Thursday, August 23, 2018

What to say to an agent?

Here’s a FQ that became an EP (entire post).

It’s from Rat Billings:

If a writer ever gets so lucky to go out and meet with potential representation, what should they expect, what are some questions worth asking, and how can that writer make the best impression possible?

First off, dress decently. No jeans. No shorts. No T-shirts. No flip-flops. You don’t have to wear a suit and tie or formal dress but you’re going on a business meeting. Make yourself presentable. You’d think that was a no-brainer but it’s not.

Be punctual. Be prepared. Be enthusiastic. And try, if possible, to be relaxed.

If an agent is meeting you chances are he wants to sign you so he has to sell himself as much as you have to sell yourself.

And if an agent is interested in signing you it’s usually because he thinks he can place you (i.e. make money off of you). So you need to ask how he sees your career path.

He will of course ask you the same question and as long as you’re on the same page things are fine. But if you see yourself as a future screenwriter and he sees you as a sitcom writer who will one day have his own show then it’s not going to work.  Move on.  

So I would ask specifically what this agent plans to do for you. And how will he go about it? How will he use his contacts or other clients to forward your career? How will his intell give you an edge? Will he be able to package you into a deal?

Ask how many clients he has. Ask who some of them are. If he has a lot of big players he may not have time for you. Who’s he going to devote his day to – getting Aaron Sorkin’s next movie placed after it’s gone into turnaround, or getting you a meeting with DOG WITH A BLOG?

Ask how the agency works. Some operate in “teams” and others operate like little fiefdoms. When you call or email the agent, realistically how long until he returns your query? How accessible is he?

He’s going to have some questions for you, and here’s what he most likely wants to hear:

Be very clear about your career objectives. Pick a lane. Comedy or Drama. TV or movies. It helps if an agent can brand you. That’s not to say that you can’t branch out in time, but going in it’s like college where you have to declare your major.

You are 100% dedicated to your career and are willing to do whatever it takes. Assure him that you are good in meetings. If the agent can just get you in a room with someone you feel confident you can impress him. You are available for anything the agent needs of you to land a sale. If this means taking a meeting or writing a treatment you’re happy to do it. Ask the agent what you can do to make his job easier?

If you have any contacts in the industry that might open some doors that’s very helpful to agents.

Assure the agent that you’re prolific. You’re working on a new spec, a new screenplay, whatever.

And finally, don’t be too picky. Don’t say you’ll only work on single-camera comedies for streaming services. You won’t work on network shows, or multi-camera shows, or family shows. First of all, who the fuck are you? You’re just starting out. Who are you to be so choosy? And secondly, if you only give the agent a narrow target he’s less likely to represent you.

So there you go. Beyond that just play it by ear. More than anything else it’s whether you and the agent click, and you can get a pretty good sense of that early. Best of luck.


E. Yarber said...

The single biggest misconception I find in working with newbies is that an agent (or producer, or casting agent, or showrunner) is there to indulge and enable a wannabe writer's fantasies. "It's their JOB to sell what I do!" they'll tell me, never considering that perhaps it's the WRITER'S job to give the agent something that they can sell.

I've seen people approach these meetings like they have to prove they're cool and "above" the business, apparently thinking they have to establish a relationship in which the agent will continually have to coax them to produce the brilliant work that will make everybody rich. What they're showing is that they're regarding the job as a self-indulgent dream of being continually praised and rewarded, not a responsibility to give their employers as much as possible for the privilege of receiving a chance to create in the big leagues.

I guess they've been having too much fun treating their careers as some sort of game and don't want to spoil it by having to finally take the situation seriously. Time and again I see people flip out with rage if I risk bursting their bubble in my own advisory capacity, telling them to work harder and understand the high odds against their success instead of assuring them they'll get what they want.

An agent needs to know that you're going to operate in reality. You'll have to accept hard choices, limited options. If you get a good one they'll worry about you but also have confidence in your ability to justify the work they're putting into selling you. They may ask you to do stuff you won't want as a foothold to bigger things later. There are also agents who will throw their clients to the wolves, get them crap jobs because the representative gets a commission up front even if the assignment will hurt the artist's long-term chances. If you find yourself in that position, you may have to face that you put yourself there by failing to consider that there could be consequences to your decisions that you didn't want.

By the time you get an agent, you have to take the stars out of your eyes and accept that both of you are going to have to be pragmatic about the road ahead. To be honest, most of the people I have dealt with would rather hold on the the fun days where they could just talk about all the big things they're going to do someday in the vague future. There's nothing unusual about that... most people who approach the business don't get very far.

VincentS said...

Thanks, Ken.

Joe said...

Is everyone required to have an agent? Actors, writers, Boom mic operators, caterers?

What if you directly land a job, then another and somehow keep yourself employed without anyone's help. Saves you 10% and the numerous lunches, dinners and then the expensive Christmas gift, right?

Or is it all unionized and "Hollywood rules" force you to have an agent?

Aaron Sorkin will keep getting jobs and surely studios will lap up his scripts. I wonder why he needs an agent?

E. Yarber said...

Going into the movie business without an agent is like going into court without a lawyer. A legitimate film deal is a complex arrangement that may involve hundreds of participants by the end. No single player exists in a vacuum. In a situation like that, even an established talent needs someone to represent them and look out for their interests.

An agent may put more hours into building your career than you do, so that's why you really have to convince them that you're giving them work they can sell. There is only so far a creator can go on their own in Hollywood business-wise, and hopefully they're spending that time making themselves look viable for a team that will be able to take them to further levels.

Andrew said...

Off topic, but I didn't know where else to post this. There's a nice write-up on Alan Alda at Mental Floss here:

Cap'n Bob said...

I don't know if it's the same in showbiz, but if you engage an agent in the book writing trade this is carved in stone: Don't pay them anything up front. Agents who ask for a reading fee, mailing costs, etc. are scammers and should be avoided at all costs.

VP81955 said...

I've been told if you're starting out in the biz, it might make more sense to retain a manager, whose functions by law are considerably different than an agent's.

Janet Ybarra said...

These folks are the ones who want to put their creativity above the business end of things. Same ones as fans who say a network should keep renewing a series even if it's losing money hand over fist, as though Hollywood exists exclusively for art's sake.

But at the end of the day there is a reason they call it show BUSINESS... it's about making money like any other industry for good or ill.

Peter said...

Friday Question

I know this isn't a political blog, but given this week's events, I'd love to know your opinion.

Michael Cohen has said Trump is a criminal and that he's willing to cooperate with Robert Mueller on his investigation into Russian collusion. My question is in two parts:

1) Do you think it's now just a matter of time before Trump is arrested?

2) Whilst we can agree that Trump is awful, if he's removed, wouldn't Pence be just as bad, if not worse?

Wally said...

@Joe & @EYarber
To clarify -- and EY know more than I -- an agent for a new writer is there to close a deal. They want you if they see $$. Managers, on the other hand, are there for career stewardship, in theory. I won't get into my experiences here, but agents will be there to close a deal in the early stages and not much else. Are either 'needed'? Technically, no. Not everyone has one. But probably 99.5% have at least one.

It's a Catch 22. How do I get an agentmgr without having a job? How do I get a job without having an agent/mgr? Not sure if that actually clarifies, but I gave it a go.

E. Yarber said...

The hard thing with explaining agents is that like all human beings there is no consistent norm. Some are angels, some are bottom feeders. I can tell the difference these days because I have worked with both.

Moving from being an unknown to an agent's client is a very hard game, but if you don't have the talent to justify it you might as well not try.

All I can suggest is the Biblical injunction about not hiding your light under a bushel. Find other writers at your stage of the game and learn from each other. Don't be afraid to share.

I broke into the business by helping out fellow hopefuls who let their bosses know that this weirdo had a practical use.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

One of the subgroups of Meetup's London-centric Write Together (people get together and write in silence in coffeeshops all over town at specified times, then go to the pub) has put together a session where its members can meet agents and get feedback on submissions. These kinds of events are invaluable for people trying to break into the business. Generally, I wouldn't expect that the particular agent who conducts the session is going to take you on, but it teaches you a lot about what's expected. Many journalism groups (in the UK, Association of British Science Writers, Center for Investigative Journalism) conduct summer schools and other professional development events where you can also hear agents talk about what they're looking for.