Wednesday, March 19, 2008

How (Not) to Get an Agent

I am glad I work at an agency. There, I said it. Honestly, it's a great learning experience, for anyone who wants to be involved in the industry. If you're going to be a successful writer, director, producer, studio exec, etc., then you're going to have to work with agencies at some point in your career. And now I know things that seem really obvious..but a lot of people don't know. For do you get an agent?

Do not send query letters or scripts to Big Five (or Next Five) agencies. Yes, there are small agencies that will accept them...but even then you'll probably waste a lot of time. Where I work is a Next Five (my term)...but like the biggies, we do not accept any unsolicited materials. When I get this stuff, I am required to put it in an interoffice envelope and send it to my pal Brian in Business Affairs so that he can send it back to you with a rejection letter he prints out from a template. It doesn't matter if your script won eight competitions or is this amazingly original Jaws-meets-Casablanca-in-Space masterpiece. It's policy.

Do not call us asking if you can send stuff. If you don't know the name of an agent, you won't even get past reception. If you do happen to find an agent's name from studiosystem or the hollywood representation directory or something, you will get to their assistant, who will tell you the same thing: we do not accept any unsolicited materials. In a way it makes me sad to close the door in your face - since I have the same aspirations you do - but this is not how it works. And don't lie to me and say you're thisclose to selling it to a network and you just need someone to make the deal. If that's true, and the person you're selling to is legitimate, then s/he will know an agent to recommend you to. Also don't argue with me about how you're a professional journalist with an MFA from USC. You think I'm an idiot who wants to roll calls my entire life? I don't care.
So how does it work? KNOW SOMEONE. Know a studio exec or a writer or someone's girlfriend or dogwalker or whomever who can recommend you to an agent. Then maybe they will read you (or get their assistant to read you at least). Everybody's always looking for good material; once they've cracked their way inside, great unrepped writers do not remain unrepped for long.

But, you say, I don't know anyone. Well, start meeting them the way the rest of us are doing it: answering their phones.

Tomorrow: why being around talent agents can make you a better writer.


Alex Epstein said...

Okay, Amanda, but define "unsolicited." Because even Big Five agents will read a baby writer if they for some reason think you are the Next Hot Thing.

I guess the real question is, "How do you get solicited," short of wearing hot pants and hanging out on Sunset Boulevard after dark?

The_Lex said...
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BoCoPoCo said...

That sounds, oddly, like real advice, especially when so many people try to pride themselves on knowing the "ins" to the industry. The question I have as a soon-to-be college grad. Is, how do I get that gig answering the phones?

Bob said...

There's a big disconnect to the statement that the industry is always looking for good scripts, but won't read scripts unless they "know" someone. They are limiting themselves to, dare I say, the crappy scripts that we see on TV and the big screen.

Until someone can come up with a way to read anything, but not have the liability of stealing another person's ideas, I'm afraid we're stuck with the staus quo.

Amanda said...

To Bob -
I beg to differ with your opinion that all the shows currently on TV are crappy. Really, you don't like any of them? I feel like if you approach a career in TV writing with the idea that the studios and networks are all idiots and that your ideas are better (even if they are), you might find the industry kind of challenging/not worth it. In the film industry there is a place for people who say, "screw the studios, I am going to make this independently however I want it." (I hope they know some billionaires.) But there isn't really indie TV - you need to work within the system.

I do agree that the know-someone policy can be frustrating...but in my experience, it's not impossible to start meeting people.

Legal reasons aside, I think you have to keep in mind that there are a LOT of crappy scripts out there. Anyone who's ever had to write coverage will tell you. I'm afraid the notion that all the scripts that haven't been discovered are absolute masterpieces is just untrue. Also - let me stress this - there are some small agencies out there looking for new talent. I just don't work at one, so I can't offer much insight about that.

evanshaffer said...

Your agency sounds a lot kinder than the one which I used to work for (a Big Five). There, unsolicited material was another way for an assistant to compact the garbage in their undersized trash cans.

bluestocking said...

I've been read at the Big 3 off queries. And last year, from my understanding, PIERRE PIERRE sold for 7 figures off a query letter. In general, I understand your point but there are always exceptions to the rule, it's Hollywood and as Goldman used to say: "nobody knows anything."

The hardest thing in the world is to write a great script. It's 10 zillion times more important than "connections." Because once you get past your "connection" you need to get that almighty Strong Consider.

Mary Ann Morrison said...

OK, you've convinced me it's a delusional idea that agents are looking for good work by writers - I believe you when you say they only read people the work of they know. I will put my little manuscript back in the box - thanks.