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How To Get Representation
I am asked this a lot.
Many subscribers say this is their dilemma. They think this is holding them back and want to know how to fix it.
A lot of professional screenwriters subscribe to this email. While this topic may be less interesting to them, I’m asking that they reply with anything I may miss so I can update and add it later.
Why? Because honestly, this topic is a little out of my circle of competence.
Not completely out of it, mind you. It’s not like I’m giving stock advice. But while I am a legit authority on screenwriting and how to teach it, when it comes to how a screenwriter gets their work out there… I only have my own anecdotal experience to draw from.
I’ve been with five agencies over my career.
I started at CAA. When I decided to leave them, I was a hot property, and met with all the major agencies, choosing ICM. That was a disaster (I was to blame) and I was without an agent for a few years.
I was later brought into UTA but nixed by the agent I passed on when I chose ICM earlier! I was brought back into CAA, too, but nixed there based on my poor reputation (which was deserved, but I had sobered my way out of it by then!)
Later, I was briefly hip-pocketed at UTA when a more senior partner liked me. Then, I was at Gersh for a week (yes, a week!), over to Paradigm for a less-than-profitable run, and finally back to Gersh, where I am pretty happy now.
It’s been a journey!
This is not even counting the five managers I’ve had over the years.
(A lot of this was with my long-time collaborator Kristy Dobkin, but I am simplifying for readability and because no one nixed her! Her reputation was just fine. It was always me they said no to.)
That said, each agent after my first, I met through professional introductions. The first was the only classic “how did you get your first agent?” story, and that was 28 years ago.
But I have seen a lot.
I’ve been teaching. I am friends with many young, talented writers (many of them former students) and I watched them get repped.
So I do have some thoughts on this.
First and foremost, the process is dominated by economics.
That is, the allocation of limited resources.
You’ve only got so much time, energy, and money. The agent or manager only has so much time, and energy, and they allocate those by what will make them money.
These limited resources dictate next steps.
So, first things first.
Any conversation on this topic should start with one primary question:
Are You Ready For Representation?
Wanting someone to help your career is very different than being ready to make someone else money.
Many writers dream of a rep who falls in love with their writing and advocates tirelessly for them as artists. That’s not the norm. That kind of relationship may develop, but in my experience, not too often.
An agent's loyalty is tied to how much money you make them.
Like everyone else in this business, they read your screenplay with the question, “Can I make money off of this?”
And they don’t mean just that screenplay. They mean you and your career. They can only handle so many clients, so they need to know you will earn your keep if you’re going to take up a slot.
Are you ready for that?
Don’t think about whether you want their help. Of course, you do.
Think about whether you are consistent enough to make them money.
And if you think you are, what evidence do you have to support that?
Have you won prestigious contests? Have you optioned multiple projects? Do you have people in the business willing to share your screenplays with their peers? Have you had movies made? Plays produced?
I’m not saying you need these things, only that they supply evidence that supports your readiness.
Why is this question important?
Because resources are limited. Their resources and yours.
You do not want to spend time, money, energy, and emotion on something you’re not quite ready for.
So it’s possible that you should be spending those limited resources on getting better as a screenwriter.
That is, getting ready for representation.
As another screenwriter said to me tonight, the best way to get an agent is to, "Write better scripts."
What are you arming them with?
You need to ask this question because THEY are asking this question.
Along with this great new project, what hook, what story, what news are they using to sell you with?
What is their pitch to the town of why they should be excited to read you?
It can be just the screenplay, but it helps if it’s something else.
Your script is on the Blood List, or a Nicholl finalist.
Buyers love the practicing lawyer who writes courtroom drama schtick, doctor who writes a medical thriller!
What’s the story that will help people remember your name?
The primary friction
The primary problem is that there are too many screenplays written every year. 99.9% of them range from not good enough to just plain bad.
Everyone knows those odds.
Everyone assumes yours sucks too.
And even if it doesn’t suck, the chances of making money from it are slim.
So, no one really wants to be the first person to read a script.
Imagine it was you.
You’re busy. Your schedule is packed. You can be doing something that moves your career forward, earns money, or…
Spend two hours on something with a 99.9% chance of wasting your time.
That’s a pretty easy choice, right?
Your job to change that perception. It’s your job to convince producers, agents, and managers that the expected outcome of reading your script is positive.
Lower the perceived odds that your screenplay sucks.
They need some reason to believe that they are not wasting their time.
You have exactly TWO WAYS to do this.
- The Logline
The Logline - Your Main Weapon
I can’t emphasize the importance of the logline enough. It is the most influential variable you control in getting your screenplay read.
Nothing else even comes close.
You need a stellar logline.
And most screenwriters treat the logline as an afterthought. I have a course just on perfecting the logline; it’s so damn important.
The main confusion people have with the logline is that they think its job is to summarize their screenplay. As a result, they write the logline after they write the script.
And this is how I wasted 10 years of stellar opportunities at the beginning of my career. Because I treated a logline as a description.
But that is not the logline’s job.
The logline's job is to get people excited to read your screenplay.
It’s a sales tool.
And it’s not about the format or the language you use. It’s about the idea itself.
I don’t even start a project until I know I have the makings of a great logline.
Without a great logline, your chances of getting representation drop dramatically.
Writing Query Letters
I don’t know of a single agent that accepts query letters. A few managers do.
If you don’t have a good logline, don’t bother. It’s the only thing that matters here.
Of course, you need to back the great logline up with a great script, but that’s beyond the scope of this week’s email.
Query letters are bad for the soul, but if you truly believe you are ready for representation, do you really want to leave possibilities on the table?
Erik Bork offers an updated list of managers that accept query letters: https://www.flyingwrestler.com/manager-list/
I have not written a query letter in 30 years so there are much better people out there to teach you how to do that. I occasionally receive queries from my IMDB page, and most are bad.
Ways To Be Pre-Scrutinized
Yes, some contests can help you. It is simply not true that contests are scams. Some are, yes. But those are actually easy to spot.
Every year proves that screenwriting contests are helping writers start their career.
There is nothing wrong with someone charging you for their services, and if contests are to remain running, they have to.
Legit contests want to help you. That’s how they stay in business.
I have two primary bits of advice here:
1) Stick with the contests that have recent success getting their winners introduced to the town.
Nicholl Fellowship is obvious. Road Map Writers, Pipeline, Austin Film Festival, The Blood List. I am sure there are others.
You are looking for contests and services that see it as their job to help you succeed afterward. That’s it.
You do not want to be put in a position where it’s you telling people you won a contest. Otherwise, you are just in the query section above.
You want the contest to introduce you to as many people as possible as their winner or finalist or whatever.
If they don’t see your success afterward as their success, don’t bother.
2) Re-submit your best material.
This is a giant mistake people make. They submit once, don’t advance, and don’t submit again.
The initial round of screenwriting contests is a whole lot of randomness. You have no idea who reads your script, how qualified they are, or what mood they are in. I have little confidence I could break out of the quarterfinals of Nicholl with scripts that I have sold.
So, resubmit what you think is your best script. If they allow multiple submissions, resubmit every screenplay you like.
There is nothing predictable in the first round of a screenwriting contest.
One legit manager on Twitter will read any screenplay that reached the quarter-finals in Nicholl Fellowship. Why?
Because it has already been scrutinized. Not a lot. But a little. For him, that’s enough,
The Black List and Other Posting Sites
These are great! Very nice that these exist.
But what’s your logline?
That’s the only thing that matters. “Oh, look! A score of 8 that’s great. What’s the logline?… Oh, yeah. No thanks.”
But it’s the same dilemma as the query letters. If you really think you’re ready for representation, do you want to leave possibilities on the table?
This makes it another economic decision. Do you have enough money to keep submitting until you get the magic 8 number?
You do? Okay.
What’s your logline?
I knew a producer whose greatest gift to his career was AA. I am not kidding. He came out of a year of sobriety with more relationships than the rest of his career combined.
These personal connections is how most of the town works. This is how I got every agent except my first. I asked for an introduction, and friends slipped my scripts to agents, and everybody wins.
There will never, ever be a better way to get an agent than a well-connected associate vouching for you and recommending you.
This is the ultimate pre-scrutiny.
- You have to work inside the business for a while to make these relationships, but it doesn’t have to be as a writer.
- You still need a great logline.
- It’s even more important to back up the great logline with a great script. Someone is vouching for you. They don’t want to be embarrassed.
This takes patience and being a good person.
Make Them Come To You
This is the most active thing and what you should be doing.
Go out there and create. Make stuff. Short films. Micro-budget films. Produce plays. Get involved in the comedy community in LA.
Create something with commercial sensibilities that shows what you can do. Get attention for the work. Create something that makes them ask, “What else do you got?”
This is how I got my first agent. I wrote a play that got good reviews and they called me. I didn’t expect it, I didn’t reach out to them.
They came to me.
Because they thought I was in more demand than I was.
It initiated a relationship; a year later, he was my agent.
This is the way.
It’s also the most fun. And you’re getting better and better the whole time, and you can even be doing the other things while you’re at it.
You're developing friendships, working relationships, and a community.
Do You Need Representation?
It often feels like having a manager or an agent is the mark of legitimacy.
I get it. I felt the same way. I hated not having an agent through those years, and I wondered if I was even a real screenwriter anymore.
But of course, I was. It just felt better to have an agent.
I got the WINCHESTER job without a manager or an agent. I routinely get work that my agents don’t even know about until I ask them to negotiate the deal.
Do they help? Yes. A good-fit manager or agent does help.
But they are a signal boost. That’s all.
Only a handful of the most effective agents make a night-day difference in your career. I’ve had one of those. One.
They will more likely make a night-day difference for a project. My manager has been instrumental in my last two spec sales.
But you will still be doing the same work day in and day out, with or without representation.
Agents help in waves, usually because there is something new to sell or to boost your profile.
But in between? It’s all you.
You cannot rely on your reps for all your contacts. It’s dangerous to do so.
No one will ever care about your career as much as you. No one.
So don’t wait for an agent. Don’t make getting an agent your primary goal. It’s something that will likely happen along the way.
Write and create.
That, you can control.
That's it for this week.
I keep saying these will be shorter and they just get longer!!!
All the best,
PS. If you haven't checked out Mastering Structure yet, you should. I am immensely proud of that course.
And Perfecting The Logline comes with it as an added bonus, too.
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