When Should Screenwriters Try to Get Representation?
"When should I try to get an agent or manager?" This is one of the most common questions screenwriters ask.
There's no easy answer because different situations call for different actions that you should take. But here we'll share some key thoughts as you ponder this question — thoughts that will hopefully help you decide when you should pursue representation in your screenwriting career.
Don't Burn a Bridge with Scripts That Aren't Ready
You've finished your first screenplay, and you're aching to get it into the hands of agents and managers that can take it to the studios and get you paid.
Stop. Relax. Breathe.
Yes, representation is what gets your script read. They are the gatekeepers that can take your script out wide to studios, producers, and talent. They package your projects with directors, stars, and producers. They get you assignments.
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But the hard truth is — you're not ready yet.
Your first screenplay is going to be your worst. There's no doubt about that. You haven't honed your craft. You haven't learned from your mistakes and applied those lessons to better drafts and better scripts.
If you rush to send that first script out to agents, managers, producers, and development executives, you're going to burn bridges before they've even truly been built.
Let's say you've taken the time to write a logline and query email.
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Maybe you've managed to entice some Hollywood insiders to respond to your query, asking for you to send your script.
Now you're in competition with the best and worst screenwriters on the market. These Hollywood insiders read dozens of scripts a week. They've read the best of the best and the worst of the worst. So they know the difference between great scripts, terrible scripts, and scripts that just aren't ready.
And since this is your first script, they'll smell that fact a mile away. That's just the nature of the business.
"But hey, my first script is actually pretty good."
Two things wrong with this thought process. First, don't kid yourself. It's likely not. It's wonderful that you got through it. That's a huge accomplishment and kudos to you. But we're here to offer realistic advice to steer you on the right path and help you avoid any pitfalls. It's likely not that good. At least in the eyes of Hollywood.
Second, even if it were pretty good, that's not enough. It has to be fantastic. It has to beat out every other script that has come through their doors or their email inboxes.
So with that tough love out of the way, here's what has happened now. You've marketed a screenplay that isn't ready to be considered. And everyone that has read it has discovered that it's either outright bad or just not ready. And there are far too many screenwriter options out there to keep you on their short list for future consideration.
You've just burned a bridge that wasn't even built yet. And those types of bridges usually stay burned because all that they remember about you is your lackluster script.
Sure, you may get a second chance with somebody, but those are few and far between.
Take the Time to Hone Your Craft
So instead of wasting months of marketing — and burning bridges in the process — take a year or two to hone your craft. You accomplish this by:
- Writing more scripts
- Getting feedback from peers, contests, or consultants
- Reading produced screenplays
- Watching movies
- Rewriting the scripts you've written
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It's well worth it to hone your craft and develop multiple screenplays. You need to prepare yourself for success.
Avoid Succeeding Too Soon
Here is a very common occurrence in Hollywood.
A screenwriter will submit their first or second script (still not ready) to a contest, competition or fellowship. Sometimes people defy the odds and write a screenplay that has something special. It may not be as honed as it should be, but perhaps the writer has a unique voice that calls to an agent or manager. Perhaps the subject matter is intriguing. Perhaps the writer has a particular perspective that is highly desired in the current script market.
So a manager or agent agrees to take on the screenwriter as a client.
Now it's time to get that script into shape and ready for the masses. So they work on draft after draft for months. It's taking a long time because the screenwriter is a newbie and didn't take the time to hone their craft (read above).
But perhaps the material, the voice, or the story behind the screenwriter garners some attention from the representation's contacts.
A general meeting is set up — or many of them.
The screenwriter goes in, and the conversation flows. And then the inevitable question is asked, "What else do you have?"
And the screenwriter has nothing. They may have ideas that they've been developing with their agent or manager, but nothing concrete.
The screenwriter never hears from them again. More meetings go the same way. And those that still show some interest based on the idea, the unique voice, or unique story behind the screenwriter may still work with the screenwriter to develop those other ideas and better the script that got them there in the first place. But Hollywood isn't patient. After a while, despite some possible leads, things grow quiet.
This is a very common story that we see more often than not.
That's the reason you want to take those couple of years to hone your craft and write some great scripts. You want to go into those meetings prepared. When they ask what else you have, you need to be ready, willing, and able to pitch. And if they show interest in those ideas, you need to be able to say without pause, "Cool, I can send the script over to you later today."
You need a stacked deck of excellent scripts before you market anything.
It's okay to take shots in the dark and test the waters, but just be careful not to succeed too soon.
Learn how to train yourself to be ready for screenwriting success with this free guide.
So When Should You Pursue Representation?
When you're ready.
You'll feel the pull once you've written some great scripts and submitted them to contests, competitions, and fellowships. You'll start to place in the semis and finals. You may even win.
On the marketing end, you'll start to see a few producers or development executives responding to your queries. You'll get some script requests. You may even get a few feeler calls and maybe even a meeting at their office or in a more informal meeting place like a coffee shop.
The agents or managers you market may do the same although you'll likely get more correspondence with them through contest placements.
If you've done the right thing, remained patient, and have written three to five solid screenplays (that first couple before these three to five scripts usually don't count), you'll be ready for any of those meetings.
If you've done that and people still aren't responding, be vigilante and persevere through the adversity. And keep writing.
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. Follow Ken on Twitter @KenMovies