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Friday, December 19, 2008

Rep: To Have and to Have Not

Michelle sent a very sweet comment re my post of yesterday, which detailed the very long journey of a thriller my writing partner and I wrote. She wished me well and hoped that we'd get rep. I began to answer her comment, reminding her that we don't need or want no stinkin' rep right now then it occurred to me that that might be a little confusing and that better - this situation is a great jumping off point to talk about rep. Do you have it? Do you need it?

My personal situation: I have had three managers over time. Each with varying degrees of efficacy. None has ever made a sale for me. I blame that on me not the rep. But one thing I can tell you is that getting a rep is a total paradox. It's something you absolutely need and something that definitely puts you on the next level of your aspirations - but on the other hand? It guarantees absolutely nothing.

Writers can go through different reps over time and generally do. Getting a rep is tremendously validating. At first. But once you get over the glow of that, you may find yourself doing rewrite after rewrite of the script that got you the rep - mind you, these rewrites are FOR the rep - what he or she is thinking will strengthen the draft before it goes out. I've seen many a writer get stuck right there. I got a rep!! Three months later they're still rewriting the draft for the rep because the rep liked it but doesn't feel 100% confident about sending it out yet. Here's what can happen during this protracted rewrite period - the rep continues to look for and get new clients with other, possibly hotter scripts than yours. So one day, two months into rewriting your script, you get the funny feeling that what felt like a huge step forward has become a lukewarm dead end. Your rep's ardor has cooled. This is a rotten feeling. Trust me.

Alternatively, the rep asks for maybe one or two polishes and takes the script out. You're so excited! It's going out! Wide! Fast forward two weeks. The script didn't grab any traction. So the rep works with you on more rewrites on that draft because he/she is thinking maybe there's someone who didn't see the script who might bite. But we're already talking about second tier now. You're - kinda - hopeful but there's a distinctly different feeling now. The slight whiff of failure. But, you tell yourself, all kinds of hungry young producers are out there and hey, you don't need six figures! Any sale is a good sale! (True,'s not what you had in mind).

And round and round it goes.

The bottom line about looking for rep: If you've never had a manager or agent, it will give you a HUGE boost mentally. You will feel like a million bucks. But then reality kicks in - is this rep really, truly going to help you? And - was your material really, truly ready for prime-time? It may not have been. Not all reps - especially those who are not yet real players - have the judgment, taste or connections which will truly anoint you and your script as something to take seriously on the market place. In other words - some reps are not an achievement for you at all. This is a sucky realization, trust me.

If you've never been repped and therefore haven't made the connections nor garnered the experience, the chances that you could get your script into the hands of meaningful producers is almost nil. But if you have had rep in the past, you have had meaningful relationships and meaningful feedback that the material is competitive, you absolutely can make a sale without a rep - because you don't need the rep to shop the material. You've made a hand off. That's what happened to my writing partner and I on this particular script.

Screenwriters come in different stripes and go through distinct stages like:

The absolute beginners happy to be writing draft after draft of premise after premise. They are realistic. They go to classes, they know they're not very good but they're having fun and love the challenge. They are willing to write six scripts before looking for rep. They don't even give getting rep a whole lot of thought yet.

The absolute beginners who've done half the work of the writer above and start looking for rep. They think it goes like this: write script, get rep, sell script. They usually wind up bitter and disappointed and angry. Some have an epiphany and put their nose to the grindstone and really do the work, reverting to the type of writer above. Others just go to screenwriting message boards and spew bile about other writers and sales and how it's all NOT FAIR. Please don't be this person. Please?

Intermediate writers who've done the above (whether they had the epiphany or knew all along it would take time) who enter competitions, keep writing and finally look for rep. They find rep. But it doesn't turn out to be a very good rep. They keep writing. They make relationships. They keep trying. They get a better rep. Their script gets read around town. They get meaningful external and internal validation but no sale. Now they are in the Pool of Potentially Selling Writers.

Potentially Selling Writers have written seven, eight, maybe 10 scripts. And they're working on another one right now. They have placed in competitions. They have been or are repped now. They take meetings from time to time. They are neither head-in-the-clouds nor bitter. They hang around with other good writers. They are always learning. They have humility and high hopes but they are also realistic. They know the brass ring is elusive but they've come a long way and their chances are better now than they have ever been. Because they've made it through the fire and paid their dues, they aren't particularly worried about rep. They don't look for rep - rep looks for them. They no longer see obtaining rep as the be all end all. They see it as a chance for the script to go out. They may not even need a rep; they may know producers who can take the work out to other producers. Through experience, they know that not all rep is alike.

So like everything in this damn town, there are many paradoxes and always exceptions. Getting rep - especially if it's your first rep - does NOT mean you are about to make a sale. But it does mean that somebody who works in the business sees potential in you and your work. And that's a great feeling and one that can fuel your writing for some time - regardless of the outcome.

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J.J. said...

I'll only add this: my friend, who has quite the resume, no less than five hit shows under her belt (and by "hit" I mean HIT--one is currently running on ABC right now, though she was brought on board as a consultant), a couple of movies, has directed, produced, and won an Emmy (at least one) and a WGA award, and has been nominated several times for other awards...

She has a TV, film, and book agent, and takes meetings virtually everyday--and is being courted by one of the two two agencies in town (she's with another agency)--and still hasn't sold anything in a year...

So, folks, no sales with or without an agent happens to the best of 'em.

Me? I just had a film fall apart after one of leads dropped out and took a piece of the financing with her. And, no, I don't have an agent of manager--mine dropped me before the strike last year.

In this town it's tough to make a buck.

Julie Gray said...

Goddamn straight, J.J.

meg said...

Thanks. I appreciate the down-to-earth insights you share. I kinda figure if I keep my focus on my goals now of writing the best scripts I can the rest will come when it's appropriate.

Anonymous said...

Hello Julie,

It's the biggest joke out there to find a manager.

Cinema is changing.

Here is a Christmas gift to your readers.


Listen up.

If Julie and her company or other pros enjoyed reading you script and gave your an excellent report card, then you have a good start.

Next, get very unique web page to market the script.

Your web page has to controversial and enticing. And yes you have to post your scripts online so the "Gods" can sneak a peek. Just
let them discover you.

I heard of an artist who wrote a modern version of "American Gigolo" screenplay with a Robin Hood twist to it. His webpage is very entertaining/controvesial and yes the entire screenplay is posted there. Mark my word, that script will be optioned soon.

Now as Julie said, get back to work.

Just apply the gift I just gave you.


Matt said...

Using "rep" to mean representation and representative is really confusing.

Julie Gray said...

@Matt - it's the lingua franca my friend. Get used to it.

@Anonymous - that can work for some people. I neither condone or condemn self-marketing. For every rule or paradigm, there are exceptions. Being proactive is a good thing, whatever your methodology.

J.J. said...

Speaking of being pro-active, you viewed, but did not respond to our party invite...

Julie Gray said...

Ack! Caught me red handed. I can't go. I'll rsvp like a good girl. I have my own wee little party shenanigans planned for that night and I'm hosting!!

J.J. said...

That's a reasonable excuse--hosting your own party is acceptable.

We do these things about for times a year: winter, spring, summer, and fall. maybe next time.

Matt said...

You want a rep who couldn't care less if the spec sells -- she should be in it for the long run, because you certainly don't need to sell anything to get an assignment or a rewrite.

Julie Gray said...

I disagree Matt - of course you want a rep who wants to sell the material - otherwise what is the motivation? What are we all doing here? The rep has to earn a living. You don't have to sell a spec to get assignment work (though it helps and vastly so) but the brass ring is not holding your creative hands for years - it's getting your material traded for cash dollars.

Anonymous said...

It seems like a big mistake to not get a rep for your new spec.

If the spec doesn't sell but is well received, you need a rep to get you in there for assignments. You can't do that yourself with any degree of efficiency.

So you're "saving" the ten percent of a theoretical sale, and giving up someone to help you get a job in case it doesn't.

Because if you take it out and it doesn't sell, you're going to have a very hard time convincing a rep to take you on with an old spec that everyone's read.

Julie Gray said...

Thanks for your thoughts, Anonymous. They make sense. I'm going to play it as it lays.

Julie Gray said...

No, no, no, no, no. I have apparently been unclear. We did not do 35 drafts for one producer - what do you take me for, anyway? I rarely get cranky but that level of under estimating my smarts - well, that smarts! Geez!

That draft, from day one to today, 3 years later - after working with a rep, various producers AND ON OUR OWN is probably 35 drafts away from our very first draft. My point is that you'd be so shocked and surprised how many drafts a script can go through as it journeys toward a hopeful sale.

Luzid said...

Julie, Julie, Julie - of course I didn't think that was 35 drafts for one producer! I know you're smarter than that! :p

I'm not surprised. The script I recently placed with went through ten drafts, including a page one rewrite. (It was sort of a special case, though, being that the page one rewrite came after a five-year screenwriting hiatus).

PJ McIlvaine said...

Having a bad rep is worse than having no rep. Trust me on this, boys and girls.

Joe Public said...

It seems to me the only thing guaranteed in Hollywood is there are no guarantees. I know a guy who is sitting on the New York Times best seller list for the third time. Two of his books were optioned for film and he's had some A-list heavyweights--and I am serious about the talent level that got involved. But for some reason or another, both projects ended up as fodder for the big kabosh!

So it seems like success has a lot to do with generating terrific material, and then being very lucky with getting it into the rights hands at exactly the right time.

And, by the way, I can't remember the name of the writer, but he wrote a ditty on one of the striking blogs last year. This guy had sold three films -- I think, and and then nothing for a couple of years. The point being, where I live, people (who aren't remotely close to the industry) feel that once you're in, you're in! This guy made the point that you have to prove yourself over and over again. Nothing is given, nothing is free.

Never surrender. Never give up!

Anonymous said...

@PJ: It's true. It's nearly impossible to get anything moving without a very good manager or agent. Getting representation that believes in you -- for the long run, not just one sale -- is actually the most challenging part of the process.