One of the most difficult tasks ahead of aspiring screenwriters is finding representation. Agents in today’s screenwriting marketplace are so busy scratching and clawing to get their established writers work, they have little time to grow “baby writers” who may or may not ever sell anything.
Adding to this is a troubling trend among the studios away from buying original screenplays, and especially away from buying original screenplays written on speculation. Studios want built in audiences, and favor adaptations of works (comics, novels, plays) that already have a significant following.
The reality is that breaking new writers is more difficult than it’s ever been. Agents increase their odds of selling material by pushing screenplays from their most experienced writers.
Managers are different. Of course, all managers are not alike. However, in general, while agents tend to restrict their activities to “fielding offers,” packaging projects and closing deals, managers are known for growing screenwriters.
They’re willing to take on baby writers. Once they like your writing, they’ll help you rewrite material and they’ll give you professional feedback.
Agents are more likely to read your screenplay and send it out, only if they like it. If they have problems with your work, they may say something, but they probably won’t sit down and help you fix it.
If they do send it out, and your work isn’t received well, they’ll stop. Nobody wants to get a reputation for sending out “second rate” scripts, or material that’s just not “commercial.”
My advice is to try to find representation with a manager. Managers tend to be more patient with writers who are just finding their voice. They’ll be more willing to nurture new talent –up to a point. Their time is valuable, too. And if they don’t see improvement, they’ll pull the plug.
If it works out, and you’re able to sell a screenplay, or get a job on a TV series, agents will be happy to represent you –to take ten percent, and close your deal. Once you’re a proven commodity they’ll figure out how to make the most money with your career as they possibly can.
What are agents and managers looking for? They’re looking for writers who are writing at a professional level. You’re first few screenplays will probably not make the cut.
Writers who take constructive criticism from working writers, or at least from valid script coverage, and integrate the feedback successfully into their work will be the writers who succeed. Writers who can’t give up their favorite scenes even though they don’t move the story won’t make it.
Agents and managers are looking for writers who understand the market, who have a commercial sensibility. They’re looking for writers who are committed to their craft, over the long term. They don’t want to nurture a writer for months or years only to have them give up when the going gets rough.
They’ll size up writers and go with the ones who seem most passionate about their careers. Too many writers out there cling to the notion that their first screenplay will not only get produced, but make them rich and famous.
When that doesn’t happen overnight, they tend to get bummed out, and lose interest in writing.
The reality is that it’s much more likely that they’ll impress a producer with the quality of their writing, and get a chance to pitch another idea, or to take a producer’s script idea and run with it. I advise aspiring screenwriters to get used to the idea that it may take months and years to make it.
Screenwriting representatives are also looking for writers who are comfortable in a room, who know how to pitch and talk story in meetings with producers. A writer who’s good on paper but freezes up in meetings can have a short career.
How do you approach an agent or manager to get their interest. Most importantly, you have to stand out in the crowd. It’s not enough to write solid screenplays. You’ve got to create buzz around your projects. You’ve got to place in screenwriting contests or get high marks from the story analysts at the Blacklist.
You can film a scene from your screenplay and post it on YouTube. You can post your loglines on Inktip. You can get actors or directors to sign letters of intent. When your screenplay gets favorable coverage or places well in a contest, or you have actors attached, you’ll be more likely to get the attention of an agent or manager.
When my writing partner and I got into writing, we didn’t have an agent or a manager. We had a relationship with a producer at the 80’s hit half hour comedy, Mork and Mindy. He liked our spec scripts, and invited us in to pitch the show.
It took us about six pitch sessions, but we finally sold a story. Then they decided not to use it. We got paid, but our career was over just as it began. Fortunately, though, our producer friend felt bad for us, and recommended us to another show. We pitched and sold our first script. An agent found us. And it still works pretty much like that today.