Thursday, June 07, 2007

One Agent or Less

Apparently, there was a debate on Shooting People recently about the UK Film Council’s 25 Words or Less Scheme, and whether or not it’s fair that they exclude writers who don’t have agents. Lucy blogged about it, here, and it provoked a variety of comments in response. Here’s my view: non-repped writers can apply to the UK Film Council at any time they like for the Development Fund, and you get the same prize - £10k. The 25 Words or Less scheme is to develop a genre script for commercial cinema, so for some reason, whether they're right or not, they want writers who have an agent. The rules for eligibility may be frustrating for some, but there are similar opportunities open to all at the same organisation.

In other words: get over it. Get on with it. Don’t spend your time whinging about not being allowed to enter a competition when you can apply for the same dough at the same organisation on a different scheme.

But, in the comments’ section of Lucy’s post, Potdoll mentioned that agents might be willing to endorse writers specifically for the 25 words scheme, as a potential one-off. (She also mentioned that Janet Fillingham might do it as part of their "bespoke services").

Then, a few days later, someone emailed me and specifically asked: “are some agents receptive about being asked to rep someone for the purposes of entering [the 25 words or less]? And if so, how the heck do I find them? Is it a trial and error, go down the list job, or are there any likelihoods - eg smaller agencies more willing? Any tips on how to put my best foot forward? Phone, or email?”

It certainly SEEMS like a good idea to me to ask an agent to rep you for the 25 words or less scheme but I honestly don't know what agents are willing to do this. However, further investigation was obviously needed, so I contacted a few agents to see what they thought.

In their response, the general consensus was that they would be unwilling to represent a writer for the 25 words scheme alone. Most agents want to take on a writer having read full scripts, and if they like the writer’s style. They’re going to be less likely to take someone on just for one specific project, especially on the basis of their application to the 25 words or less.

Another agent suggested that it would be easy for them to say ‘yeah sure, you can put our name on it’ but they certainly wouldn’t do it, and doubted that most reputable agents would, either. They won’t attach their name to anything they haven’t read, and if they like the writer’s work, then they would want to represent them across the board, not for just one project.

In addition (and this is the interesting bit), they said that the 25 words or less scheme is a nightmare contract to negotiate, and this round is for LOW BUDGET films, so no agent would be making much money out of it.

However, all were in agreement that there are no hard and fast rules, so it’s a matter of choice whether an agent wants to take a punt on a new writer who’s got a bit of style and savvy. From this, I think that it’s probably not a realistic idea to ask an agent to rep you for the 25 words or less scheme. But I do think that if you have the right attitude and approach, then you could certainly get an agent’s interest, and they might read something of yours, and like it, and may agree to put their name to your application, and see how things pan out. And perhaps the smaller agencies who encourage new writers might be more willing to support such an approach. It should be pointed out that it all comes down to YOU and your WRITING; that’s what an agent is going to be interested in, not a quick sale on the 25 words or less, or any fast track notions of representation.

Remember, you can apply to the UK Film Council with your genre script or treatment on any day of the week, whether you’re represented or not, so if you can’t apply for the 25 words or less, don’t sweat it. If you really think you’ve got a great idea, then put a proposal together, and take your chances with the Development Fund. They want your good scripts and genre ideas. The 25 words or less scheme is not the be all and end all (and to date, I don’t think there’s been any real successes i.e. actual films made, but a few have been optioned). I suppose the argument comes down to public money, and that the general public should be allowed to apply. But again, the general public can apply to the Development Fund, so there’s no reason to complain. They may be right, they may be wrong. It doesn’t really matter. That’s the way it is. Let’s get on with it.

I’m on system shut down for a few days, so see you later. In the meantime, be good, be kind and be careful. Most of all - be inspired! Corny send off there…so shoot me, maybe it’s the holiday vibe.


Anonymous said...

Gold star

Oli said...

I say this as a currently agentless writer, so you know I mean it: I think it’s a good thing. Having to have an agent, or be a full member of the WGGB (and hence be a produced writer) must keep out an inordinate amount of crap. If you’ve got an agent or you’ve actually had something on the telly, you’ve already been given a seal of approval. This is so important for the 25 Words or Less competition, because they’re essentially buying your pitch - it’s not like you have a full spec to demonstrate the quality of your writing…

This might be unpopular, but I’ve done the review thing on Zoetrope, and 99% of the stuff on there is unbelievably shite. ‘Unbelievably’ isn’t hyperbole, either. There have been some screenplays posted that I’m still not sure weren’t jokes. An agent or credit will cut out most of the crap, so the film council can feel more comfortable making their choice.

As for asking a writer to rep you just on this: tried it, doesn’t work. Wasn’t an outright cold call, either. I’d spoken to the agent before, they liked my writing, but they wouldn’t represent me. I don’t blame them, either. Agents don’t represent screenplays, they represent writers.

I do have a pitch I want to enter to the competition. I’m trying to get an agent in time for the deadline, but if I don’t, that’s not the film council’s fault. Ultimately, it’s their money - they don’t have to give it to us at all.

Lianne said...

Great, timely post Danny! I was intrigued by this idea as well so thanks for looking into it. At the Writers Guild Meet the Agents evening, the question of representing writers for a 'specific project' came up and all of the agents agreed that they are in the business of managing careers, not one-off projects.

Lucy V said...

Nice one Sir as usual.

The only reason I got the agent I mentioned in my post to rep me for the UKFC treatment writing comp as a "one off" was because I had spent the whole summer working for him for nothing as a work experience girl (think this would have been around Oct 2002). He'd read my stuff, knew me pretty well and probably knew I wouldn't expect anything in return if it didn't work out. Which of course it didn't, as my treatment was scarily bad!

Anonymous said...

The reason the 25 Words Scheme is good value for money and should long continue is that it is trying to give the public (the people who ultimately fund it) exactly what THEY want - good commercial genre movies to watch on a Friday night. That's why it's been such an important scheme - too many other public funds encourage writers to come up with niche market drama through some misguided belief that they shouldn't be "subsidising the mass market". The worry is that the UKFC will revert to its old ways and stop developing ideas for films people might actually want to watch.

Paul Campbell said...

Danny, Danny, Danny!

What's this I see on the programme for The Sceenrwiters' Festival?

And why didn't we, your devoted readership, hear it first from you right here?

Actually, I think I get to take all the credit. Last year when you ran a Q&A with Tony, I made a polite request (OK, I begged) that Red Planet should be nice to new writers. Clearly, he was listening. And, clearly, since it was all my idea, I should get the first shot (whatever the scheme is, and whether I'm qualified or not).

Tell us more.

Anonymous said...

Writing with a Pro

Tony Jordan and Danny Stack of Red Planet Productions launch their new writing competition giving a new writer the opportunity to work with Tony on a forthcoming series.

Danny Stack said...

Didn't know that snippet was going out but now that it has, I can tell you that I've helped set up a screenwriting comp with Tony Jordan. Official announcement and full details will be made at the Screenwriters' Festival. Dunno if I can say more at this stage but I'm still very much freelance, so I am not "of Red Planet Productions".

Lucy V said...

Oh you fiend Danny, keeping us all on tenterhooks like this... ; )

BTW, still searching for a house, back your way on Wednesday!

Oli said...

Ooooohhh... I want in.

Anonymous said...

Wednesday?? But that be today! Get out the pitchforks and burning torches Dooor-sit folk! She bain't from round here!!