Tuesday, October 04, 2005


Once you do manage to nab an agent, get ready to sit back and watch those assignments and offers roll in, right? Right?

If only it were so. Getting an agent is an important step in your career as it validates you as a writer, and your name and work gets known around town as the agent begins to do his/her spin. But while it is commonly accepted in America that an agent will get you work, here in the UK it is a wholly different matter. The reality (and I’m sure it must be like this in the US as well but they don’t say it as much) is that having an agent is not a guarantee that you will get work, ever.

I read a columnist in a screenwriting magazine once who gave the advice that if your agent hasn’t got you work within 90 days of representation, then you should fire his ass. What? Are you nuts?? In the UK, this would be total career suicide. An inept understanding of the producing process and commissioning system on this fair island. This is where the whole agent issue gets interesting. Before you had one, you couldn’t get their interest because of your lack of work but now you do have one, the situation hasn’t changed much despite their best efforts to ‘get you out there’.

In ‘How to Get An Agent’, I mentioned that most successful scriptwriters will have found a way to work in the system regardless of representation or reputation. They will have wangled a TV deal of some sort, have written for a children’s show, or done a radio play, or made a short film, or something, to give them that bit of clout to beep an agent’s radar. But once you do get representation, it is this self-guile and determination that will usually see you continuing to obtain work in some way or another while the agent will sort out the contract, and thus earn their 10%.

Agents are working very hard for you and the remainder of their client list. They will tirelessly put your name forward for assignments or TV work and get your scripts on to the pile. They will do their best to arrange meetings with various producers/execs/commissioners. But none of this is a guarantee of work. See my earlier post about meetings. You’re making a mistake if you sit back waiting for your agent to phone or to organise meetings or to ask you to lunch. You’ve got to take on the same amount of promotion and marketing as your agent does about yourself.

Personally, I like to try to be as busy as my agent. Let’s face it, they’ve got a lot of clients to punt (I don’t how many but I don’t want to know either) and there is going to be that inevitable period of time where an agent has to wait for responses from the people they’ve sent your stuff to, and in the meantime they can focus their attention on another client. But if I’m actively looking for work myself, and pitching myself around town, and generating projects/ideas/meetings/whatever, then the likelihood of work increases and I have something to report to my agent with the weekly phone call or daily email or whatever correspondence you conveniently fall into.

The main thought is not to expect too much. The excitement of getting an agent is great and the anticipation of professional work is stirring but it may not happen right away. It takes time. It might feel like the next ice-age is approaching when you get your first commission but at least you’ll have hung in there, like a true pro, grafting and pitching and writing no matter what. The agent will continue to pitch you and your work, and you’ll get meetings and be considered for various stuff but after that, it’s out of the agent’s hands and you’re left relying on lucky breaks or someone taking a shine to your original voice or your unique brand of story material.

One thing’s for sure, the amount of work, effort, determination, drive, sheer will and optimism that you have for yourself and your writing not only doubles but triples and quadruples as each hurdle of rejection and disappointment gets higher and higher. Having an agent as the positive coach on the side of the track urging you on is indispensable but once you’re in the race, it’s all down to you and your personal resolve to be a success. So don’t just sit back and fall into complacency or expect an agent to work wonders, get ready to step up your game and grit to the next level, because the amount of effort required will seem like it’s never enough.


Anonymous said...

eerrraaaaa fecking yaaaa!


Roberto said...

Hi mate,

I have a film script almost ready, just doing the finishing touches for the umpteenth time and it's a corker if I must say so myself :-)

Let's say I get an agent on board on the basis of my sole script and I have an actor in mind for the lead role, would you advise sending a copy of the script to the said actor/actors amnager/agent with regards to putting a bit of weight behind getting from script and into production? Or even send it to a producer?

If yes how would you recommend I go about it?

If not what advice could you give?

Many thanks,


Danny Stack said...

Hi Rob - yes, absolutely, try to approach the actor or his agent, or a producer/production company. These are the things we need if we want our scripts to be made! The Writers & Artists Yearbook lists all the leading producers & production companies, so that's well worth a look (for names, phone & addresses), and then start sending your script out & see what happens!

People say they don't accept unsolicited scripts but that's just a base protection policy so they don't get inundated with submissions. It's easy to solicit a script by making (good/polite) contact, and having a good pitch about your story, or having something about you that makes you more interesting or engaging than other people. There's a variety of things you can do, really, but be practical, logical & strategic, and nice, polite and charming, and you won't go far wrong!

Roberto said...

Cheers Danny,

Hopefully something will come of the script and I'll remember you helped with some good advice.

This may sound daft but with me being a plumber with a good imagination how do I go about pitching an idea to someone in the film industry without them brushing me off?

When I see films like 'The Goon', 'Sankes On A Plane' and 'The Happenening' being made into films this gives me the confidence to think my script could 100% make it to film and really do well, in fact in my opinion it would be my favourite film of all time if put into production with the right budget.

(I'm sure if I pitched my entheusiasm I have for the film I wouldn't go far wrong depending on the attitude of the person I meet with).

Thanks again,


Danny Stack said...

Hi Rob - the best way to go about it is to get involved in the industry as much as possible. This means getting a job in the industry, and meeting the right people & developing relationships so you can get your stuff made. Failing that, then networking as much as possible will help. It's all about relationships, and 'who you are', so even if you think those films you mentioned are rubbish, the people who made them worked extremely hard within the industry to get their 'lucky break' or to be recognised. It's a long & tough road where the short cuts are well hidden or non-existent but as writers, all we can do is write the best scripts we possibly can, send them out to producers/companies, and hope to get the right response to make our films/careers happen!

Sophie said...

Hi Danny,
Thanks for sharing your experiences - it's so so useful to hear from someone further along their career path. It's like you're a virtual mentor!

I am in a bit of a quandary at the moment and wonder if you have any advice. I have an agent, who I got by securing a deal under my own steam and then looking for someone to 'broker' the deal for me.

I was expecting him to put me forward for other work but so far he hasn't arranged any meetings or sent my work to anyone. He is insistent that I should only be working on my theatre script, which is the thing that got me the deal with him. But this is not taking all of my time and I have other projects that he could send out for me.

I am confused as to why he won't try to get me more work. It feels like he has no confidence in me.

Should I try to find new representation?

Danny Stack said...

Hi Sophie - thanks for reading the archive & leaving a comment (glad the blog's of use!).

If you feel your agent isn't fully focused on you, or doing what you would like, then you should sit down and have a chat, lay out all your concerns. It's your career, it's only right that you should govern it as you see fit. See what they say. Face-to-face is preferable, phone call 2nd best, and an email last resort. Then you can make up your mind about what to do. If you want to dump him, try to line up another agent first. Or, dump him, start afresh, and see how you go!

Sophie said...

Hi Danny

Thanks so much for the advice, which I intend to follow. I've set up a meeting with my agent and will report back on how it goes.

I guess I'd fallen into the trap of feeling I should be grateful he had taken me on. You've made me realise that actually he works for me, not the other way around.

Thanks again for the supportive advice.