Okay, you’ve finished that screenplay. Congratulations are in order. Go out and pop some bubbly for a job well done. Now you’d like to find an agent in Los Angeles. These agents are out there, and they’re not all as crude and mercenary as they’re depicted on television and elsewhere. In fact, I once met one who actually used his fork to stab food rather than another person’s eye. True story.
Getting an agent is not easy and may take more time and effort than you imagined. So the first thing to remember is to try to keep this process fun or, at least, somewhat enjoyable. It’s show biz, right? Many writers become an odd mix of somber and surly during this time – these are usually the comedy writers – and this isn’t helpful.
So keep your sense of humor and follow these steps:
Step 1: Find an Agent
The Writer’s Guild of America (WGA) has a list of signatory agencies. They don’t give the names of specific agents or emails, but this is a good place to start because these agencies have agreed to abide by WGA rules.
For more specific contact information, you can sign up for IMDbPro, which will also list credits. You’ll have to pay for it though.
And if you’re looking for the latest news, who sold what and who’s represented by whom: you can check Deadline.com for up to the minute information.
Step 2: Legitimize Yourself through Contests or Other Work
A screenplay agent will not be impressed that you’ve written a screenplay. Everyone he/she knows will have written a screenplay, including his/her ex-spouse whose animation feature detailing their acrimonious divorce was not by any measure child-friendly, but had to be sent out anyway by the terms of the settlement. So it’s a good idea to have something else to legitimize yourself as a writer.
There are a large number of contests out there, some better than others, so be careful which ones you enter. Do your research and see how much they cost, what they offer and what happened to past winners before you enter. The most prestigious screenplay contests are the Nicholl Fellowships, the Austin Film Festival and the Sundance Screenwriters Lab. If you do well at any one of these contests, you might even have an agent approach you.
Outside writing credits will also help. If you write for a magazine or if you’ve had a novel published (preferably not self-published) or a play produced, this will give an agent extra incentive to read your work.
Step 3: Make Contact
First, don’t call an agent. If you do get through, which is less than unlikely, they won’t like it. Sometimes they don’t even like it when they’ve asked you to call them first. (For an actual conversation, you can go to: “You called me!” (A Conversation with my LA Agent))
An email is the preferred method to query agents, but an old fashioned letter might do. You will need to use their name if you want to get any traction. A ‘Dear Agent’ letter won’t make the cut. So do your research and get a name.
Now, agencies are inundated with queries, and there’s probably a person at the agency, or at least any major agency, whose job is to sort through the queries and delete 98% of them. This person is often a writer themselves, so you’d think they’d be sympathetic. They’re not. They’re cruel, voiceless, and Hobbit-like people, angling to get their own screenplays sent out by the agency. I know because I’ve glimpsed them once or twice, usually burrowing into an exposed electrical outlet. Your job is to get past them.
How do you get your query past these cruel Hobbits? The ways include:
1) The logline (i.e. the one sentence description of the story) or the short synopsis screams ‘saleable.’ A logline or synopsis of this sort is rare, which is precisely what makes it effective.
2) You’ve legitimized yourself by winning a contest or with additional work.
3) You know someone in the industry. So if you know George Clooney, mention it. (Only after should you divulge that this is the George Clooney who runs a hardware store in Clongowes. Just kidding. Don’t do this. Nor should you mention Amy Adams, the nurse in Cork.)
You may only get one beady-eyed glance at your email, so I’d suggest you lead in your query with the strongest point.
Alternative or Additional Step: Attend a Pitch Fest or Writer’s Conference
Pitch Fests and Writers Conferences are a growing phenomenon in Los Angeles. What they do, in short, is bring writers and agents/producers together and give the writers a chance to ‘pitch’ their script to the agents/producers to see if they’ll be interested in reading it. The pitches vary in length but are usually no more than 3-5 minute summaries of your screenplay.
The advantage of pitch fests and conferences is that you get to actually meet producers/agents. These are people usually low on the hierarchy, some of whom might be being paid to be there, but if they like your pitch, they’ll read your script.
The disadvantage is that these are usually cattle call situations. There may be hundreds of other hyper-caffeinated, hollow-eyed writers trudging around the room in various states of dress and undress, and you’ll have to find a way to make your screenplay stand out. (If you’ve legitimized yourself as described in Step 2, this will go a long way at these events as well.) In addition, some of these events are pricey, even before hotel and travel.
That said, I do know a number of people who gotten reads and even fork-wielding agent representation from pitch fests and conferences.
Okay, that’s it. In review, all you need to do is:
1) Find an agent.
2) Legitimize yourself.
3) Query the agent.
4) Get past the Hobbits.
5) Attend a Pitch Fest or Writer’s Conference.
6) Keep it fun.
7) Use plastic utensils whenever possible.
Welcome to Hollywood!(c) David Hogan