Sunday, March 12, 2006

Seriously, How the ^&*$!#$*^!(&*@ Do I Get an Agent?

Way back in October '04, I wrote this column for Creative Screenwriting. I think this one and its follow up, How Do I Get a Damn Manager? are solid pieces of advice. So check out what some of the top literary representatives in town have to say about this topic most near and dear to all of our hearts.


By Jim Cirile

Stop! Before you blast out another 150 e-mail queries, read this! Here at last is the comprehensive guide to finding yourself a rep, all in 1,500 words. Learn well as our esteemed panel of motion picture lit representatives lays out solid strategies for finding representation that actually work.


Richard Arlook
The Gersh Agency

Nicole Clemens
International Creative Management

Emile Gladstone
Broder, Webb, Chervin & Silbermann

Graham KayeCreative Management Group
Julien ThuanUnited Talent Agency

You don’t.

Okay, that’s the flip answer. We all know that finding representation is notoriously hard.
While there were, at last count, 42.6 billion screenwriters out there, there are only a small handful of agents. They’re generally hustling for their clients 10-12 hours a day and then have scripts to read at night. Generally, they just don’t have the bandwidth to even think about reading unsolicited scripts. And think about it—if you are lucky enough to be represented, would you want your agent spending his time reading any old script that comes in over the transom? Heck, you’d want them to be spending their time finding you work. So the next time you whine about how hard it is to get anyone at Boffo 3-Letter Agency to read your masterpiece, remember the reasons these barriers are in place.

Okay, ready to go hunt some agent? Hold on thar, kemosabe. Your mom may think your script is the shizzbombdiggity, but does anyone else? It is critically important that you develop your script to the point where it’s good enough to send out first. “You have to have a group of confidants,” says UTA’s Julien Thuan. “In a perfect world, (these) are people who are actually in the business, and people who will be honest with you.” Manager Graham Kaye agrees: “To grow as an artist, you need to be able to accept the bad feedback with the good. It takes years to become a good writer.” But when you start getting raves from your friends, writing group, classmates or a coverage service, then load the rifle, and let’s go.

Let’s start with our old friend the query. Most of our panelists agree: they simply don’t work. “Save a tree. Do not do unsolicited letters. Do not send out spam e-mails. They are irritating,” says ICM’s Nicole Clemens. BWCS’s Emile Gladstone seconds that. “We don’t accept query letters. I’ve never signed anyone off of that.” Thuan says that rarely does a query pique his interest. “I can’t say never, because I’ve responded to some before. Generally, if I respond, it’s because the idea is interesting, or I think that the quality of the writing in the letter is really compelling. Sometimes people tell a story about themselves that gets your attention.”
Of course, junior reps may be more receptive than established ones. Kaye tells us about how when he was first starting out at HWA Talent, a script came across his desk that no one else in town would bother with. He read it, loved it, signed the writer. Ten years later, the script is now called I, Robot. “My good friend John Davis—I was in a meeting with him, and I said, ‘John, I sold that script.’ He was eating a bowl of almonds, and he slid the almonds over and said, ‘You did? Boy, you made me a lot of money. Here, have an almond!’” Kaye laughs. But he’s a bit less receptive nowadays. “Not to be egomaniacal, but everybody who’s on this panel—it takes lot of time and effort to break new talent. We don’t necessarily have to do that anymore. It’s extremely hard work, and we work hard enough. Why shouldn’t we enjoy the success of the years of time and energy we’ve put into building our reputations?”

Where exactly does that leave a writer then? It’s all about the referral. Clemens advises writers to “spend your time taking advantage of the six degrees of Kevin Bacon in this town. Find someone who knows someone who knows someone—someone’s cousin who knows someone’s intern who knows someone’s assistant. Get everybody to read your script. Cream rises.” Clemens adds that if her assistant or intern recommends something, or a development executive or manager calls her about a script, it will make it to the top of her pile. “But if somebody cold-calls me, I’m not taking their script.”

Gladstone says, “The most helpful advice I can give to a writer is not to be so fixated on finding an agent, but let the town work for you. Find a producer or find a champion.” Instead of querying agents, he recommends buying the Hollywood Creative Directory ($59.95, IFILM Publishing.) “Be a student of the business and find the producer that makes (the same type of movie that you’ve written,) and makes a lot of them. Then find the most junior person, the bottom of the list. They WANT to read. And when they find something they like, they call me or people that work for me. We get calls from those people, and they go to the top of the pile.” As proof this works, Gladstone signed two baby writers this year “with no credits and no nothing,” Clayton Surratt and David Johnson. Surrat’s script 342 sold to 2929 Entertainment, and Gladstone sold a pitch of Johnson’s to Paramount. “Clayton Surratt came to me from a lawyer and manager, and David Johnson came to me from a manager,” says Gladstone.
Which brings us to another useful strategy: getting a manager to get an agent. “This town is just brimming over with managers,” says Clemens. “They live to fill this niche. Managers are way more likely to read unsolicited stuff. In fact, especially the young ones, they’re scrounging around looking for clients. If a manager calls me about a client, I’m going to read him, if I trust the manager’s taste.” A comprehensive list of managers and agents can be found in the Hollywood Representation Directory ($64.95, IFILM Publishing.)

Contests, pitch fests and festivals may be another way to get noticed by the industry—or not. While our panelists pay attention to Nicholl, many of the rest are also-rans. “At the end of the day, the people judging contests are not the people working at Warner Bros.,” says Gladstone. “I’m not just looking for talent. I’m looking talent that wants to work in the studio system.” Gladstone also says that while junior agents at BWCS sometimes attend pitch fests and festivals, “no one’s ever signed anyone off of that. They do it more as a service, giving a little back to the community, or sometimes a free trip. I’ve gone to Seattle and Hawaii on that kind of stuff, but you don’t really go there to sign. You go to Sundance to sign.” Thuan sometimes reads the winners of regional contests. “Not everyone who could be a great screenwriter lives in L.A. You feel like you can cover a little more ground that way.” But don’t expect your third place win at the Pig’s Knuckles, Iowa, Screenwriting Contest to garner you much industry attention.

One fellow who’s more accessible than most is agent David Freedman. A founding partner of Moviefone, Freedman studied screenwriting at UCLA, then later realized, “I was very good at getting people to read my screenplays. I just wasn’t very good at getting people to like my screenplays.” But he did enjoy the marketing aspect of it. Freedman trained with agent Sara Margoshes of SMA and mentored with a friend from Gersh, then applied for his state license. The WGA approved him as signatory, and he formally opened Hollywood View Agency.
Freedman has wasted no time making a name for himself, and the town is taking notice. “When you go out and shop screenplays, you have to have really, really great material, and you have to hit a home run,” says Freedman. “Even if it’s not what (the buyer is) looking for, the very least they should say is, ‘This is a well-written script by a very good writer.’ It’s simply establishing credibility—David doesn’t waste your time.”

Freedman has been aggressively signing contest winners and established writers, but he’s also looking for new talent. He demands that you have a killer logline. “If you have that, then I ask for a 1-pager. If you have a killer logline and killer 1-page synopsis, I’ll read your script.” But Freedman warns that your logline should not contain any of the following words: “CIA, FBI, cop, virus, epidemic, Indian burial ground, Mafia, serial killer and everybody’s favorite, vampire. But if you happen to have a logline that contains all those words, please send it to me.” To find out more about Freedman, visit

There you have it—queries generally don’t work, winning a contest may or may not amount to nothing, and you’re better off trying to get a manager or junior creative exec to read your script then let THEM get you an agent. In the meantime, keep rewriting! And, folks, please do not query any of the panelists in this column (except for Freedman.)


Anonymous said...

I'm querying all these guys right now!

Anonymous said...