By Scott Manville
Founder, TVWritersVault.com | Contributing Writer, National Association Television Program Executives (NATPE)
If you’re an aspiring screenwriter in TV or Film and you struggle with getting a literary agent, don’t fall into the self-defeating mindset of believing it’s another catch-22, such as- agents won’t take on a new writer, and a new writer can’t get their script to buyers without an agent. If you want to get literary agents to take notice of your work, give them a reason. In this article, we’ll give you a broader view of an agent’s role, and more importantly, your role as it relates. Agents are not Managers hand-holding you through the maze of Hollywood. Agents are manipulators of opportunity, and catalysts for connection when you deliver first. Even when you have an agent, your success is totally reliant on you. If you’re doing all of the things that an inspired and driven screenwriter should be doing, then having a literary agent is an aftereffect that follows your own success.
Agents have their own positions and careers to worry about. They don’t make money reading blind script submissions from new writers, or sending a new writer out on general meetings with producers. They want deals, just like you do. And that’s not a selfish position, because when they have a potential deal in hand delivered from you they’ll use all of their resources and tenacious tomfoolery to put legs on it, and get it down the road. Just as in any business, they’re accountable to a bottom line at their firm, and they’re only going to focus where the money is. Their priority is to be in the know, and have the insider information on mandates and who’s looking for what type of project, and then connect material from their stable that is most likely to fill that mandate. If they already rep a writer who knows how to work with producers, and is trusted in that process, then they can encourage that client to create the project on spec (speculatively, with no guarantee) for their connection. Bring an agent an opportunity for a sale, and you’ll suddenly become a priority too.
I’ve known many new writers who believe “if only an agent at CAA could read my script, they’ll see with all clarity what a great film or series it will make, and that will catapult me above all the frey”. Wrong. Agents at large firms are walking a high-wire with no net as they fight to manage and serve big clients, and bigger accounts. Even if you deliver a deal on the table and ask them to handle it for you, you may not get the kind of focus your project deserves. Low to Mid level agents can have all the right relationships with any major company, or the right company your project needs. They can also align your project with a larger firm who may be strategically connected to package the project with talent. Everyone is a producer trying to fit their pieces of the puzzle together to make the picture. Bringing opportunity and work to a lower level agency can win you a fiercely loyal rep who prioritizes you.
Not true. One of the best things about the TV/Film industry is that there aren’t any rules. It’s how I built the TV Writers Vault into a direct sourcing tool for Production Companies to scout new scripts and ideas (Sorry agents!). I knew as an insider working with the best producers in the business, that they wanted compelling and original projects from anyone, and having an agent doesn't add ANY quality to what the project is unless it's an agent from a large firm that can add value by packaging it. But the TV Writers Vault is just one tool in your arsenal for success. Sure, there are people who will block your path in making direct inroads, but there’s a thousand different routes you can take to get to the same place. Do not believe that companies won’t take pitches without an agent. The real challenge and goal should be to connect creatively, and know how to speak efficiently. If the first thing out of your mouth is “Hi, I’ve written a movie script that I believe is right for your company”, then the response you’ll get is, “Sorry, we don’t take unsolicited submissions”. But if the first words out of your mouth are, “We met at [xyz conference], and our mutual friend [so-and-so] thought you should hear the logline for my drama pilot script”, and if in that past chat with you they liked the way you think and conceptualize creatively, then they’re more likely to engage. They’ll also know if they like the project based on the premise. If they do, then they’ll want to read the script or pitch treatment. In that conversation, learn about what they like, how they view certain genres, what their focus is, and try to engage in some creative conversation so they’ll see how you think.
Build relationships with development executives and assistants at production companies. If they like the way you conceptualize, and like the way you think, then you’ll begin to build a network of likeminded creatives who will ultimately collaborate with you. When you build your own peer group of connections, agents will see that in the opportunities you deliver.
Our industry is a contact sport, so be sociable, engage with others at industry events, support the work of others, and you’ll begin to build a thriving network that supports you as well. Agents are all about networking, and meeting creative people and decision makers in a social setting is the best way to win new contacts. While there are thousands of “festivals”, key on larger festivals that offer panel discussions and social mixers as a way to engage with industry executives and peers. If you’re a TV Writer, film festivals are the new playground. With TV and Film being synonymous these days, many producers at film festivals also produce TV, or at least have it in mind when considering new projects. Film festivals span the country, so you don’t have to be in L.A. to do this type of networking. If you live in Tennessee, hit the Nashville Film Festival. If you live in Washington State, go rub elbows at the Seattle International Film Festival. When in Texas, mosey over to the Austin Film Festival.
For a more intensive networking experience, go to one of the major conferences for TV and New Media. NATPE Conference and RealScreen Summit are great venues to connect with other writers and producers, and rub elbows with executives.
Be your own best agent, and be bold in sharing your work and ideas with others. Fearing exposure of your ideas and stories is counterproductive, and there are enough electronic paths of communication to establish exposure of a project with someone soliciting it, or with whom you’re following up with after a conversation. Our industry is a brain-trust, and there IS a collective consciousness that connects ideas and subjects between creatives, inspired independently, as we all search and conceptualize “what is entertaining to watch”. Get your work archived in an intellectual property archival service like creatorsvault.com prior to exposure in the marketplace. Then get people to know your work, how you think, what you create, and soon opportunities will find their path to you. When more people know your work and your talent, it’s easier for an agent to send you out on the rounds. And when you deliver your own deal to a new agent you’re considering to rep you, you’ll have beat the catch-22 and landed an agent as a new writer. Then get back out there and help your agent help you!