An agent is someone that knows people in the film industry and works to get your scripts to producers, actors and other entities in the hopes of getting it optioned…and their commission. Sadly, getting an agent isn’t easy, especially as a first time writer with little or no film credits under his belt.
It’s the old adage: You can’t get a job without experience, and you can get experience without a job. All is not lost, there are ways to let the agency elite know who you are, even if you don’t have much under your belt.
The Cold Call
There are books that list agents for writers and screenwriters as well as forums and websites where you can find reputable representation. One of the biggest pitfalls of a new writer is choosing a disreputable agent. If it seemed too easy to get signed, then he’s probably not the best choice. Many writers have been fleeced out of their money by bad agents wanting upfront fees and deposits. Agents work on commission, so if they want money up front…move on.
When you find agents that are reputable, you can send query letters that outline your background and script idea. NEVER send a completed script, or even a treatment. Your query should not be more than a page long. To an agent, time is money, and he won’t read a script or treatment. Instead, he’ll just throw it away. If he likes your letter, he may follow up, but this is a long shot. Many agents prefer not to receive unsolicited requests. Your research should outline who accepts writer requests and who doesn’t.
Contests and Conferences
If your screenplay wins a contest, there is a possibility that an agent is either at the event, or even on the panel of judges. One of the prizes for the contest may even be a read-through by an agent. There are also writing conferences that have agents milling about and on panels. You may strike up a conversation and get one interested or be involved with a pitch session.
The likelihood of catching an agent’s interest is good, but keep in mind you are one of hundreds of writers vying for the same people. This is all about finesse, charisma and luck. You don’t want to seem too anxious and desperate or end up annoying an agent. If he doesn’t seem interested, thank him for his time and move on. In this industry, you don’t want to burn any bridges unless you absolutely have to.
The golden goose of screenwriting is the writer referral. This is when a writer with an agent likes your stuff and refers you to his agent for representation. This almost guarantees you a meeting with the agent, or at least he’ll take a look at your writing. Writers tend to travel the same circles, so it’s likely you may already have a few successful friends.
Keep in mind that a writer referral is like gold and not to be taken lightly. Never ask a writer you don’t know or barely know to refer you to his agent. It’s like asking a stranger to recommend you to their boss for a job. It’s not just your reputation on the line, but his. The request should be with someone you’ve developed a relationship with and done respectfully and subtly.