…even if your scripts are being rejected.
If you’ve been writing TV or movie scripts and trying to break into Hollywood, you’ve doubtlessly encountered it – you write, call or email a production company, studio or network and they respond saying they don’t take unsolicited submissions, or they ask if you have representation.
First of all, remember that in Hollywood they speak a language that sounds like English but really isn’t. When they ask if you have representation (an agent or manager, ideally; a lawyer at the very least) what they really want to know is if anyone other than you thinks you might possibly have some ability. Having an agent or manager – preferably one that’s already got Industry credibility, is situated in the Los Angeles area and has sold features and/or placed writers on TV series writing staffs – is greatly helpful in getting your work read and sold.Here’s a step by step way to help make that happen:
1. Write the script. Don’t try to sell concepts, ideas, treatments or outlines. If you want to be a writer, WRITE. Ideally, you’d want at least two samples of highly professional quality. If you want to be a screenwriter, write movie scripts – ones you’d actually love to go see even if you didn’t write them; in other words, write what amuses, entertains and otherwise fills you with passion. Write whatever fascinates you, but also make sure your work is communicating to the reader. Have professional writers read them and give you notes before you submit them. If you want to be a TV writer, write an original pilot, a sample of an existing popular and critically-lauded show you yourself like, and also possibly a screenplay.
2. Get your scripts noticed. Enter contests, film festivals, whatever will draw attention to your work. The studio and network fellowships are particularly important as they actually hire writers from these and work to get them careers. Shoot stuff and put it on the internet. Bang a drum for yourself. Get people to do articles about. Be newsworthy. Make sure that anyone in your family or connected to your friends who’s in the Industry hears about it.
3. Do whatever it takes to get your work read. Do they have to be in the Industry? No, but if they are it helps. If they’re not and they like your script, ask them if they know someone who’s in the Industry – then ask them if they’ll recommend the script to them.
4. Read through the Hollywood Creative Directory – Producers Edition and submit to companies whose work you like. Call or email first to the development exec at the company, tell them that what legitimizes you (life experience, writing contests you’ve won, film degrees, etc.), a sentence or two about your script, and why you’ve chosen their company (you liked their work, etc., be specific). If they ask you if you have representation say you have a lawyer (it can be any lawyer you know, anywhere in the world). If they ask you to sign a release, do it.
5. Now comes the fun part. Be attuned to who’s responding to your work, even if they can’t buy it for their company. In other words, a development exec might love your work but not be able to buy it (they just bought a vampire Western from someone else). At this point you can say, “I’m currently looking for representation, is there someone you’d recommend?” If they mention someone, ask if you can use their name when you call them. More often than not, they’ll offer to call and make the introduction themselves. Beyond this, any time you win a major contest or an award at a notable film festival, agents and managers are tracking that and will contact you. If they don’t, contact them.
6. You can cold call agents and managers, but it really helps to have someone they trust recommend you. That means studio and network execs, production company honchos, established directors, writers, actors. So work to get your work in front of them. Every little bit helps.
7. As to which is better, an agent or manager, I recommend both. A powerful agency will often have more clout and can package, a manager is more attuned to you and your career. There are exceptions to this – I’ve had very good agents at mid-level agencies who were loyal to me and attuned to career (and who landed me a good deal of work). Generally, a manager can help get you an agent.
8. And if all else fails… find a friend or relative (or mother) who’s great on the phone, have them take out a business license and become your manager. Cut them in for ten percent. Then rock and roll. (This will not work with agents, as agents are licensed and have a good deal more rules and regulations defining who’s an agent and who’s not.)
9. Most importantly, don’t stop. The whole process of building a writing career is taking something in your head and then convincing others (ultimately millions of others) that you have something to offer that’s worth their time.
It’s a worthy journey, and a good agent, manager and/or lawyer can become a vital asset and even (yes) a lasting friend. Feel free to send this out widely, as I thnk it can be of help and give hope.
It’s a career of great ups and downs, even when you reach the top, and so holding onto hope is always a good idea. Cheers, Marc