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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

How to Get an Agent or Manager

Everybody is eager to query and get repped. It will change your life, right? Money will be flowing to you in golden buckets and fame will be quick on its heels.

Not exactly. Getting representation hangs in the frustrating zen space between utter simplicity and very, very hard work. How do you know when you're ready? Only time will tell, grasshopper. Wax on, wax off.

The steps to get representation are quite simple:

1) write a great script
2) then write another one
3) stick with the same genre
4) have a dossier of several great ideas in the form of loglines
5) write a brief, powerful, polite, effective query letter
6) get hold of a Hollywood Creative Directory
7) focus on 10 to 15 agents or managers that seem like a good fit*
8) query
9) wait
10) wait more
11) follow up with an email or phone call if you haven't heard back in six weeks

Pretty simple, right? It actually is. But here is what writers often do - they jump the gun. They query when they only have ONE good script. They don't get feedback on what they think is a good script and so really have no idea where they stand. They query managers or agents all over town, indiscriminately, without doing any research. They send poorly worded queries with dull loglines and wonder what's up with the silence.

If a manager or agent likes your query, you should hear back pretty quickly. If they like the read, you'll hear back quite quickly. They'll ask you what else you have. They'll ask you about you - your writing experience, where you live, what competitions you may have placed in.

Patience, grasshopper. Get an arsenal together before you start to query. Get feedback from someone, somehow whether it is professional or a friend. Proof your material before you send it out. Spend a lot of time crafting an excellent logline.

Getting an agent or manager isn't complicated - but you need to slow down and approach the process with care. Make sure you dot every "i" and cross every "t" before you begin. I don't recommend E-blast queries - they are impersonal and scatter shot. Spending money on an HCD is the best money you'll ever spend. Take a deep breath and make sure you're actually ready to query. Keep writing and developing ideas while you wait to hear back about your queries. Do not put your life on hold. Be ready for rejection. Rejection in Hollywood usually comes in the form of dead silence. Know that obtaining representation will not change your life but it will advance you to the next level of the game.

I know writers very well and I know that most of you skimmed this and are ready to put an HCD on your credit card but really don't know if your script is that great and don't have enough material ready. But you will query anyway because you think you are special and you won't need more than one script at the ready. You think you are different and that you will get repped quickly and easily. You think this blog post is for the suckers. You can't wait to get going with all of this, you can't wait to get repped and be in the game.

When the Wave-inatrix was but a mini-W, my mother spent a lot of time sewing. And I remember vividly being so excited to just put the pretty fabric under the sewing machine needle and press that foot pedal and SEW like a maniac and turn straw into gold. No, my mother said - you have to first wash the fabric. And dry it. And iron it flat. And clear a large space on the table and get out the pattern and measure carefully. Oh - how dreary! How dull! How painstaking! And I wondered, time and again, why my completed project was lopsided and ugly. Now, when I sew, I slow down and I enjoy the entire process. I know that the quality of my project is utterly dependent on the care I put into each step along the way. Unwashed fabric will shrink and warp upon it first washing. Sloppy measurements and dull scissors will doom the fit. A chaotic sewing kit makes finding the right thread and right needle an exercise in anger management. My mother, in all her wisdom, knew exactly how to sew something properly but I would not listen. I knew how to do it! I was special! My fabric was special and my pattern was genius! Ah....youth.

You want an agent or manager? Of course you do. But s-l-o-w down. You may not be ready. Hollywood isn't going anywhere any time soon. If you don't have at least two great scripts in your arsenal, you are not ready. If you have not gotten feedback from a pro or an experienced colleague, you are not ready. There is no quick fix, there is no magic answer. You must do the work. And you are not special - the fabric of Hollywood is what it is and it yields to no man.

*Only query agents or managers (I recommend a manager if you are very new at this) that have offices in LA or New York only. Avoid those who charge ANY kind of fee.


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13 comments:

Elana said...

This is such totally sensible info. I love it.

Luzid said...

"Do not put your life on hold."

That's excellent advice. We should always be working as if we were already professionals, and pros don't sit around waiting for others to get back to them about how awesome their work is - they maintain a work flow.

As an aside, don't worry too much about the contests question - I've known writers (including big-time franchise-creators) who never placed in any yet made repeated six-figure sales. Sometimes contests don't quite get marketable concepts. It happens.

Michael said...

Sensible and true... Julie knoweth thy truth....

And once you have your manager/agent - it doesn't mean success. You are there on a trial basis and you need to SUSTAIN your relationship and keep writing, pitching and pleasing...

That should be your next blog Julie - how to keep your agent/manager

I think you'll find most of what you said you need to repeat again while in the company of your new rep

Mike P ;)

Kirkland said...

An agent story (sadly true):

You can file this under: I'll never write TV again (and I don't and won't).

A few years ago, I was repped by one of the agencies in town, I won't name the agency, but if I said one initial was between the letters, "V" and "X" and the another fell between "L" and "N" you could probably figure it out...

Anyway, as a lark, I wrote spec pilot, that nobody wanted, it somehow ended up at one network who passed and in turnaround ended up at the network it was originally pitched to, who again passed.

So one night nearly a year later I'm watching Entertainment Tonight and learn that not only is my spec pilot on the network originally pitched to, but it's a hit--and not just a hit, but a HUGE hit.

And as the talking head from ET is yakking away I learn that my name is in no way connected to this fucking huge hit for a well-known stand up comedian.

How did this happen you might ask?

Tuns out, my agent leant the script to another agent who turned over the spec to somebody else who then pitched it to a network with two other writers attached to it who then took it back to yet another agent where it ended up in the hands of another agent with two other writers attached (and a star) who then sold it as being completely new through the agency I was with...

And to top it off, by the time I heard the talking head yakking, my name is no where to be found on my script, nor am I connected to the hit TV show. So I call my lawyer, who then contacts the network, my agent apologizes to me and informs me that there's not much we can do because once the NETWORK heard about the show--the number 1 show--it yanked it off the air, and it turns out the network had created a shell production company with empty pockets and I couldn't sue them, so I was completely fucked.

So, boys and girls, I'm telling you this so you'll now that even though you have an agent, not everything goes smoothly...

In fact, for the next three years I couldn't get another thing read and ended up getting new agents and I'll never do TV again, not even as a joke.

Russell said...

Happy to say I reposted your post of my blog:

www.thelagrind.blogspot.com

Loved it.

R

Luzid said...

@ Kirkland.

Wow. Just... wow.

That is such a fustercluck, I don't know what to say after picking my jaw up off the floor.

And this was an agent at one of the bigger repfirms? Crazy.

Kirkland said...

@luzid

Yep. True effffffing story. It's tough not to be bitter--and believe me, an agent almost got his ass tossed from a very large window on a very high floor of a very tall building the day I found out--but, that's the game: you get kicked down, you either get up or crawl away.

I'm still standing and that agent got fired--then rehired elsewhere, then got fired again, and is now persona non grata and can't get a job anywhere in this town (it seems I was not the only writer or director he screwed over).

Joe Public said...

So, are there management and agency firms that are regarded as more trustworthy than others?

Anonymous said...

Hi Julie,

Reading and can't believe that you are such a good prolific blog writer.

But have to disagree with you here.

I think that most screenwriters should give up if they don't have talent.

Either you have it or you don't.

Don't waste time.

If you have talent, your script will get rave reviews and the agents will call you.

All the best,
P

Joe Public said...

Kirkland,

Just out of curiosity, does your situation fall under the Writers Guild umbrella? Does the Guild defend in those situations?

Kirkland said...

@joe public

Yes. The Guild does defend in those instances, but, and it's a very big BUT as I indicated, it was a very complicated situation--the creation of a shell company (with no assets to lien against) made it very, and I'll emphasis very, difficult to sue or seek a substantial claim for damages.

Shit happens.

And if you stick around long enough you see just how bad it smells.

But...

I after all that (and rest assured there have been other bad deals--and they're not just things which have happen to me--I have friends who have far worse things happen), I still wouldn't do anything else to make a living.

You'll hear horror stories from everyone in this business, but it's a damn good gig. Don't let the bad stuff dissuade you if this is what you really want and cannot do anything else.

Michael said...

Could this be avoided if your work was protected under a copyright? Should we all WGA register and pay to Copyright everything to be safe? Or could the 'idea' still be stolen?

T. Boone said...

Wait, Kirkland, so the network pulled a #1 show off the air because it heard a rumor that there might be an ownership issue?

That's a little hard to believe.