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Archive for the Category "Agents"

The Role of an Agent Jun 27

Fire WomanI’m currently enjoying the “Network Hollywood: How to Market Your Script/Build Your Career” online course, with Tom Benedek (screenwriter of Cocoon). It’s part of the curriculum at the Screenwriting Master Class — an online screenwriting university of sorts.

One of the members of my class mentioned that they had recently spoken to an agent at a major agency, who offered this great quote:

We [agents] are not in the business of starting a fire, we’re in the business of fanning the flames.

Isn’t that a great metaphor to help clarify the role of an agent?

Agents aren’t going to hold your hand and help you write a great script (although they may point you in the right direction). They’re going to do their best to generate buzz and sell it for you.

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Screenwriting Expo 2011 – Top 20 Agent Tips Sep 21

Top 20 Tips from AgentsAgents

Another post in the continuing saga of my experiences at the Screenwriting Expo this past weekend…

Today I’m excited to relay some excellent advice and industry insight from some Agents whose sessions I attended:

  • Victoria Wisdom, former partner at BWK
  • Emile Gladstone, ICM
  • Bob Hohman, Gersh

Just like my friend Michele Wallerstein, the first thing you notice about a successful Agent is that they’re all extremely high functioning and assertive. If you ever have an opportunity to meet with an Agent, make sure you’ve had a full night’s sleep, a double shot of Espresso, and are firing on all cylinders… or you simply won’t be able to keep up.

Wisdom (her real name), has a commanding presence that makes you sit up and pay attention.

Gladstone looks like Peter Parker, has an I.Q. that’s obviously north of 140, and is probably Kaiser Soze.

Hohman (the least intimidating of the bunch), made a joke in passing about his being a savant. (He probably wasn’t joking.)

After searching for some web links, I found Wisdom’s web site. I also found a great article/interview by Jim Cirile (who hosted one of the panel discussions) that features Gladstone. Be sure to read through these two sources for some of the same tips that were offered during their Screenwriting Expo sessions.

And now, without further ado, I present…

The Top 20 Agents Tips

Note: The following insights are my interpretations of what the Agents said. Any errors or omissions are purely my own.

Victoria Wisdom:

  1. The commercial market for films is about 70% overseas, and 30% for U.S. and Canada. That means you need to think about whether or not your movie will “travel well” — because the ones that do are the most likely to get made. Get global; write a story that’s universally understood.
  2. It’s dangerous to follow trends as a benchmark for deciding what movie to write next. However, if you’re trying to sell a script, it pays to reference current script sales and how they are relevant to your movie.
  3. Pitch the concept, not the plot. Pitch the concept in such a way that the story sells itself. Hollywood is very template-based. That’s why coming up with a concept that’s the “same, but different” is so important; something that can be summarized in a quick pithy line that Producers/Execs can understand. For example, the quick sell for The Bourne Identity is: “James Bond with amnesia.” Source Code is: “Groundhog Day with a sci-fi twist.”
  4. Do your homework on three things: 1) What are studios buying? 2) What are they making? 3) What was successful?

Emile Gladstone:

  1. Packaging (attaching an actor or director to your movie) is good for getting a movie sold, but not necessarily for getting a movie made.
  2. Often you’ll have to do multiple drafts of a script, simply to appease the Actors, Producers, Directors, Executives, etc…. knowing full well that some of these drafts will never see the light of day.
  3. If you’re a writer that wants any semblance of control, you should write a TV pilot. In TV, writers are the “directors” (i.e. they have the creative control). Film, is a director’s medium.
  4. If you want to sell a script, figure out which production companies are making the movies that are most like yours, then get in touch with the lowest Creative Executive on the totem pole, and try to get them to read it.
  5. Best selling scripts: Tentpole, High Concept, Genre-bending
  6. These days Hollywood uses a “P & L” (Profit and Loss) risk assessment to determine whether or not a movie can be made. He cited an example of a movie that the studio wants to make, has an A-list actor attached, but that they can’t get made because it doesn’t satisfy the risk profile.

Bob Hohman:

  1. The number one job of an Agent is to explain showbusiness to the client. (i.e. What Hollywood is buying, what just sold two weeks ago that’s exactly the same concept as yours, why you shouldn’t write that period piece, etc.)
  2. You need more than one script to show that you’re a writer.
  3. You’re in the business of making things up. Don’t write strictly personal stories that are only powerful because they happened to you.
  4. Don’t write your script alone and think you’re done. Generate fans of your work. Managers, Producers — they are all friends to help you write your screenplay and get it sold.
  5. TV is more concerned about a compelling idea than a script. Often networks won’t even read a script before they start developing. TV loves development (opposite of movies).
  6. For writing assignments, there’s no work in the middle pay bracket right now. So A-List writers are working and C-List writers are working.
  7. Aspiring screenwriters should have jobs with zero responsibility, while they’re trying to establish themselves. Save your brainpower for your screenplay.
  8. Always exceed expectations (e.g. If you’re given 10 days for a rewrite, get it done in 8).
  9. Unlike film, Cable channels will buy a pitch from someone who’s not famous. They’ll just pair them with an established showrunner.
  10. Most of his clientele who are making money are in their 50’s. Alvin Sargent is 83 years old and gainfully employed. It may be a youth-driven industry, but really it’s all about your energy.

Did you attend any of the Agent sessions? What was the best advice you heard?

Tomorrow’s Edition: Pitching Advice and Horror Stories

Previous Screenwriting Expo 2011 Posts:

First Impressions
How do you get a Manager?

Screenwriting Expo 2011 – Why and How to get a Manager Sep 20

How do you get a Manager?All this week I’ll be providing you with insights and stories from this past weekend’s Screenwriting Expo in Los Angeles.

In yesterday’s post, I discussed my first impressions of the conference. Today I’ll share some terrific insights from the several Managers’ panels I attended.

What is a Manager?

What is a Manager and how do they differ from Agents? Others may have something different to say about it, but here’s my simplified take…

A Manager wants to guide your screenwriting career, work with you to develop great scripts, and help you find an Agent.

An Agent wants to make sure you’re working on a script they can sell, so they can sell the shit out of that script.

Managers tend to have fewer clients than Agents, because they need to spend more time with each client.

Why do you need a Manager?

Managers have their fingers on the pulse of the marketplace. Maybe you’re planning to write a vampire epic as your next script. A Manager can tell you that the marketplace is saturated with scripts about those moody, fangy bastards and save you 3 to 6 months of your life. (There is some overlap with Agents in this regard.)

They will also work with you to make sure your script is as great as it can be before it goes out. This is important, because studios aren’t interested in development. They’re interested in booking slots for movies. So the more polished a script is before a studio gets their hands on it, the less time will be spent on the script in development, which means there’s a greater likelihood that the script will actually reach the production phase.

Managers also have connections with Agents. If you have a proven track record of producing quality scripts, and have a killer script ready to go, a Manager can refer you to an Agent who can take your career to the next level.

How do you get a Manager?

Ah, the million dollar question.

First, it’s probably easier to get a Manager than an Agent. But “easier” does NOT mean “easy.”

Managers, like all non-vampires, only have a finite amount of time. So they can’t be spending their time reading every single script that comes their way to determine if the writer is any good.

That’s why they rely on two primary sources for new clients:

  1. Referrals
  2. Contest Winners


This is the biggie. If someone they know and trust recommends that they take a look at a particular screenwriter, then that means that screenwriter has already been vetted to some extent.

Okay so how do you get someone to refer you to a Manager?

Answer: Be a great writer.

Often times you’ll hear people talk about networking. And networking is important, but really the best networking happens as an ongoing result of developing your writing skills (going to conferences, participating in writing groups, meeting people in the industry). As I’ve written before, Hollywood uses a self-authorizing password.

If you have talent, and put in the time, you’ll learn to walk the walk, speak the lingo and come across as a professional writer. On top of that you’ll have a few quality scripts that prove you’re a writer and not a dabbler.

Success is where preparation meets opportunity. When you’re ready, you’ll have all the knowledge and the contacts you need to get a Manager. It’s not a magic bullet, but it is what it is.

Contest Winners

This is an interesting one. Many of the Managers said that they find new clients from screenwriting contests.

So if you’ve won a screenwriting contest, you’re all set right? Nuh uh. Doesn’t work that way.

I said that the Managers find new clients. If you’re sending them a query email or letter, odds are it’s going to get deleted or trashed. One Manager said that he only took on one new client based on a query letter in the last fifteen years. And he was the generous one.

Managers are bombarded with dozens of emails every single day from people who have won contests. And not all contests are created equal. If you’ve just won the Podunk Screenwriting Contest, it doesn’t mean anything.

Here are a few contests that the Managers said they look at (it’s by no means all inclusive, but it is listed in approximate order of mention/importance):

  • Nicholl Fellowship (They all look at this one. Even the runners-up.)
  • Script Pipeline
  • Script Shark (Not a contest — but if you pay for their script service and your script is good enough, they may forward it to their roster of agents, managers, producers, executives…)
  • Final Draft
  • AAA (Creative Screenwriting)

Did anyone else attend the Managers’ panels? Do you already have a Manager? Let me know if there’s anything important I left out.

Tomorrow’s Edition: Important Tips from Agents
How To Be An Agent’s Dream Client Aug 28

Reminder: Michele Wallerstein will be holding a book signing and free talk today from 3:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. in Sherman Oaks. Click here for details.

How To Be An Agent’s Dream Client

by Michele Wallerstein

An agent works very hard to guide a writer’s career. We help them with their material, we set up important meetings for them, and we see that their material is read by the right people, we negotiate their deals, we share information with them and we even listen to their personal problems. Is that enough? OK, we also show an interest in their spouses and children, we try not to hurt their feelings when their work is rejected; we are loyal and often very caring. We keep our eye
on the ball and an ear to the ground. We know what’s going on in the business and who’s buying what. Is that enough?

But… then we must let the writers go out into the world by themselves and we pray that they do not do themselves harm. This is the most daunting of our tasks.

Here are ten (10) things that clients mustn’t do:

  1. Getting stuck on one idea. I’ve had clients that have written the same basic story in novel, screenplay and theatrical play form. This is an incredibly huge waste of time.
  2. Thinking everyone is wrong, except you. When your project has been turned down by more than five (5) companies, chances are it won’t sell. This can happen with a pitch or a completed novel or screenplay. Right or wrong, they aren’t buying and there’s nothing you or your agent can do about it.
  3. Ruining a meeting. Are you talking too much or not enough? Are you listening to the principal person in the meeting? Did you arrive late? Did you dress inappropriately? Did you argue too much? Did you stay too long?
  4. Missing your big chance. I’ve represented many writers who really wanted to direct. In one specific case the writer became a producer on various TV series over the years. I kept telling him to direct some episodes, but he said that he was too busy. He never became a director.
  5. Calling your agent too often or not often enough. If you don’t seem interested in your career, why should your agent. If you are calling every day without new material or ideas, you are nagging. Big no-no.
  6. Not showing appreciation to your agent, manager, and lawyer. Yes we all get paid, but sometimes that isn’t enough. Everyone wants to feel approval. We all want someone to simply thank us for a job well done. Take them to lunch; buy them a simple birthday or Christmas gift. Say “thanks.”
  7. Changing agents. Most of the time when clients change agents it’s because they aren’t getting work or selling their material. Is that really your agent’s fault or are you not doing your job very well? Have you brought in new ideas and scripts? Are you keeping up relationships with people you’ve met via your agent? Are you
    doing everything you can to further your own career? Remember, you get to keep 90% of the money.
  8. Moving from a small agency to a very big one. Bad idea. If a small agency has worked hard to build your career, you can bet a larger one will come along and make tremendous promises to lure you over to their client list. Invariably, you will be ignored, forgotten, mistreated and overlooked.
  9. Demanding too much. This can mean time from your agent, producer, development person, manager or lawyer. It can mean money for your project that may not warrant as big a deal as you want. Once you earn it… you’ll get it all.
  10. Drugs and alcohol. They will ruin your career.

Getting into the world of screenwriters and published authors is difficult enough. Making the mistakes listed above is a sure-fire way of losing any toe-hold that you may gain, at any time. All too often I’ve seen successful writers fall off the “hot writer” list in Hollywood because of any of the above errors. Don’t let it happen to you.

Michele Wallerstein is a Screenplay & Novel & Career Consultant and author of “MIND YOUR BUSINESS: A Hollywood Literary Agent’s Guide To Your Writing Career“.

Web site:

Copyright 2009 Michele Wallerstein. Not be used without written permission from Author.

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