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Saturday, April 4, 2009

Can't Get No Rep

Dear Rouge Wave,

What are your thoughts on the old catch-22, can’t get a representative but production companies/studios/networks only accept material submitted through a rep? Like so many others, I’ve thought about (and, yes, tried) going the “straight to a production company route.” However, I often run into that wall. I try to target the production companies that have produced or have in production/development similar projects to mine. What’s your suggestion for this type of situation?

-Frustrated in Florida

Dear Frustrated,

This is indeed a frustrating situation. Many production companies will not accept unsolicited scripts, much less those from unrepped writers. But there are some that do. You have to do your research and look up the submission requirements of the production company you are targeting. If you can't see the information you need in the HCD (Hollywood Creative Directory) then you can pick up the phone and politely ask.

The tricky thing about this business is that there are accepted ways of doing things - the norm - but for every norm there are exceptions. So it's hard to know what to do or what to believe. See, here's the thing: Production companies have some pretty good reasons for not accepting unrepped work. A repped writer has been vetted, for one thing. Production companies would rather know the work is on the level where a manager or agent really believes in it. It's a filtering system. It's quality control. And it's very necessary. You seriously would not believe how many scripts arrive in Hollywood every day - and many are unsolicited. And they go straight into the circular file. Production companies are inundated with new material and are of course busy developing the material that they already have. They don't have time to sort through unrepped, unsolicited material to make sure it's a fit for their company and they may not even be looking for new material at the time anyway. A rep only submits to a production company if that rep has a sense that the material might be a fit for the company's mandate, tastes and current needs. An unsolicited, unrepped script may be totally, 100% inappropriate but worse - here's the thing I have been avoiding saying so far - if it's not repped, the chances that it's any good are slim.

All of the big, busy production companies are going to operate with a filter in place. A hardcore filter. No rep - no read. Period.

There are some smaller companies that might respond to a killer query and ask to read your script - you just have to find them.

But let's return to the tough truth I hesitated to say upfront: If it's not repped, the chances that it's any good are slim. Ouch. But unfortunately, Frustrated, this is the truth. Getting rep is phenomenally hard, especially these days. And yes, of course there are writers who should be repped but they just haven't been read by an agent or manager who really clicked with their material or voice. Those writers get reads and get meetings with the agent or manager they targeted but wind up not clicking and have to keep trying. That's how you can tell if you're getting closer and closer - people respond to your work but they aren't quite ready to climb onboard with you.

But. If you have been trying to get rep for awhile now, unsuccessfully, you need to stop and ask yourself why that is.

Have you been querying reps with the same script for some time? Or with various scripts? What is the rate of read requests on your query? Is it time to review your query? If you DO get read, you're obviously getting a lot of of "passes" - well, how many "passes" are you getting? It could be that it's not the reps - it's you. You may just not be ready to be repped. Your writing might not be rating high enough on the professional, creative and unique Richter scale. In other words, that it's tough to get repped is not as much a reflection of this very tough industry, it's a reflection of the fact that your writing is not comparable to those writers who are repped. In other words, your material just isn't strong enough to warrant representation.

Now: This may not be true of you or your material, Frustrated, but if you've been trying for awhile, you need to read the writing on the wall and return to improving your work...generating new ideas, writing fresh scripts and working your behind off on improving your craft. Going AROUND rep by going directly to production companies works for some people but for others it is a rationalization. Stupid reps! I'll just go straight to buyers! Well - are you picking up what I'm laying down here?

Going straight to a buyer can work - again, the infuriating thing about this business is that while what I am saying here is all eminently true, there are rare stories of people who do successfully sell a piece of material and circumvent the normal routes. But really, those are rare stories and think about this: Do you want a one-off sale to a production company so small and so open that they basically have no quality control - or do you want a real career? A real career requires a rep. It just does.

So yes, you can go straight to prodcos but in a way, you are circumventing a reality: Your writing will not blossom into a real career without a rep. And a rep will not take on a writer not ready for that career. So that's the real catch-22, not how to go around the built-in quality control.

I hate to sound negative - in fact, I loathe it - but lately I have been hearing from a lot of aspiring writers who seem to feel that they are entitled to representation. Unfortunately, they lack the perspective of one who does read repped and sold work and, well, aspiring writers often overestimate the quality of their writing. There's only one real litmus test: not if your friends like the script, not if your writing group likes the script, but if a real, working entertainment professional does. It only takes one "yes," right? But if all you are getting is "no" then it's not Hollywood, it's you. Which is a very bitter pill to swallow. Well, wait, you say - that doesn't make sense - if it only takes one "yes" then I'll just keep at it until I find that "yes" like a needle in a haystack! I'll be that story! That story of determination! Everybody said no until I found this ONE rep who believed in me!

It's about calculating odds. Every "no" makes that "yes" a rarer thing. Okay, you're at the prom in your pretty dress. Nobody has asked you to dance. Not one person. It's not YOU, it's THEM, they are a bunch of jerks. How long do you stand there feeling totally rejected before you take a look down at the dress and notice that it's got a punch stain on it and a tear in the hem? Ohhhhhh. It is you. I mean, hey, you might find that ONE dude who doesn't mind a punch stain and a torn hem - but is that the dude you want to dance with? Okay in a romantic comedy, sure, that's probably the guy for you because he looks past appearances. But in Hollywood, you want a rep who LOVES your work so much that he or she is willing to bank a career on it. And on a dance floor full of pretty girls, the bar is pretty high. Don't underestimate that, Frustrated. There are a lot of great, repped writers out there. Hollywood is full of them. So as the new girl on the dance floor, you have to compete with that. So you can stand there with your torn hem and punch stain and wait for just the right guy, the guy with lower standards, or you can go home, clean up that dress and come back to the dance ready to lay down some moves.

Remember, it's not how many "nos" you get, it's how you then restrategize and handle that. For now, you are your own business manager. X tactic is not working. Okay, so what is needed, here? Maybe you are four more completed scripts away from really nailing it and telling a great story in an engaging way. Maybe you are one script away from that. Maybe the script you are querying just isn't going to go anywhere, ever. Sooner or later, you must take honest stock of the situation.

Yes there are production companies that will read unsolicited, unrepped work. And I don't mean to cast aspersions on them; there are new, small prodcos really casting wide for material and they are eager and able to wade through the stacks. Just do your homework and find out who they are. Get an HCD and get on the phone.

But you lead off your question by saying it's hard to get rep, which makes me wonder if you're ready for rep - and if you're not - chances are you're probably also not ready to be sold - to anyone. Take a look at your material - is it really competitive in this market? It's hard to know the truth of that and the only barometer is the reaction you get out on the dance floor, as flawed as that system may be - it's the only real measure.

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Trevor Finn said...

excellent post - that prom metaphor really clicked for me!

now back to the sewing machine...

Trina0623 said...

Ouch... but so true. But a true professional does whatever it takes to hone their skills. If only one person wants to read your script, how many will want to see it on film?

Désirée said...

Excellent blog entry. It's a touch reality.

What I personally miss is something between having representation and beeing without.

Some form of mentorship. Some who cares to grab those that might become great, but not yet succeeded.

The problem is that we all want to get paid somewhere during the line.