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Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Assistant Files

A little confession: I couldn't think of a topic to write about today. I searched dark corners of my brain for something, anything, about an assistant's life that you might find interesting. But there was nothing.

And then I happened to be on the phone with a genuine literary agent, and I thought, "Now there's a head writers might want to get inside!" So I asked him, "Awesome Lit Agent, if you could give some advice to the up-and-coming screenwriters of the world, what would it be?"

His response? "Where do I start!"

And then I waited while he laughed at his own joke. But THEN he actually did offer some advice on three things your script can do to catch his eye and turn him in your favor right away: have a good title, hit the important structural beats, and have a great opening sequence.

Remember how we talked about building trust in a query letter? It's sort of the same thing. He's looking for some indication that your script won't make him want to beat his head on his desk.

Said the agent, "Let's be honest, my instincts are to do as little work as possible." And he has plenty of scripts to read, work to be done. So he's going to put your script through a few checkpoints before he commits to giving it a real read. First you have to grab him with the title. Then he'll flip through to see if the inciting incident, act breaks, and midpoint show up at the appropriate times. And then he'll read the first three pages to see if you've established the tone, if the writing is fresh and clear, and if it seems like a story worth telling.

And if you meet all those requirements, he'll give you until about page ten to really hook him in. Time is money, folks. If the first ten pages don't compel him to read the rest, he's on to the next script in the pile.

Now keep in mind that this isn't ALL he's looking for in a script. But imagine it's Sunday night, and he has a stack of scripts he has to get through before tomorrow's meeting where they'll discuss the weekend read. He's going to survey the selection and prioritize. Sometimes other factors come into play: "Oh, this is the one that the senior agent was pushing (moves to the top). Hmm, this is the one from my mom's dry cleaner (moves to the bottom)." But if you're one of the rest of the scripts in the bunch, these three things he's mentioned can help get you closer to the top of the pile. Which is good, because you know he's not getting through that whole mountain of scripts on Sunday night, that's for sure. Not with Entourage to watch. So the closer you can get to the top, the better your chances of getting read now, rather than trying your luck in next weekend's heap.

There you go, Wavers. Apparently agents don't just schmooze in expensive Beverly Hills restaurants all day, they also read scripts. I braved the Armani suits and finger guns to get this information. Don't say I never did anything for you.

Andy Sachs

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Christopher said...

Awesome post!

Thanks for providing those tips - it seems legit agent advice is hard to come by. Probably because it takes guts to probe for advice -- especially when the agent is holding a stapler, but I digress.

I've read a lot of screenplays over the past few years, and I've also learned the importance of title. Honestly, I've lost count of all the scripts I've read about "the last" of something, whether it's a hero, villain, or magical toothbrush. As a result, i think I prefer longer titles.

Anyway, thanks for the great advice! Keep it coming!

I also

Luzid said...

Off-topic, but relevant:

WGA Goes After Big Media For Reneging On New Media Payments

(Sorry, didn't know another way to share this news.)