If you are wondering if you need an agent to be a paid screenwriter, the answer is yes!
Below are some questions I have received that are followed by my answers.
Is it absolutely imperative that I get representation?
Yes, if you want to work in mainstream Hollywood. Otherwise, you can give your work for free or cheap to independent filmmakers or simply produce and direct your own scripts.
Cannot I just send my screenplay to the independent branches of the major studios… (warner independent, paramount vantage, etc.)?
No. They will kindly stamp the envelope, “RETURN TO SENDER,” and send it back unopened. Trust me, I have been the stamper in the legal department. It is a legal risk for any studio or network to receive your script because you could sue them later saying they stole your idea, even though they had been working on the same concept for four years or maybe preferred to buy the script from an established writer who sent his in one week after yours.
If you have already contacted the producer or agent and they have agreed to read your material, they will give you a release form to sign and you need to write on your envelope in black marker, “Release Form Enclosed.”
What about sending scripts to executive producers like Kevin Spacey or Brad Pitt for their respective production companies?
Sometimes that is acceptable. For legal reasons, most producers will not accept unsolicited scripts. You have to call the office and ask if they accept unsolicited scripts. If they do, usually they will send you a legal form to sign saying you won’t sue them, the Release of Liability. I have met lots of producers, directors, and actors who after meeting me in person, or knowing of my origin and relative sanity, trust that I won’t sue them, say, “Sure, send me your script.”
Or do I have to go through the normal hollywood process of getting an agent, having him read it and then having him attempt to find someone to take it?
Yes, this is best. There is a formal process. If you want to get a bidding war on your script and make millions of dollars on your first pop, you need to have your agent pump up the buzz and send out the script in one single day with no one ever having seen it before. This creates an auction environment and the money can fly. You look much more professional and can get a lot more money if you have your agent sending out your script. Anyway, most legitimate producers usually do not accept unsolicited materials. What you want to do is get an agent but also keep working the connections yourself, just in case your script doesn’t fly off the shelf. So when you meet someone in a buying position, you get their information and say, “I will have my agent send over the script.” After a few years, if your script still has not sold, it may never, and you should put your efforts towards new ideas.
I really don’t want to send my material to an agent. He didn’t write the story and I don’t need his interpretation of it and whom he thinks will buy it.
You do need an agent and he is going to take a nice 10 to 20% chunk of your dough too. He deserves it because he is going to negotiate on your behalf for lots of money that you simple cannot accomplish on your own. He also has all the connections to all the people who are in a position to buy your script. Even if someone at Sony somehow got a hold of your script and wanted to pay you $500,000 for it, they would connect you with an agency to do all the paperwork and everything and the agency is still going to take their same percentage no matter how much or how little work they did for you. It is to your benefit to have an agent. Let him do his job, and you do yours, which is to write!
I’m working on a pilot script. Who/where do I go to get it read?
For a pilot script, you want to have a script literary agent who specializes in television.
Click here for agencies accredited by the Writers Guild to represent you.
Generally, pilot scripts and TV show ideas are mostly only bought from well established writers, either best seller novelists or TV writers that have been in the business and have proven themselves. The reason for this is that a network is not going to want to risk millions of dollars on an unknown 22-year old writer, no matter how great his idea and writing are.
Don’t let this dissuade you from writing pilot scripts. If your pilot script is excellent, you may get a writing gig from it.
When you have a great TV idea, write and register it, because maybe one day you will become successful for something else, book/screenplay/short film/whatever, and then you can pull out your arsenal of registered and completed materials and sell those too. When you are hot, you are hot. Better to have a bunch of stuff to sell in that moment, than nothing. Your first movie may flop (even though it was the director’s fault) and your name might then be tarnished and you are back at the bottom. Having lots of prepared material is a good plan.
How do I get an agent?
First you need to select and contact an agent either via telephone or by letter and ask them if you may send samples of your writing and what is their procedure. Query letter is the standard approach and having someone who has recommended you is often required.
Usually, you will have to live in Hollywood if you want to write for television.
What type of sample scripts should I send?
Best is a sample of each type of writing to show your diversity: a spec script, a pilot script (an original television script), a screenplay (a movie script), and maybe even a short story. Poetry is the kiss of death — don’t send that! If you only want to write for TV or only for film, you may submit only screenplays or only TV scripts, but have at least two scripts to increase your odds.
In your letter, make sure to mention your best published works and for which entities. Why should this agent accept you as a client? What do you have to offer? What evidence do you have to validate you as a writer? What training have you had?
In your envelope, include a self-addressed and stamped envelope to return the material or include a note saying that they may pitch it to the recycling bin.
Final Notes on Soliciting Agents:
If you want to make a life career out of screenwriting, you need to be able to write more than one story or one episode of an existing show. If someone likes the one script you sent, the next question will be, “What else do you have?” Be prepared.
You and your material have great value and potential. Don’t be desperate when you are selecting an agent. If you are soliciting agents, you should be confident enough in your work to choose a good agent. Make sure you like the person and you are at ease when you talk to him or her. You should feel comfortable to ask questions and feel that the agent genuinely likes your work, otherwise, he or she won’t be able to sell it.
Always be polite, never demanding. Don’t jump on a yes or no because someone is pressuring you, say, “Thank you very much; I will think about it.”
Test your material. Do people like it?
If no single person on the face of the earth has read any of your material, you are absolutely not ready to be soliciting an agent.
Feedback is an essential part of your development. Learning to accept criticism and incorporate feedback is crucial. A screenwriter is endlessly entwined in editing and revising.
Have people you trust to be honest with you and strangers through the Internet read your material and give you real feedback.
Are your scripts formatted correctly?
How are your grammar and spelling?
Do your stories float or sink?
Are you published anywhere?
Do any strangers like anything you have written?
You are going to have to prove to the agent in more ways than one that you are talented, dependable, and a creative writer.
Before you go wasting your time and the time of all the agents who you solicit, make sure you are ready. Learn everything you possibly can about the industry and how your script should look and function.
Full of information, I suggest you fine comb through the WGA website.
Never give up and never stop educating yourself.
Every rejection is a valuable lesson that brings you closer to your goal.