It’s that time of year when all screenwriting thoughts are directed towards snowflakes and candycanes and Reindeer and Santa... yeah right. Nope, if I remember correctly it’s about this time of year a lot of screenwriters look back on the year past and wonder why they still don’t have a damn agent or manager.
The screenwriting boards light up in Holiday multicolored complaints from writers who talk of how stupid agents are for not recognizing the brilliance of their scripts. Others lament how they query just like they’re supposed to but the damn managers won’t even respond or have the bad taste to pass on them.
That’s when the “You don’t need an agent, they just profit off of your hard work” and “They don’t do anything anyway.” comments spring to life. Or worse “You can sell a script to a studio without an agent or manager. Just buy my book.” offers spring up like ugly uncontrollable kudzu.
So in the spirit of the time of year I’m going to offer my thoughts on this topic.
First of all, Agents and Managers are looking for writers who will have careers, not one trick ponies. You aren’t going to get one from your first script unless it’s so groundshatteringly good that people read it and faint from ecstasy. This is not likely. In fact let’s be honest, it isn’t going to happen. Honestly, it might not happen for your first ten scripts.
For sure, it is about quality, but quantity counts, too. You have to have an answer to the age old question, “What else do you have?” besides, “Well, I got some ideas.” or “Isn’t this one enough?”
Most new writers have the wrong idea about agents and managers anyway. They think that once they have one the heavens will open and manna in the form of instant sales and produced films and writing jobs will shower over them.
A good example of this kind of thinking is from something I actually witnessed in a different aspect of this business. I was sitting in my acting agent’s office one afternoon shooting the breeze (this was when I had occasion to actually make use of my acting agent, unlike now) and there was a commotion in the outer office. My agent, who although she’s about 5’1” and pretty petite but could probably throw someone through a wall, went to see what was going on. I followed.
In the outer office, as her assistant and the office manager stood between a young man and my agent’s office door, he waved something in the air. “I have my SAG card and I’ve CHOSEN you to be my agent.” My first reaction to this statement was to wish I was anywhere but there as I watched my agent’s blood pressure increase so much you could feel it in the air.
Then she wound up and delivered. “Get the hell out of my office! Now!” He looked like she’d shot him, which I believed she would have if she could get away with it. He slunk out. I think I started laughing until she gave me a look.
We went back in her office and she regaled me on how stupid wannabe actors can be. I guessed correctly that this was not the first time this had happened. She finally laughed, although it may have been an ironic one, and told me that most all of them were extras who got a SAG card by Taft-Hartley vouchers, not by actually acting in anything and believe once they are visited by the SAG Fairy they will instantly be cast in all varieties of film and TV, mostly as the star, and are blessing her by choosing her to represent them. She called it Psycho-SAG-cosis.
This is what a lot of screenwriters think is going to happen when they get an agent or manager. Nothing could be further from the truth. If you are good enough to get a good manager or agent all they can do is open some doors for you and advise you how to handle it. This IS quite important for sure, but you have to do the rest. They DO NOT GET YOU JOBS. You get you jobs by being great in a room, having what the people who you meet with want, and impressing the hell out of them with your personality and talent. If you can do this, then you get to keep your agent or manager to go out and do it again, keeping in mind that the person waiting in the outer office when you finish is there to do the same thing.
Yes, with an agent or manager the Opportunity Fairy can visit a lot more often and that’s a very good thing. But you as a writer have to be just as ready for an agent or manager as they are for you. Confident in yourself and your work, not ridiculous big ego confident, but sincerely there and humble confident. You have to be honest and tell the truth, not just say what you think people want to hear because that always bites you on the ass eventually. And to have enough faith in yourself to answer a question with “I don’t know, but I can find out.” if that’s the real answer.
These are the things, besides having some great scripts, that will keep you in good stead with any agent or manager. That and a real work ethic.
Writing one script doesn’t make YOU ready. Being desperate doesn’t make you ready. Everything is this business takes time, as I have said dozens of times before. You HAVE to be patient. There is no Agent Fairy to instantly make you a screenwriting star. Agents and managers are there to work with you in building a career one block at a time. You can’t sit back and wait for them to perform miracles, because that’s not their job. And you’re not their only client either. There’s nothing magical about it.
So if you think you’re ready, query managers and agents. They ARE looking for new talent all the time. And keep networking. I got my manager through a referral from a director. He had to read my work first and talk to me and do all those things they do before agreeing to represent you, but the referral got me through the door.
Getting an agent or manager is just another stepping stone in managing your own business as a screenwriter. A big one, but one that needs to come at the right time. Knowing that this is a long game, don’t be so anxious that you try before you or they are ready.
And Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from me and my family.
Follow Me on Twitter… @bobsnz