How do screenwriters get discovered and signed by Hollywood managers and agents?
The first major goal most screenwriters have is signing with representation that can sell their scripts for them.
The process seems pretty easy and straightforward, doesn't it?
- Write a script.
- Sign with a manager and/or agent.
- Your manager and agent take your script out to their contacts.
- You sell a script or get hired for an assignment.
- And everything is good from there.
As most screenwriters at least a year or two into the pursuit of their screenwriting dreams will attest to, that process is easier said than done.
In the latest post in our Screenwriting Basics series, we focus on the basic steps you can take to get noticed by managers and agents.
It goes without saying that you need to have great writing samples in the form of spec scripts (scripts written under speculation that they will be sold). And it takes time to get to a level of screenwriting where you have the necessary quality of concept, character, story, structure, pacing, and cinematic feel to your scripts.
The worst mistake most screenwriters make early on is rushing the race to approach managers and agents. In no way, shape, or form should you be pursuing representation with your first screenplay. Heck, you shouldn't be pursuing managers or agents with just two or three of your first scripts.
Screenwriting isn't a sprint. It's a marathon. You need to pace yourself and put yourself in the best possible position to succeed. Rushing the process will do you no favors.
- Take a couple of years to hone your work with multiple scripts.
- Discipline yourself to be able to finish a script under pro deadlines (2-3 months).
- Make the necessary mistakes to learn from in those first three screenplays — and then write that marquee script that turns heads.
- Get to a point where you have 3-5 amazing spec scripts — not one or two that are pretty good.
Submitting to Contests, Competitions, and Fellowships
With that first couple of screenplays you write, it's good to test the waters by submitting them to the major contests, competitions, and fellowships.
- Nicholl Fellowship
- Imagine Impact
- Launch Pad
- ScreenCraft's Genre Competitions
- ScreenCraft's Fellowship
- WeScreenplay Contests
- Final Draft's Big Break
- Austin Film Festival
- Sundance Institute
These are the main destinations you should have your eyes trained on for submissions. Submitting your script to random small local contests will do you no favors. You need to submit to contests, competitions, and fellowships that are highly respected within the industry, connected to the industry, and utilized by the industry as vetting platforms to find great scripts and screenwriters.
With those first couple of screenplays, take advantage of the feedback and coverage that some of these institutions offer. All of their readers are high-caliber industry readers. Learn from their coverage. And learn from where your scripts place within these contests, competitions, and fellowships.
- If you're never making the quarterfinals, you know there's an issue.
- If you're always stuck in the quarterfinals, you know you need to find a way to improve to get past that hump.
- If you're always making the semifinals or finals, you know you're onto something.
And even when you've reached the point where you have 3-5 amazing spec scripts that are doing well in contests, competitions, and fellowships, submitting them has proven to be the best way to capture the attention of management companies. Managers use these places to find new and fresh talent.
Before you market a single script, you need to make sure that you've written the best possible drafts. You never want to submit anything that is a work in progress. This isn't the time to test the waters, as mentioned above with contests, competitions, and fellowships. You need to market scripts that are ready.
When you're at that level, marketing should be done in conjunction with submitting to select contests, competitions, and fellowships. You don't want to submit to those and just wait for opportunities to come to you. Marketing is about making the effort to go out and find opportunities.
- Have your marketing materials streamlined and ready to go (loglines, synopsis, etc.).
- Learn how to write a good query letter for cold-call emails.
- Utilize IMDbPro to research your marketing contacts.
- Create a marketing plan.
Know the Industry
If you want to walk the walk, you need to be able to talk the talk. As you see some success with your submissions and marketing, you'll slowly start to correspond with industry insiders. You can give yourself an edge towards successfully impressing them by knowing the industry.
- Read the trades (Deadline, The Hollywood Reporter, Variety).
- Read the latest Black List.
- Read articles on the Writers Guild of America site.
- Know what's going on in the industry.
- Know the terms.
Be Ready, Willing, and Able to Pitch and Work the Room
Most novice screenwriters fear the industry meeting process. They build up this image of needing to be a power player and egomaniac when, in fact, that's the worst front you can put forth.
All that you need to do is be confident in your writing, know your screenplays, and have a passion for the industry. And then you need to convey that you're someone with confidence but no ego, ready and willing to collaborate. Collaborative skills are key. You need to be able to take notes, process them, and apply them.
Most of the development executives, producers, and managers you speak with are just like you — they love and have a passion for movies and television. Display the passion you have, showcase your ability to collaborate, and portray yourself as someone they would love to work with.
Agents Don't Enter the Picture Until the Deals Come
Another misconception novice screenwriters have is that they should pursue agents as quickly as possible.
Agents don't come into the picture until there's a deal to be made. Managers are there from the beginning. They help you develop additional drafts of the script(s) that got you their representation and they help you to decide and develop what will come next. They read every draft and sometimes will ask for more and more drafts until the script is finally exactly where it needs to be. Then they take it out onto "the town" to shop for interest.
Agents can also take a dedicated role in the development of the scripts, but they are primarily there to handle the implementation of the business side of things, as far as negotiations, packaging, getting their clients onto assignments, etc.
The big differences between the two beyond that?
- Agents cannot be attached as producers of any given script that they represent. Managers can, and these days often do.
- Managers cannot negotiate deals. That's the agent's job — or an entertainment lawyer. While managers certainly know the various deals and can work on them to a certain level, in the end, only agents and entertainment lawyers can handle that for the clients.
Here are some additional and very helpful links to help you get ready for your screenwriting journey — and the search for representation.
- Everything Screenwriters Need to Know About Agents and Managers
- 5 Ways to Make Your Own Screenwriting Opportunities
- How Screenwriters Can Master the Hollywood Zoom Meeting
- How Writers Can Master the Elevator Pitch
- 10 Rules of Film/TV Industry Etiquette Screenwriters Should Know
Ken Miyamoto has worked in the film industry for nearly two decades, most notably as a studio liaison for Sony Studios and then as a script reader and story analyst for Sony Pictures.
He has many studio meetings under his belt as a produced screenwriter, meeting with the likes of Sony, Dreamworks, Universal, Disney, Warner Brothers, as well as many production and management companies. He has had a previous development deal with Lionsgate, as well as multiple writing assignments, including the produced miniseries Blackout, starring Anne Heche, Sean Patrick Flanery, Billy Zane, James Brolin, Haylie Duff, Brian Bloom, Eric La Salle, and Bruce Boxleitner, the feature thriller Hunter's Creed, as well as produced and upcoming Lifetime suspense thrillers. Follow Ken on Twitter @KenMovies