How Do I Get An Agent?
This has to be one of the most frequently asked questions in the screenwriting world and the honest truth is there's more than one answer, and there's no guarantee.
An agent is worth securing as soon as possible. A good agent will protect you from unscrupulous deals, help you build a career, steer it in the right direction, and fight for the very best deal when negotiating your contract - after all they will get a 10% commission. A good agent will get you in the room with the people that matter - studios do not accept unsolicited material, they will only accept scripts through agents and not from a writer, (a studio will also accept from a producer or production company - on a submission by submission basis). Here's the catch, an agent will only accept material if you are referred or already established - so where on earth do you start?
The first rung of the ladder is the trickiest, but we do know a few ways in which you can get started and as with so many things in life, it's going to take time, determination and effort. If you can also throw in talent, well, you're halfway there.
Here are some ideas to get things rolling:
- Write an amazing script, a sure fire commerical project with potential written all over it. Anyone who reads it should hear the faint ping of cash registers in the background. If your script is good enough to be the next box office smash, word of mouth will spread like wildfire once your script hits the town. It can go something like this: Writer A sends an excellent query letter to Producer B, who takes a look at the script and loves it. He wants to push it forward at Studio C where he has a first look deal. Studio C is equally enthusiastic and amazed to discover that Writer A doesn't have an agent, so they set him up with a meeting with Agent D, who signs him as the next big thing.
Okay, this might sound like dreamland to you right now, but it happens. Hollywood is especially keen on commerical projects, for the simple reason that they usually make money and the film business is first and foremost a business. Try not to fall into the trap of writing whatever's hot right now. If action movies with a one-legged man are filling the multiplexes, then look at where the trend might be heading by the time your movie is ready to hit the screens. It's the hardest thing in the world to do, a bit like playing the stock market successfully, but if you read the trades and research what everyone's buying, you'll be informed enough to follow your own lead.
- Use any possible contacts that you might have in order to get your script in front of an agent. Perhaps an old college friend now works at an agency or your best friend's girlfriend's dad is an agent. Explore every avenue in order to find a connection somewhere.
- Write a query letter that an agent can't fail to notice. There are plenty of resources to help you with this and if your letter reads well and shows a spark of your originality and writing skill, then there's a good chance they'll take a look at your work. Only certain agencies accept query letters. The top agencies won't. Try to find an agent within one of the major cities if possible, such as Los Angeles, New York and London (UK), but remember the idea is to get an agent, you can always switch agents later on if you want to and, it's much easier to get the second one than it is the first. A note of caution - be careful and only approach agents that are signatory to the WGA, rogue agents will only cost you money and time.
You will, however, be wasting the time of both yourself and any prospective agent, if you approach them with a first draft. Do yourself a favor and the agent the courtesy, of making sure that your work is ready to sell. Your agent will also lose interest rather quickly, on any work that needs constant revision, for the simple reason that it makes their life harder and casts doubt on your ability. In this vein, it's also good to have more than one script and a few pitches at your disposal. This shows an agent that you're ready to hit the circuit as a working writer - you are, after all, a commodity that they're selling, it's not just about your script, it's about you.
- Get out and meet people. Attend any party, festival, seminar or social event which could yield an opportunity. This is called networking and it pays to make as many contacts as possible. If you don't live in one of the major film cities, make sure you attend reputable seminars/screenwriting conferences/festivals where agents will be speaking. Listen to what they have to say and remember their details for future use.
- Get to know other writers, not only for the support that they can offer, but in order to share leads or information. Some are less willing than others to do this and guard their own information jealously, but others know that free communication can work both ways.
- Find a producer. It's often much easier to get a producer to read your script than an agent and if they like it and think your work is good enough, they'll know agents to refer you to.
- Track agents who have bought spec scripts by checking out daily script sales. These agents are more likely, than others, to be interested in signing new talent. Know the industry and stay informed.
- Enter screenwriting competitions. If you get placed or win, then you'll create a buzz around your work that makes it more interesting for someone to look at. This is the kind of information that you want to mention in a query letter, because if your script is good enough to win a competition, then the chances are that you're a good writer. Don't forget that an agent can often use your work as a writing sample to get you writing assignments. This means that they might not sell the actual script you present to them, but they'll get you out there doing a re-write on someone else's script or churning out a first draft from an idea you've been paid to write.
So remember: time, determination, effort and talent. Others have done it before you and with enough perseverance, you can too!