Wednesday, May 09, 2007

UK/US Agent?

If based in Irl/UK but you want to write for the US market, is it better 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?

There seems to be a common misconception that writers who want to bypass the UK in favour of the US market will be able to ‘break in’ and get an agent, even though they live five thousand miles away, or that the US market will recognise their talent while UK execs will continue to ignore their brilliance.

To make it in the fiercely competitive US film and TV market, the writing is going to have to be exceptionally good genre fare, or at the very least, the writer will have established himself in some shape and form in this country. Alternatively, a trip to Cannes is needed in order to schmooze some American contacts, and hope that something might pay off somewhere down the line.

As a complete unknown in the UK, the chances of getting a US agent are practically ‘nil’. If your heart burns to write for the US market, then the best thing to do is to hightail it to Hollywood and take your chances. There’s little or no point sitting in your office in Tralee or your bedsit in Hackney, and think that you can make the big Hollywood sale, or write an episode of Heroes. It can be done by winning an international screenwriting competition, or with an incredible script (or unbelievable luck) but for the most of us, it just ain’t gonna happen.

“Good material is good material”. The UK film and TV market is starved for quality fare in all genres. It wants your good scripts. It doesn’t want to ignore potential hits or keep talent restricted so that the existing pool of writers can take all the glory. No, sirree, Bob. If you have a script that you’ve written specifically for the US market, the chances are that an UK agent or production company will want it for themselves.

American films or co-productions are being made in this country all the time. Working Title, Pathé, UK Film Council, and a host of other high profile production companies are based in London, and they want your genre scripts that will blaze a trail at the UK and American box office. In fact, the more likely it’s going to be a hit in the America, the more likely it’s going to get made.

However, let’s assume that you’re a writer in this country. You have a UK agent, and you’ve had a hit TV show that’s won a Bafta, or your debut feature has been box office number one for the last couple of weeks. The chances are that Hollywood is going to come knocking, and if it does, then an American agent will want to represent you. In this instance, it’s quite common for the writers to have split representation - one for the UK and one for the US - and a happy coexistence is achieved.

But this applies to the hot new talent, the big players or the high end of the industry. If you’re still grunting out scripts at nights and at the weekends while maintaining your day job, but dream of this kind of opportunity, then you’re going to have to try to get noticed. Make an impact. Get nominated or win a Bafta for a short film (American companies will say ‘hello’). Or be part of a popular TV show, and that experience may give you the chance to create your own series, which in turn opens up a whole new avenue of opportunities and contacts.

It’s about building your career from the grass roots up to a point where an American agent might have justifiable reasons to be interested in representing you. It’s not about jumping the queue and getting a break just because you think you’ve written a script that you think is better than Lethal Weapon 4 (it won’t be).

So, be prepared to do the hard slog. Focus on the American market if you want, but you should really be living there if that is the case. International success and representation can be achieved by living on this little island, you just have to put in the work and come up with the goods.


Phill Barron said...

Right, so just combing through my scripts and changing arse to ass isn't going to do it?

James Henry said...

No, you also need to add a Winnebago, and make all footballs oval. That should do it.