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 instance...how 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.