On behalf of Crescendo Entertainment Group I attend a number of screenwriting conferences and events throughout the year. In doing this, I am able to get out there and meet screenwriters and hopefully impart a bit of advice to the many who are looking to hear from us, who work within the studio system.
At these conferences a recurring question writers ask me is "how do I go about getting representation by an agent and/or a manager?" Representation by someone who passionately believes in the writer, someone who provides access to production companies and the studios and, hopefully, gets the writer's material read and sold is every writer's dream.
I would like to discuss a number of elements that are important to agents and managers when considering a potential client. By looking at this issue from the point of view of the representation, it should give you, the screenwriter, an insider's perspective on where you should focus your time and efforts in order to increase your odds of getting signed as a screenwriter client.
It's important to understand the current climate of the movie business. Now more than ever is a challenging time for screenwriters to obtain literary representation. Why is that? It's because the entertainment industry, during the past three years, has experienced somewhat of a "belt tightening" period.
During 2001 many studios, faced with a pending screenwriters strike, bought up a large supply of material in order to prepare for the potential strike. Then came 9/11 and the devastating effects that it had on the global economy and the entertainment business. As a result, the corporate entities that control the studios were forced to look closely at the studios' bottom line. In effect, upper management forced the studios to be more accountable for acquiring new projects and filling existing writing assignments. Consequently, executives have been more careful than ever before to work with writers with a proven track record, i.e., those they can justify working with to their bosses. From an executive's standpoint, it makes perfect sense. From the writer's standpoint, it makes it more difficult to establish a career and keep it moving forward.
Since agents and managers feed executives with writers and material, they too are looking to sign and work with writers who have a proven track record (i.e., credited, produced movies) who they can sell to the studios. The $60,000 question is will agents and managers sign and work with emerging writers without a track record? The answer is a resounding yes. However, the bar is raised as to the commerciality of their ideas and the quality, execution and distinction of their writing. Of course, it's not impossible to clear the bar; it's just important to know that a writer really has to push his or her talents to the limit for an agent or manager (and hence the studio system) to take notice.
Commercial, Sellable Spec Scripts
Hollywood is always looking for new material and new talent. It is, and always will be, a facet of the business. Therefore, in order to give the market what it is looking for, an agent or a manager is always looking for a commercial, sellable spec script. A commercial, sellable spec script is a script that is based on a big idea or hook- i.e., an idea that will get people into the theatres such as Bruce Almighty, 50 First Dates, 28 Days or Collateral. In addition to the screenplay being commercial, it has to be sellable in that the writing and storytelling - the way the story is told - are amazingly well executed, fresh and distinctive. What agents and managers are looking for are clients who can deliver commercial, sellable spec scripts. Once the spec is sold it opens up a lot of new opportunities for the previously unknown and unproven screenwriter.
Body of Work
The entertainment business can at times be a numbers game. There are many established, successful writers who have written a good number of screenplays before selling their first one. Keep in mind that each time a client's script goes out, the Town becomes more familiar with the writer, executives get to know him - agents and managers set general meetings between their clients and executives in order to establish relationships. It is therefore important for a writer to focus on new ideas, new stories and new screenplays. On the other hand, agents and managers generally want to work with writers who are constantly developing new material, which, in turn, will give the agent and manager more ammunition to submit to the Town. Furthermore, having a body of work will ensure that the writer is 1) passionate and serious about his or her craft and 2) continuously developing his or her screenwriting voice and storytelling skills. Generally speaking, writers should average writing two to four scripts per year.
Although it's not absolutely necessary, I would say that it helps for screenwriters to build a resume of credentials that illustrate their background, education, experience, and successes as a screenwriter. A resume that demonstrates that the writer completed film school and/or programs in screenwriting, read numerous books on screenwriting, etc., can show an agent and manager that the writer takes screenwriting seriously. In addition, successes from screenwriting competitions can also be impressive. Although a resume of this nature is not an end all, be all - what really counts is what is on the page! - it certainly catches the eye of an agent or manager and can possibly result in a request to read the writer's material.
Getting your material to agents and managers
Given that the writer has the ammunition listed above, I often hear the question: How do I get my script into the hands of agents and managers? Writing query letters (they can work, but take a special skill and strategy that warrants a completely separate discussion. Please see my last article) and cold calling (note: establish relationships with assistants, the "life blood" of information in this business) are certainly options. However, getting to agents and managers is not unlike trying to obtain a job. Certainly, you can blast your resume out to all of the Human Resources departments, but that is not always the most effective means. To this, I say focus on one word. Networking. Buy a Rolodex or some type of contact management system and start building a database of entertainment contacts. Attend screenwriting conventions, pitch fests, workshops and classes in order to meet executives, agents and managers. Take the time and effort to get out there and meet the people who work in Hollywood and make an impression. Follow up with introductory and thank-you letters, phone calls and do what everyone within the business does - build relationships. For example, if you meet an executive at a screenwriting convention, and he or she likes your work, you can ask for the executive's help in referring you (and your material) to an agent or manager. The bottom line here is to establish and build relationships.
As I mentioned earlier, it's currently a very competitive climate in the screenwriting business. However, with a lot of drive, passion, great ideas, a body of work of commercial and sellable screenplays and a strong focus on networking and building relationships, you can increase your odds of making it as a successful, working, and well- paid screenwriter. Good luck and keep writing!