Saturday, October 01, 2005

How to Get an Agent

** JUNE 2014 **
Who Killed Nelson Nutmeg is a kids' film, for kids, with kids in the lead roles. Help us make this great project!



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The ultimate Catch-22 of screenwriting. You want an agent. The agent’s not interested until you’ve got some work. But it’s incredibly difficult to get work without an agent. So what do you do?

Don’t rush it. Agents deal with talented writers every day. The competition is extremely high. Potential clients will have found a way to work in the system without prior representation and may have won an award, or made a well-received short film, or have something about them that makes their profile that little bit more enticing and interesting than ‘you’, a part-time bank clerk in Stockport.

Agents also know good writing when they see it. When you’ve written your first screenplay, the temptation is to approach an agent in the hope that they’ll take you on and start your career. But unless the script is truly a wonderful piece of work and is instantly sellable, this won’t happen. Agents like to represent writers, not people who want to be writers. So if you’ve written one screenplay, great, but write one more to show you’re serious. Write another to display your range. If you think they’re any good, truly, then approach agents to show them what you got.

Write a good query letter. Be brief. Three succinct paragraphs should do; one to explain who you are, another to give a little bit of info about your script(s) and the last to express your interest in the agency you’re approaching. There is a lot of debate about whether query letters really work or not, and the truth is the majority probably don’t. But these letters have nothing to do with yours. Write a letter, give it a week, follow it up with a phone call. Do not send your script(s) until requested. Better still, send an email (most agent’s emails are on the internet somewhere), give them some time, follow it up with a phone call. If they do request to read your scripts, give them a considerable amount of time to read and review. You can expect to wait to up to two or three months to get a response because they’re very busy with their clients.

Get a referral. This is far preferable than an anonymous query letter. If you know someone in the business and they have a solid reputation (exec/producer/director/script editor) then show them your work and if they think it’s good, ask them if they could refer you to an agent. Bizarrely, the agent that rejected you last week will show sudden keen interest when you are referred to them by someone who’s well respected in the biz. But a referral doesn't mean instant representation. Expect the normal assessment once your work has been accepted for review.

Naturally, a referral is the golden ticket that is difficult to obtain. Most will rely on the query letter method. This is fine. It does work. This is what I did when I first sought representation:

I had written three feature scripts which I thought were pretty good. As an avid script reader, I knew they were better than a lot of scripts that were on the market. One was an adaptation of an Andrew Davies’s children’s book, Conrad’s War, which came with the great adapter’s blessing, so I knew that was a marketable hook in terms of getting work and finding a potential agent. Conrad’s War was in development with Nexus Productions at the time and I had managed to option my very first screenplay with another producer so at the very least, I was a semi-professional writer - more clout for a potential agent. And I had been paid some money to write a treatment of The Canterville Ghost (a modern update).

So I figured the time was right to seek representation. I made a list of ten agencies I respected and would like to approach. Ten query letters went in the post. The agents all requested to read a sample script and most asked to see my entire work. Eight delivered kind rejections. ‘Liked it didn’t love it’, ‘Good writing but didn’t respond to the material’, ‘Nice but not for us’ etc. Two agents wanted to meet me. One agent was half-interested but wanted to wait until I had a ‘proper’ deal on the go. This was frustrating. Then, the last agent didn’t mention anything about money, or deals, or anything. She just expressed an interest in my writing, thought it was very good and felt she could work with me to build my career. Very reassuring words so I naturally accepted her proposal and signed with Micheline Steinberg Associates, a small but reputable agency. UPDATE: I am now repped by Katharine Vile at United Agents, a move that Micheline wholly supported; she's a class act.
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In episode 13 of the UK Scriptwriters podcast, me and Tim talk about how you get an agent or if you really need one. Check it out!


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Want me to read your script? Check out my consultancy page.

45 comments:

Chris (UK Scriptwriter) said...

Well put.

I now have in my hand my first complete script. I'm going to go at it with a can of Mr Sheen and a duster (or maybe just a red pen), and hope I come out the other side with something that is good.

I'm then going to try to rescue 3500 Miles from New York, as that one is my real baby. Then I have a war/action screenplay I will attempt. That will give me a witty screenplay (I won't go as far as comedy), a romantic one (something tells me I have to work some comedy into it), and an action screenplay. I hope that should at least show some range. I'm probably dip my toe in the water with all of these in some competitions, before I dare go to any agents.

Oh, and before I forget, do you use brads to bind your stuff? If so, where do you get them from?

Cheers

C

Danny Stack said...

The US use brads (don't like 'em myself) and the UK use Acca fasteners (unsure of proper technical term; they're steel pronged thingies) which work very well. Available from all good stationers.

Dom Carver said...

Submitting to an agent feels like medieval torture. And I swear, "your script was read with interest," translates as, "I used it to prop up my wobberly desk for a month."

John said...

Some great advice on here ;-)

Just wondering, though... if based in Ireland/UK but wanting to write for the US market is it better to try to go for a US agent or is this a complete waste of time? I've heard it mentioned that US agents won't want to take on many foreign writers for the simple fact that they're less likely to be available for meetings and the like.

Any thoughts?

Cheers!

Anonymous said...

"Wobberley". (Chortle!)

Jo Adams said...

Well I'm not trying to find an agent (yet) but I am trying to find an editor that might actually hang around for the second draft!
(I tried to find the appropriate post but have had no luck so I hope it's OK to use this one).

Anyway, after paying £160.00 for the reading and analysis of the first draft I got to work all keen and eager to do the second draft after the feedback was to say the least encouraging.
However I now find out that the editor has decided not to edit anymore (well at least for the foreseeable future) to concentrate on his own writing.
Now if I go back to another editor I find I have to pay another £160.00 - (and while I don’t mind paying out these amounts to have a script read – paying twice to the same company is a bit of a irritation) can anyone suggest a stable editor? (!)

Do you Danny still edit scripts?
If so can I contact you via your website?
Thank you.
Jo

Dozeymagz said...

Tis definitely the bit I'm least looking forward to!

Perhaps there's a 'Dummies Guide to Charming the Pants off an Agent' somewhere.

... Hang on that didn't come out right! I obviously do not mean that literally!

Honest!

Nadira Azermai said...

Hiya,
Would it be possible to have a list of UK agents that represent screenwriters posted on the site?
Been trying to find representation but I find most agents somewhat shady.

Nadira Azermai

Danny Stack said...

Hi Nadira

Most reputable agencies have their own websites where they list their clients, so it's worth checking them out. United Agents, Curtis Brown, AP Watt, Casarotto Ramsay, etc etc.

123 123 said...

Cool story you got here. I'd like to read a bit more concerning this topic. Thnx for giving that material.
Joan Stepsen
Wise geek

Nataska said...

I'm actually on the opposite situation. I'm a producer at an animation company and we're looking for a scriptwriter or agent who can point us to a good scriptwriter. Any suggestions?

Danny Stack said...

Hi Nataska. I write for animation, maybe I can help? Email dstack30 at hotmail dot com.

Scott said...

Hi Danny.

How does Agents work?

Do you pay them? Do they get a chunk of your wages? What? I really do not know and don't want to sound like an idiot if or when I approach them

Danny Stack said...

Hi Scott

Agents usually get 10% of your earnings. They also might charge VAT on that 10%. So if you earned £300 they'd take £30, plus 17.5% VAT on that £30.

Some agents might charge 12% or 15% commission, depending on the agency, but the standard is 10%.

Anonymous said...

Hi Danny,

Just discovered your helpful blog. I've recently left a huge agency and am looking for a smaller one (I started with Micheline then became disabled. When I restarted writing I moved). I need a responsive person who's proactive and can guide my development but as everyone knows everyone (!) do you think it counts against me to have been with two agencies in the past? It's difficult to get taken on anyway as I write exclusively for theatre. I've had nine productions including Soho, Stephen Joseph, Tristan Bates, but nothing high profile. I'm on the point of stopping writing altogether as it's so frustrating to be without commissions.

Danny Stack said...

Hi Anon - no, it won't count against you having been with two agencies. Everyone knows that writers (and agents) move around from time to time: it happens. What may be more beneficial to you now is to approach an agent and say, look here's all my theatre credits, I really want to write for EastEnders (or similar), and then maybe an agent will help you from there. Or maybe you want to write a book. Basically, I'm sure an agent would be interested in you, and might be keen to take you on once they know what your ambitions are. Check out the clients/agents that you like, and approach an agent from there. If that makes sense/helps at all.

Sweety said...

Hi Danny.
I'm Colombian, and my dream is to become a successful writer/producer. I'm pretty interested on having an agent at London, due to the lack of opportunity we got in this country. Is there any possibility that London agencies turn their attention on me or they won't take many foreign writers?

I've been searching, and I really want to give a chance with United Agents... but I have to be very certain, otherwise, my research would have been in vain.

I would appreciate your answer... I'm really scare because I don't know the industry and I'm quite a newbie.

Danny Stack said...

Hi Sweety - it's possible for a UK agent to be interested in you, but I would imagine it all depends on you and your work. For example, if your scripts are set in Colombia and deal with Colombian issues, then it's going to be difficult for a UK agent to help you. But if your scripts are more genre-based, or if you have a desire to break into the UK market, in either TV or film, then a UK agent might very well be interested. It's all about establishing a good track record, or notable work, and then broadening your horizons from there!

Jenna Braid said...

I'm amazed that nearly six years after posting this article you're still answering questions generated from it. How lovely!

Yet another newbie question: I've been a full-time working writer for 15 years though not a scriptwriter. Should I be querying agents with an original hour long TV script instead of scripts for an established show (Doctor Who) as I've been doing?

Thank you kindly, and what a great blog!

Jenna

Danny Stack said...

Hi Jenna - yes, original spec scripts are the way to go in the UK. Producers/agents not really interested in scripts based on existing shows (unlike the US system).

Jenna Braid said...

Lovely, thank you for the succinct, hugely helpful reply. Was gonna be wasting a lot of time doing the exact wrong thing.

Thank you again, Mr. Stack.

Danny Stack said...

My pleasure!

Andy said...

Hi Danny,

Firstly thanks for the great blog and all of the very helpful information! It helps so much to learn from experienced writers like yourself about all these things that are pretty much unknown without first hand knowledge.

I have four completed scripts I am happy with to start sending out to agents. However in the query letter is it too much to describe all four, or should I just put in my best three? Also in describing each script in a short synopsis is a short two or three sentence paragraph ok, or do I need more or less?

Thanks so much!
Andy

Danny Stack said...

Hi Andy - hmm, interesting one. Perhaps only list one in the letter, just the logline (1 or 2 sentences describing the idea/story). Then, mention you have three other completed scripts in the *whatever* genre, AND/OR enclose a separate sheet which lists the entire four scripts, but just with their loglines, nothing else. That would be OK in my book, especially if your letter reads well.

Andy said...

Hi Danny,

Thank you so much for responding.

I'll go with the one then and maybe list the others separately.

The only other thing I'm not too sure about is who to address the letter to, as most agencies have many different agents. Do I just pick one of them, or would you send to a few in the same agency?

Thanks again,
Andy

Danny Stack said...

Hi Andy - pick one agent (the one you think most suitable in terms of his/her clients or the one you like) and wait for their response. Then, if they say no, you could approach another agent within the same agency. However, I would do this as Plan B, i.e after you've gone round other agents/agencies first. No point asking every single agent in one agency one after the other as word will get round amongst them.

Andy said...

Thanks Danny, your a star. If I have any luck I'll be sure to let you know!
Thanks again,
Andy

Anonymous said...

Danny, I live in Thailand but for the past15 years lived in the USA with no want to return to that country but I have a script that I have written for Paul walker, Anthony Anderson, Denis Leary and John C Ginley which might be the funnisted movie ever,, how do I get this script to the people that might make it happen????

Danny Stack said...

Hi Anon - try sending it to their agents or their specific production companies. Or if you can find someone who knows a guy who knows Dennis Leary's driver (or whatever), then that can often yield results. If you're tenacious enough (but not too pushy or insane!) then usually you'll get some sort of contact.

Ayokunle said...

Danny Stack, am a script writer which i had some story line to my credit but my problem is an agents who can help me to produce my film script out. so i need your basic advice on what to to get some agents who can handle my script. but now am now in Malaysia which i left Nigeria. i do not want my talent to die. Help me.

from Opaogun O. Ayokunle

Danny Stack said...

Hi Opaogun - if you're looking for UK agents, then the Writers & Artists Yearbook lists all the agents in the country, as well as the leading production companies, so it's a great place to find out who and where to contact the right people. Website: http://www.writersandartists.co.uk/

Anonymous said...

"More enticing and interesting..."

How could that be?

Nigel
c/o Lloyds TSB
Stockport
(mornings only)

Alanna Belak said...

Hi Danny,

This is a great article. I was wondering how you would go about getting an agent for a script with two writers. Do you approach the agent as a single entity, providing only your cowritten/coproduced material? I have five completed (feature film) screenplays, one written on spec for an American company, while my writing partner has two, and neither of us has had representation before. Would the agent represent our solo work as well?

Alanna

Danny Stack said...

Hi Alanna - it sounds like you need an agent for yourself (as you've written more by yourself than you have with others), especially if you see yourself more as a solo writer than a partnership. However, by all means show your co-writing scripts to any potential agent, along with your other scripts. The agent may be interested in rep'ing your co-writer, too, or might just be happy to send out your co-written script(s) on your behalf but not bother about the co-writer. It will vary. I had an experience where an agent wanted to option/package a script I had written with my regular co-writer but because I already had an agent, he backed off as he only saw it working if he could rep both of us (my co-writer at the time didn't have an agent).

Anonymous said...

Hi Danny! I want to get into film script writing and already have two scripts written and am working on a third but have no idea where to start or what to do with them. I came across your blog and thought maybe you could help me out on what I should do next?? I would absolutely love to be able to write scripts and have them produced. Any info you can give me would be much appreciated!
I look forward to hearing from you :)

Danny Stack said...

Hi Anon - it sounds like you need to start querying producers and/or agents to see if they'll read your scripts. Check out the Writers & Artists' Yearbook, which lists the leading production companies & agents in the country. Alternatively, check out my free download section on the blog, where you'll find my Ten Steps To Be A Pro Screenwriter, amongst others. Hope that's of some use!

Conor said...

Hi this is a very useful blog. I'm a scriptwriter and just recently I won the brit writers award (stage and screenplay category) and currently I'm writing a feature script (based on someone else story and first draft) that's got a fairly good chance of being greenlit by a foreign tv company. My question is if I was to approach an agent (never had one) here in the uk, could I suggest the feature I'm writing as a potential example of my work? It's probably 90% changed from the first draft so mostly my own work. Of course I've got other scripts 100% my own as well. Also on a matter of fees, can a writer forfeit his fee in return for a % of profits, or is that the kind of deal a more experienced writer would/should attempt? Many thanks

Danny Stack said...

Hi Conor - thanks for leaving a comment. By all means mention your feature project to the prospective agent, as it's potential earnings (if it's not earning already), and part of your portfolio. Just be honest & upfront about everything, that's the best way (advice an agent gave to me once). And yes, a writer can forfeit his fee in return of % of profits but beware as it probably won't mean very much; films have a way of putting forward their accounts so that it looks like they haven't made any money when they actually have.

Conor said...

Thanks for the advice Danny, and yes being honest is alway the best policy. Suppose regards the fee sure, I won't have a clue as to how much the true earnings of a film maybe but then if it's a commercial success and they claim poverty, somethings afoot me would think. Anyhoot, I'll stick to the first rung of the ladder and not worry about %'s at this juncture, just take a simple cheque and be grateful for that.

I'll keep you posted as how things develop. Thanks again
Conor

Roger Freed said...

Thank you Mr. Stack. This article has been the most helpful I have read so far. Thanks for taking the time to print it up.

Roger Freed

Danny Stack said...

You're welcome, Roger. Thanks for leaving a comment.

Anonymous said...

Hi Danny

Interesting blog. Out of interest, how did you go about moving agents? Did you find another agent before moving to the next one? How did you broach the conversation with the agent you were leaving? And what differences have you found between the two agencies (small vs one of the giants) - both positive and negative?

Danny Stack said...

An industry mate recommended that I go with a bigger agency, and put the word out. I met with my new agent, had a good chat, and then told my old agent I was leaving. It was awkward, sure, but I was honest about why I was leaving, and my old agent conceded it was the right move. From what other writer mates tell me, it's never as bad as they think it's going to be (when they change agents), and it happens quite a lot. It's a writer's career, so they have to feel they're making the right move, regardless of previous history/relationships. It's the nature of the biz: move on, shrug off disappointments and keep moving; that applies to everyone, agents & writers alike.

Garsh said...

Hi Danny, I've began writing what I and people I've spoken to, think is quite a good new idea for a sitcom. I've got many good ideas from stories I've heard and experiences from my live(albeit exaggerated a little bit). I have a few questions(don't mean to be a pain).
If trying to come up with a good representation of my skills in writing, would it be better to write scripts all for the same idea, as in writing the whole series, or different ideas.

Also, on websites such as the BBC and channel 4 people are able to send in scripts to them, what do you think the odds are of being successful on that, next to none I assume.
Thanks, Garsh

Danny Stack said...

Hi Garsh - thanks for leaving a comment. It's best to write one script for a series rather than the whole series, as producers/execs like to be able to develop a show with the writer rather than it come to them 'fully written'. But the pilot ep or sample script serves as a good intro to the writer's talent & the show's potential.

The odds at being successful with an unsolicited submission to BBC & Channel 4 may be low but that doesn't mean it's not worth it. Good talent will out! Probably best to email me with any questions as this is an old post on the blog. Cheers!