This week, more notes and quotes from the 1st weekend of this year’s CHANNEL 4 SCREENWRITING COURSE 1st weekend discussions from back in January, all about literary agents, both from writers’ and agents’ POVs.
There are a lot of different ideas here, not all of which will be applicable to you – but I hope you will find the range of ideas about how to get a literary agent and what they can do for you, helpful.
FROM THE WRITER’S POV
Make your own judgements about agents within an agency – some agents within big agencies might be great, and others less so.
One writer got really conflicting advice about agents – some said agents will do nothing for you, you have to hustle yourself. Others suggested the agent is who can really get you your meetings.
Ideal situation is to have a shared responsibility for your work – you do need to hustle. Your agent is not your friend, it’s about whether that agent has contacts, do they respond to your work…etc.
Decide what you want to do (eg more comedy or drama?), what contacts an agent has and how they can help you.
Don’t take the first person, you can absolutely make them wait.
Say to all of them I’m meeting as many as possible, and this can only work in your favour. Play hard to get. They work for you, you don’t work for them.
Don’t be scared to meet lots of agents and find the right one. They understand, they won’t care, they know how it works.
It’s also okay to disagree with your agent on work. Keep that negotiation going. There will be times when this will happen, they’re not always right, but always do listen to them.
Don’t worry about chasing after a big name agent.
Newer agents will have more time for you and be more invested.
Newer agents in the more established agents
There’s also a need to build up a better ecosystem of agents outside of London
FROM THE AGENT’S POV –
A lot of it for an agent is about negotiating, business, getting your client the best deal.
An agent should be somewhere that’s a good conduit for the incoming jobs. 50% of the agent’s job is producers coming in, and agent will suggest you.
Agents have to be able to assure a client that if there’s a job going, agent will know about it. Keeping that continual dialogue is important.
Part of agent’s job is to troubleshoot problems along the way, be a mediator, try and find a solution, generally strategise a bit: why is the client taking or not taking a job, what are their needs over the next few years etc.
Find out within agencies which agents are still building lists. eg younger agents, wanting to build up their client list. Find out who they are and write to them personally.
Look at PMA website (thepma.com). Any reputable agency is on there, that’ll give you a list of the big agents.
Inviting people to things like readings is useful.
Where do writers get their first breaks?
Often they get good producers who want to start to develop original work with a writer. It may not get green-lit, but writers then form a relationship.
Often producers want very particular experience from a writer, and so agents can recommend them for a room – e.g a writer with experience of being in Paris.
Theatre is a great place to get seen as a writer.
How important is it, when approaching agents, to already have a large portfolio of work to show them?
It varies. Typically an agent wants to see a few scripts and see if the writer might have something in development already.
But, there are people with smaller lists who may well sign someone with just one script, especially if you’ve been on something like the C4 course.
Do you think it is important to be in London?
No. Many agents represent writers from all over the place. Lots in Scotland, Ireland, in the North…etc.
If / when life goes back to normal, it’s useful to be able to get to London to do face to face meetings. Same with sending clients to LA. Bonding face to face with people feels really important.
Zoom has democratised this even more.
Where is the place where an agent makes the most difference?
If you’re entering into an agreement for TV, for example, the basic writers guild contracts do not cover rewarding the writers for other possibilities – i.e if it spins into another series, someone else wants to take it and turn it into a movie, gets another series, sells elsewhere etc. Big things need to be negotiated by an agent, to protect writers.
At an early stage, you need an agent even more because you need someone to negotiate terms of contracts even though the money is small. You need an agent who can be careful and make sure you’re protected because you don’t want to be taken advantage of
eg if you have a break-out hit, you don’t want to have sold everything to someone for very little.
Writer’s guild contracts will only deal with repeats and residual payments, they don’t give you any of the producers profit part. So this is a big part of agent negotiations.
Other things: if a company wants to bring someone else on, if they don’t like what you’re doing, what’s your fee on eps you don’t write? All that stuff needs negotiating. TV contracts are very cumbersome and really important.
Film ones are a little easier, but there’s always a lot to think about here. More so than with directors, for example.
Can you contact an agent for advice on a contract if you’re not signed with them?
Some agents might do this, others probably won’t. Either you’re in a relationship or you’re not. Doing a one-off deal wouldn’t necessarily fit in.
You could hire an entertainment lawyer, but it’s very expensive. They charge hourly.
In the states, lawyers charge a percentage if they need to be involved, but they wouldn’t do smaller contracts.
Writer’s Guild is useful here. Whilst contracts don’t cover all of the things referenced above, it doesn’t mean they won’t give you advice on those things.
Having a deal also might help you get the attention of agents.
What do you need to know from a writer to know if it’s going to be a relationship you want to form?
What kinds of things are your writing about?
Know who you’re sending it to, and that it might be to their taste, make it personal and send to a person not ‘dear sir/madam’.
Where do you want to work? TV? Theatre? Film?
Let them know about your relationships with other industry people, and what they’ve said when it’s positive.
Understand that agents can’t respond to everyone. Don’t get angry if you don’t get a response, it’s not useful. But persevere nonetheless.
Talent, hard-work, and a bit of luck is what you need.
Don’t get put off by rejection.
How to approach an agent if you don’t have a specialty in terms of genre?
Every agent is different but many value versatility. Makes their job easier if clients can turn their hand to lots of things.
Industry at the moment doesn’t want to pigeonhole people. Those walls are coming down. Commissioning is going that way – some of the great hits now might have been really ‘noted’ to death in the past. Now, people have more confidence to let writing be a bit freer and less pigeonholed in terms of genre.
Tone can be more fluid, writing is less boxed-in.
The bar has also gone really high now that we have such international focus. So, a real celebration of how can we make this really inventive and a bit different. Playing safe isn’t necessarily the road to success.
Do agents give writing notes to their clients? How does this work?
Again, really varies.
Agents with new writers needs clarity. Usually it’s this (i.e I don’t understand where this is going) or it’s them telling you what else is going on in the industry and how that might affect what you’re working on.
More experienced writers may just want to talk about an idea with an agent once it’s already in with a producer.
Agents need to know all the themes, ideas, things you’re interested in so that when they’re talking about work with producers they can pitch you and talk about the work you’re going to write, not just what you’ve already written.
Finally this week, a link to a new screenwriting blog by the very excellent screenwriter Phil Hamer – https://aspiringscreenwriter.org/
The next newsletter will be on Friday May 28th,
All the best
May 14th 2021