Thursday, March 20, 2008

Advice from a TV Lit Agent

Today we had an assistants meeting where the co-head of our TV Lit dept opened up the floor for questions and provided a lot of good insight. Someone was brave enough to ask her advice about pursuing a writing career. And here's what she said:

Don't diversify. It may seem like a great idea to have 7 really different specs, but she recommends that you only have 2 or 3. If she sees someone with 7, she wonders what happened with the first 6 - what was wrong with them? She also recommends to write from personal experience. She would love to sign more writers who have been doctors, lawyers or cops. Whatever your experience is, write about it - it will make your writing unique and authentic.

And in general, she recommends that you act like you're hot shit and own the place - but be able to back up everything you do and say with knowledge of everything going on in your field - and at least some basic knowledge of other fields (i.e. features if you're in TV, talent if you're in lit, etc.). She also warns that you'd better get a kick out of this stuff - or it won't be worth it.

As for yesterday's promise, thinking like a talent agent:

ACTORS very much affect whether projects get made. If there's a spec by a nobody writer and Brad Pitt decides he wants to attach himself, that movie is going to be made asap (hot rush!). So - as a writer, you should be thinking about how you're going to get people like Brad Pitt to want to be in your stuff. You need to provide a challenging role for the actor...something they can really sink their teeth into. There needs to be the scene that will clinch the Oscar nomination. (A writer's assistant friend of mine says he hears execs constantly talk about the "Holy Shit Moment.") There's a saying that the formula to a feature is taking your character, throwing them up into a tree and seeing how they get down. You have to really throw your character into an intense conflict, push them to their limits. What would make your character have a nervous breakdown? Slap somebody? Cry? Change the world?

As agents read scripts, they are thinking - what studio will make this? who will produce and direct it? who will star in it? If you plan to work within the hollywood system, you'd better be thinking of those things too. On a more practical level - give your characters good descriptions. And give them ages or age ranges - because if you don't, the intern or assistant writing the character breakdown will MAKE IT UP. Hey, we gotta know whose headshots and resumes to send.


Bob said...

Being a salesperson/deal maker and being a writer are not necessarily gifts that are commingled in a person.

It seems like the scales in the industry are tipped toward people who can sell their idea, perhaps with a star who for some reason agrees to get with the project. Whether the idea is good, or well-written is seen as an afterthought. They imagine they can always hire someone to rewrite or punch up a script. They...are...wrong.

Hampton06 said...

Great post.

NetterBetter said...

It seems to me that you're sympathetic for those on the writing journey--those who'd like to be working writers in the Hollywood system.

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DaveyM said...

I don't understand the way agents work. I am an award winning journalist for a major magazine, and two major websites (major in their niche) I have Hollywood contacts all over the place and my last TV script was so well-received by certain individuals, that big name actors worked for peanuts to be in it and help get it made. It was filmed beautifully and is now ready for distribution. So now what? I have no enemies and everyone is Los Angeles tells me how great and refreshing and wonderful I am, but not one single agent will even return a call or a letter. My bog name friends don't help me get an agent because, as one told me, "we see you now as competition." I doubt that I can keep attracting people and keep writing pilot episodes for TV that get filmed by a professional crew with Academy Award and Emmy nominated actors if I don't eventually get an agent. I just don't get it. I walked away from a lucrative career in another industry and now what? I'm not a quitter but when a vault has 1,000 different combinations to the lock, even the most gifted safe-cracker knows when to pack it in.