest, then you're not going to be their breakthrough.

If your friends have so little savvy that they don't realize the uncomfortable position they are putting you in, then you're not going to be their breakthrough.

I no longer work in the film industry in LA, but when I did, I was able to get opportunities because I found a niche I was genuinely pretty good at. And, I handled connections with savvy... I didn't just go around asking for favors. In fact, I didn't ask for favors at all. Someone with savvy would know not to do that. The only people who get to ask favors in the film industry are at the top of the food chain.

In short, stop enabling your friends and stringing them along. Tell them what they need to hear: sorry, I can't pass along scripts, it's unprofessional for me to treat my agency that way... and sorry, this is not a great script and you should start fresh.
posted by Old Man McKay at 8:18 AM on August 27, 2013 [4 favorites]

I think it's reasonable to simply say that your agent doesn't really want you submitting screenplays to him on the behalf of other people.

If pressed, you can say that someone in your position only has so many times he can pass along a friend's screenplay to his agent, and you have already gone over that number.

If pressed further, you can say that things might be different if your agent had taken a real interest in any of your friends' screenplays, but considering that he has passed on every single one of them, your agent might actually be negatively disposed towards any screenplay you submit on behalf of a friend.

If pressed even further, you can just cut to the chase: This is a relationship business, and your relationship with your agent is negatively impacted when you give him sub-par screenplays on behalf of your friends, which you have been far too willing to do in the past. As a result, you have decided that you won't pass along any screenplays unless you are convinced that they are of such exceptionally high quality that it would enhance your relationship with your agent, and this one just doesn't meet that bar.
posted by slkinsey at 8:23 AM on August 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm a fan of the adage that, when someone is asking you to do something you're uncomfortable with, you should just say no in a direct, simple, way without being rude - "I'm afraid that won't be possible" is the classic, or "I'm sorry, but that's really not something I can do," or "I don't think I'll be able to make that happen" or some other formulation that you come up with and then stick to.

Don't follow up with any apologies or explanations - just let them feel the discomfort a bit. Don't be afraid of an awkward silence, and don't be afraid of repeating yourself. They've deliberately put you in an uncomfortable position, after all, so why absorb all the discomfort onto yourself?

If you add apologies or explanations, you're just giving the other person more material to engage and wear you down with. Saying "I can't do it because x" where x is some elaborate justification only gives them an opening to convince you that x doesn't matter or can be worked around. It's not gonna happen, period.
posted by beatrice rex at 8:30 AM on August 27, 2013

I tell people my agent has turned down every single thing I've ever recommended, and they'd be better off going the traditional route. (It's not even a lie. I passed on a couple of friends as well, and these were folks that were already published. My agent wasn't interested in any of them, so I obviously have a bad sense of what he wants to add to his list.)
posted by headspace at 9:08 AM on August 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

"I love you as a friend and while I think you've got potential as a writer, IMO this particular script isn't good enough and I'm tired of going out on a limb for work I don't believe in?"

You can tell them when you don't think a work is agent-ready. It'll be a slap in the face to some of them and that may not be worth it to you, but I don't know if you're doing them any favors by letting them think it is when it's not.

But as far as the actual question of passing on their work, you just have to full-stop say you can't do it. They'll have to get it in front of someone themselves.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:09 AM on August 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'd go with the agent lie thing. Let everybody know about it up front. Then I suppose if you do come across something that you think your agent should see, tell the friend that you have begged her or him to make an exception and your request has been granted. And swear your friend to secrecy.

I mean, you shouldn't have to lie, but writers and insecurity go together like white and rice, writing as a writer.
posted by angrycat at 9:13 AM on August 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

Frankly, I think most people in any relationship business know that the only way your recommendation means anything is if you consistently recommend people who are good. We all know people, many of them very good at what they do, whose recommendation is worthless because they give it out too freely. Savvy people in these businesses help other people at least partly because they help themselves by doing so.

Even something as simple as, "I'm not really submitting other people's screenplays to my agent much anymore" gets that message across to anyone who is not being willfully obtuse.
posted by slkinsey at 9:30 AM on August 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Nthing Jeather: "My agent has asked me not to submit scripts from my friends anymore."

And this when you’re asked to critique screenplays: “Oh, sorry, I just can't. But here are the names of some helpful/legitimate screenplay critique groups/screenplay doctors/workshops.”

Do it on an individual basis to avoid group drama. No exceptions. Sorry, but successful creative people in any field have done the tough homework to get where they are. Don’t do their homework for them.
posted by Elsie at 9:37 AM on August 27, 2013

I worked at one of the three big agencies in town. This is very simple from the agent side - big agents don't take on unrepresented writers, period, end of story, with one exception - there is a buyer for the property and the (unrepresented) seller turns to the agent to represent him/her in this transaction (with possibly further representation down the road). The agent will read scripts - but only from you... because he represents you. He should not be asked to read scripts from your (unrepped) friends.

Does it happen that relatives, old friends and powerful people ask the agent to look at an unrepped script? Yes, and the procedure is always the same - in several years of working at the agency, and from talking to people at other agencies I have never seen it go any other way - the agent hands the tar baby to his assistant who is then tasked with reading it. Two minutes before the agent does a callback to the person who requested this, the agent turns to his assistant who gives him a 5-30 second executive summary of that awful (it's always awful) script, and the agent gets on the phone and BSes for a couple of minutes, and it's all over. The agent never, ever reads these scripts.

Also pro-tip: big agents often don't even read the scripts of their own clients, instead they rely on coverage done either by the story department in the agency or their own assistant. Although if it's a very famous client, and they love 'em, they'll actually read the script. I've witnessed this with many, many, many agents, having worked on many desks before heading the story department.

Now, at tiny agencies, or with very young agents just starting out, you may have them come looking for talent, and willing to consider unrepped writers. But consider what you're getting here - hint, not much. One other exception - an agent hip-pocketing someone (rare, and only super-close personal type friends situations... never a friend of a client).

Big agents have their plates full with the clients they represent. They don't need more. There are only so many hours in the day. Again, one exception - they may grab a famous writer who wants to switch agents or is unhappy with their own agent - but even so, they are not looking, it's just an opportunity they stumble on.

So. Here is what you say to your buddies "My agent does not accept scripts from unrepresented writers." "Bbbbbut how can I get represented if no agent wants to read unrepresented writers?" "The iron rule of the business: the agent comes to you - you do not go to the agent" "Bbbbut how?" "Aaah, welcome to the thunderdome! That's what it's all about: how... count the ways - win a prestigious screenplay competition; interest a producer who is now definitely going to be buying your script, then contact the agent with the sale ready to go; make a movie based on your script and win some awards at a BIG festival (there are only about 5 that count in the world); write a successful bestseller and turn it into a script; The Big X - whatever you can dream up; what does NOT work - my submitting your script to my agent who will not accept it. Best of luck!". One other thing: the spec script market is dead at the moment, and looking to stay dead for awhile.

My advice is to spare yourself the ulcers and spare your agent's time (excuse me: their assistant's time) - never, ever submit anything you have not written yourself.

Also: stop reading your buddies work. There are only so many hours in the day. Unless they are super-talented, AND YOUNG, odds are they will never amount to anything in the script-writing business. Stop wasting your time, and their time. "I need to concentrate on my work - the type of work you do is not something I have any feeling for. Sorry". I know you don't want to do it, but this would be the single best thing you could do - you gain time, you keep the REAL friends and lose the loser user fakers.
posted by VikingSword at 9:52 AM on August 27, 2013 [14 favorites]

You can just tell them the truth: "my agent has rejected every script I send him that was written by a friend - I think it hurts rather than helps."
posted by Ragged Richard at 10:10 AM on August 27, 2013

"You know I dig your work. At the same time, two times I did give my agent a script written by somebody I knew, and both times he was kind of displeased about it, and took weeks to read it, and then rejected it, and I think honestly it kind of pisses him off, both at me and at the still-unknown scriptwriter. So I don't do it anymore. I hope you understand."
posted by feets at 11:15 AM on August 27, 2013

I'm in exactly the same boat as you - screenwriter, repped, lots of friends who are looking for representation. First of all, stop spending so much time reading and giving notes to friends. Read the script, sit down with them for a half-hour or an hour coffee, and leave it at that. Give them broad stroke notes. You can't write the script for them. If they're actually going to try to make a career out of screenwriting, they'll have to excel on their own, and they'll have to do it again and again and again. If the script they're submitting isn't up to snuff, they'll drown in six months. It'd be like a minor leaguer who can't hit an 80mph fastball getting called up to the majors.

If they're feature writers, I have no clue why these people are looking for an agent. They should be seeking out a manager. Tell them that. An agent, especially one at CAA or WME or UTA or Gersh or even to a certain extent Verve or Paradigm, is interested in selling product and booking clients on OWAs tomorrow. Early in a career, a screenwriter needs to find traction with a manager, who'll be more interested in developing a new writer, and then the manager will be the one who gets them an agent.

So the first thing I say is: "Best thing to do would be to get a manager first."

Agents don't give a shit about writers submitted to them. They care about writers they themselves pursue. They're cats. If you hand a cat a mouse, the cat will turn up her nose and saunter away. If a cat smells a mouse hiding in the walls, she'll hunt that fucker down and swallow it whole. At least mine will.

So explain that to your friends. "The last thing you want is to sign with an agent who doesn't remember your name or even what your script is called. You need a manager."

Whenever anyone asks for a referral to my manager, I always tell them "He isn't looking for anyone right now," (which he isn't.) I have a few young assistants and such around town who, if I like a script, I'll pass a script to. They all know up-and-coming managers around town, and if they like the script, then they'll pass it on to those younger managers or assistants who're looking to get promoted to manager. That's the best way in.

Although really, there's no "in" anymore - ten years ago there were 2000 feature WGA screenwriters a year who made money, and last year it was 1500. That decline started in 2007 and it's continued precipitously every year since. What you should really tell them is to get an assistant job in TV.
posted by incessant at 11:15 AM on August 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

You said it yourself, you owe your own modest success to luck and the rest to hard work. Well, we don't always know when we were lucky. Your good luck may have been the result of someone else's bad luck. Those contests you did well in? How many times were there better writers who were going to submit who twisted an ankle on the way to the mailbox, or had to rush to the bedside of their dying mother? How many times did one of the judges, who would have just HATED your style, dropped out because their kid got sick. How many times did someone read your screenplay, rather than just pretending to, because they mistook your name for your agent's parter's niece/nephew they'd heard about, or maybe just because they'd seen your name enough from past contests and workshops that it was familiar. Truth is, you really have no idea all the ways luck might have served you, or the degree to which someone did you a favor (though I guess, perhaps in your business, no one does anyone a favor without letting them know about it).

As for your agent's reaction, why do you assume that their response is more indicative of your friend's work than the reality of being an agent? Think about it, they are going to be getting a constant stream of unsolicited scripts. Meanwhile, there are only so many hours in a day, and most of those hours are going to be better spent on existing clients, and if they are going to be investing any time in developing new business, most of it will be in finding more buyers, not more stuff to sell. My guess is that what happens most often when a client passes along work from a friend is to take forever to read it, pass it on to an assistant who doesn't like it, and then avoid the subject.

Anyway, my point is not that you should acquiesce to your friends requests, but you should consider them in a new light.

As to what to do with that new perspective, well, for one thing, why not cut through the crap. Address the question directly with your agent. Ask how many unsolicited scripts you can pass along per year. If he says none, don't take no for an answer, and pass not more than one along for a year. If he says one, take him at his word. If he says two, don't push it, only pass along one. If he says 4, only pass along three, etc. Whatever that number is, use it to set the bar on what you'll pass along.

In addition for the sake of your own career, it sounds like you need to better understand your own clout, such as it is, and how to bank and spend it to maximum effect. Passing along scripts you don't believe in, from people who aren't likely to acquire much clout of their own, to your own agent, who hasn't liked any of them, is almost certainly costing you some amount of clout, though probably much less than you fear and it isn't likely to gain you much of anything. Indeed, it sounds like it is costing you on the other end too, because there are "friends" who then resent you if your agent doesn't like the script you did them the favor of passing along.

So, what do you have to work with? There is the simple fact that you actually make a living writing scripts. That means that other people make part of their living off of selling your scripts, and other people, downstream of them, make part of their living off of producing, etc.

So, what does that get you, besides money for groceries? Well, it means that there is probably someone else who is on the verge of making a living off of repping writers who might be able get over the cusp and actually move out of his wife's parent's condo and stop taking their crap if they were repping you. Of course, if you switched agents and had him repping you, you'd have to shop at grocery outlet, rather than Safeway, so you don't want to switch agents. That doesn't matter because you aren't going to switch agents, not yet, but you do want to develop a relationship, in case something makes sense in the future, and part of how you develop that relationship is that you pass along some of the very best scripts you see that you know your agent won't want to be bothered with.

Now, this guy isn't going to love most of these scripts either, but he's going to give them more attention, because he wants to develop a relationship with you, and because they are, on average, better than most of what he's been getting so far and at some point, he's going to sell one.

This brings us to the other end of the pipe, which is the scripts that come to you. Every time you pass something along, you get an option on clout, those options are worth something, but they aren't worth much, and they have a shelf-life, but when ever you pass something along that sells, those options convert to some real clout. What you need to do is get to a spot where more of the stuff you are seeing is salable, maybe not by your agent, but by someone like the lower tier agents you are developing relationships with.

This brings us to your friends. It's clear that some of these friends are actually "friends." "Friends," are people you like and get along with Ok, but your relationships are somehow contingent on their relationship to your career, and you to theirs. You need to make more "friends" who are close to your level, or have a clear trajectory for getting there. Some of them may even turn out to be real friends. At the same time, you need to make room by thinning out the "friends" who aren't at your level, and aren't going to get there. You do that by being straight with them and telling them that you'll be happy to pass along scripts that YOU think could be of interest to your agent, or to other agents you know, but that's only happened a few times, and none of it came to anything. You also start being more discerning about whose scripts you'll give feedback on. You might need to make that point a few times, but over time, the marginal "friends" will drop off, leaving behind friends and "friends" who are closer to your level.

That's my take.
posted by Good Brain at 11:53 AM on August 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yeah, you have to stop spending this much time reading other people's scripts. This is how you feel the most comfortable helping, but it's also opening you up to the very question you want to avoid. If you don't have time to read these scripts in the first place, and therefore you never even read them, they will not have the opening to ask you to send it to your agent.

"I'm swamped with notes on this project right now, I don't even think I have time to read this. I'm so sorry -- I just can't take anything else on my plate."

And then it never even comes to the agent question. The other thing is, that is a lot of time you could use on your own work. I read stuff for friends VERY occasionally but the truth is, if you're not teaching a screenwriting class, who truly has the time for those long notes sessions? I would cut way way down on that if I were you.
posted by Countess Sandwich at 11:57 AM on August 27, 2013

I don't think you should feel too bad because some of them seem like they just use you if they'll let a friendship dissolve over that. I would just say that I can't and the agent gets annoyed or something.
posted by wholecornandsalt at 12:45 PM on August 27, 2013

Hi there!

I'm your struggling screenwriter friend. I also work in the entertainment industry in a production capacity, so I understand what it's like to have people begging for an "in". Often, in my case, it's people who want jobs, but who, for whatever reason and nothing personal, are just fundamentally not cut out for work in film/TV production.

I'm a big fan of what I call the "radio silence" tactic. You just... ignore. Change the subject. Conveniently forget, or the email went to spam, or "you know it's not really a great time because my agent is out of the country at festivals/on vacation/it's the holidays/whatever..."

As someone working in this industry, I know when I get radio silence from someone that the answer is no. I think this is a pretty common tactic when you can't help, but don't want to be rude.

If you have to be more assertive about it, my other tactic is to explain why you can't help, but without making it about them. Maybe say, "my agent has a HUGE slush pile right now, and I know for a fact he's not accepting submissions," or "I don't think your work is something that she would be interested in," or ANY shred of anything that is vaguely legit but not a personal slight about the quality of their writing.
posted by Sara C. at 2:17 PM on August 27, 2013

Also, re this:

And as is often the case in H'wood, he deals with this by taking weeks to read the submissions, then going to extreme lengths to avoid the subject. So then I have to act as the ambassador on my friends' behalf, repeatedly bugging him to read and then to give me something to tell them re: why he didn't like it, and even then some of my friends ask if they can send ANOTHER sample and the cycle just repeats.

Ummm what? No.

If you're getting the radio silence treatment about your friends' work, the correct answer is for you to pass the radio silence down the pike. This isn't your writing. It's not your job to pester your personal connections on your friends' behalf.

If your agent was excited about any of these people, she'd reach out.

I also feel that it's perfectly OK to say, "You know, to be honest passing scripts along to my agent hasn't gone well in the past. It's nothing personal and I really like your script, but I've decided not bug my people about this stuff anymore, just for my own mental health." I went through a period of refusing to recommend any friend for a job after I recommended someone, they were hired, and they HUGELY dropped the ball and made me look bad in the process. There's nothing wrong with that approach.
posted by Sara C. at 2:20 PM on August 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm sorry, but if your friends can't take honest advice that their screenplays aren't ready yet, then they aren't really your friends, they are just mooches who are wasting your valuable time, and lying to them isn't helping them or you. I have a friend who is a professional music producer, and he manages to be both encouraging and honest about stuff I'm working on all the time, without ever telling me that I'm good enough to submit stuff to labels. But I know he's talented and I trust his judgment and his friendship, so I firmly believe he'd bust his ass trying to get me signed if I ever produced something worthwhile.

If I were in your position, I'd say something like "Look. I'm your friend, I want you to succeed. But this isn't right for my agent because of x, y and z. I don't want to waste your or his time by making him read this. It will only make him annoyed at me and make him less likely to look at your work in the future. But I swear that if I ever read something of yours that I can get sold, I will move heaven and earth to make it happen."
posted by empath at 2:22 PM on August 27, 2013

I'm an agent. It would piss me off if you kept submitting work and then pestering me about it. It's not a lie to say to your friends that submitting their work is damaging your own relationship with your agent, so is both harmful to you and literally of no use (going by past experiences) to them.
posted by stevedawg at 2:42 PM on August 27, 2013 [7 favorites]

Do these any of these various scripts of friends have a Synopsis?

They can mail a brief request to view a solicited manuscript to a Hollywood person with a polite cover letter.
posted by ovvl at 7:03 PM on August 27, 2013

Gosh sounds like your friends could use an agent, a real one not you....-my agent helped out of this bind when he said that it's like asking a lawyer for free legal advice when that is how they get paid. He told me to tell my friends that the best thing they could do is get an agent....It's what I do now. It goes like this "Hey, you are right. You do need an agent. I don't give scripts because it's like asking my agent to work for free and I just don't feel comfortable doing it. Can I suggest some agents ?"
posted by OhSusannah at 8:03 PM on August 29, 2013

Late to the party but this may help:

If you start giving explanations people could think the following:

"I has never worked in the past" Well my script is different! I know it is!
"I am sorry but ..." Why are your apologizing? If you feel bad about it I may be able to convince you still!
"This is not the kind of work my agent likes" Maybe my script is too good and you don't want me to succeed
"My agent doesn't like it when I do this" But my script is special and everyone will love it!

So...just state your stance directly and stick to your guns

Friend: please submit this script for me!
YOU: "I don't do that. It's a professional rule I NEVER brake or bend. Not even for my mother."
Friend: Oh but why?/this particular script deserves an exception to your rule!
YOU: "I only submit things written by me"
Friend" You are such a dick!/ we are not friends anymore!
YOU: "I only submit things written by me" (repeat ad nauseum)

Thing is, if they are the kind of people who would listen to your reasons, then they can probably work them out on their own. If they aren't that way, they will still think you are a dick, even if you give them a 400 page essay justifying yourself.
posted by Tarumba at 3:10 PM on September 8, 2013

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