Finding Representation as a Screenwriter
You’ve poured lots of time into creating your screenplay—perhaps years of tinkering and polishing. That’s no easy feat! The next step is to find someone to help you get your work in front of the people who can make your work come alive. Finding someone to represent you in negotiations can be a long process. Choosing a representative requires a lot of work and action, but it can be done.
Types of Screenwriter Representatives
These are the three kinds of representatives most screenwriters use: screenwriting agents, managers, and entertainment attorneys. Each of these professionals has different abilities and knowledge to help screenwriters.
Screenwriting agents are the most common representatives writers use. Agents must be registered with the state and can take, at most, 10% of earnings from your projects. Agents can negotiate deals and get you assignments and meetings. Another benefit of agents is they know what kinds of projects are already in progress and what studios will be looking for in future projects. If there are already multiple vampire movies, your agent can let you know before you spend time working on your vampire script. Your agent can then direct to what studios are looking for, so you can focus your efforts elsewhere.
Managers can also send your work out to studios. They can also send open assignments and other work to you. The difference is that managers cannot negotiate contracts for you. Instead, they will work with an attorney. Managers are also able to charge whatever rates they want. There is no state-level registration or official organization for mangers, so there is a wider range of knowledge and abilities within that group.
For contract negotiations, entertainment attorneys are some of the most dedicated professionals to hire. Their specialties are protecting intellectual property and getting the best terms for their clients. The downside is attorneys can also be more expensive to work with than managers and agents, and they can’t get you writing work.
When to Start Looking
Having a finished project in your back pocket is a good start, but it’s not the only time to look. A finished product is something to show if you are new in the business, but be careful about relying on one thing. You also don’t want to have too many projects to avoid seeming desperate. Instead, look for an agent when you have two or three solid, polished scripts to show you have multiple ideas and abilities.
Looking for Representation
Keep in mind that most agents shouldn’t be the first ones to read a script. Instead, managers and editors can read initial drafts and earlier versions. Once you have a more polished product, that can go to an agent, but the script usually goes to an assistant to read before the agent even looks at it. When agents are looking at projects, they want a project that has more than just potential; remember, it takes a lot of money to get a script made into a movie or TV show. They want to be sure of the investment. This is why it can be difficult to get representation as a new writer —established workers are a safer bet than an unknown. With these difficulties comes multiple ways to show someone your work is a solid investment.
The classic way to find an agent is to use extensive networking. This means attending events and other gatherings to meet people who can put you in touch with an agent. Keep in mind that people change jobs frequently, so someone who has few connections may have more in a few years, or they might work with an entirely different agent. Joining organizations focused on writing and artists is also a good way to meet others. These connections can also alert you to contests that show your work to judges. A screenplay with an award behind it is much more attractive to potential agents than ones without.
With the arrival of the web, you have a number of ways to showcase your work. You can produce a scene or a shorter version your work as a cheap web video to show how your work can be filmed and produced. You can also use social media, such as Twitter, to gain a following of fans to show people are already interested in your work.
Choosing an Representative
Getting an agent or manager has been compared to dating, and for good reason. Both processes involve people getting to know each other and possibly trusting each other to work well together. You want to avoid seeming too eager because that can make a prospective agent feel as if you view them as a goal instead of a person. Your first clue should be your instincts and gut feelings. If they make you worry, they may not be a good fit. Agents who are members of the Writer’s Guild of America also have a standard they have to follow to protect you. Agents should also share your vision and general ideas to build a healthy relationship. Finally, be sure to research a prospective agent to make sure they actually have the kinds of connections and work they claim.
Finding someone to be on your side as you write is not an easy process. In between writing and rewriting your work, you need to make time and energy to put yourself out there and sell yourself to potential agents. Forming relationships with people in the industry is a long process, but it can be worthwhile and rewarding.
How have you gotten into writing positions? What are some thoughts you had as you looked for someone to represent you?