HOW TO COURT A FILM AGENT by Christina Hamlett
There’s a lot of similarity between courting a prospective agent for your work and testing the waters of a new relationship. Specifically, (1) Do you have enough in common to sustain a long-term association, (2) Were you introduced by someone who knows both of you, and (3) How much should you reveal at the start if you want to ensure a satisfying pursuit?
Suffice it to say, many new screenwriters approach film reps in much the same fashion as those who have been out of romantic circulation for awhile: nervously, desperately, and placing far more weight on the outcome than on the process of defining what exactly it is they want from the experience. Time and again, I’ve counseled writers who have been so thrilled that someone—ANYONE—has finally agreed to pay attention to them, they end up sabotaging themselves and/or tolerating all manner of shoddy behavior.
Herein are some tips for not only ensuring call-backs from the right people but heeding warning signs about the wrong ones. (If they work for your love life, too, so much the better!)
If you were seeking a potential mate, would you flip open a telephone book and call the first name your pencil-point dropped on? Of course not! Yet how many writers use a similar technique with the rationale, “Don’t they all work pretty much the same way?”
The fact of the matter is that agents—good agents—specialize in representing certain types of projects and genres. The time and effort invested in establishing contacts has paid off for them in terms of reputation; producers recognize that scripts which have crossed these agents’ desks and been forwarded for review are the cream of the crop. Agents on top of their game are savvy about what’s selling, what’s not, and what has the highest potential for crossover marketing.
So how do you know which one is the best match for you?
Track Record: Would you pursue someone who wasn’t gainfully employed or was purposely evasive about what he/she did for a living? On the same note, would you feel secure with someone who had either (1) never sustained any long-term relationships, (2) blamed all failures on the other party, or (3) couldn’t remember any names because none of them stayed long enough?
Availability: Is your target agent genuinely interested in meeting someone new at this time or is their plate already full? Congenial as they may be at a party and ask you to give them a call sometime, the truth is that very few of them actually hope you will.
High Maintenance: Will the agent expect you to foot the bill for all postage, photocopying, phone calls and adult beverages? Likewise, will he or she expect you to pay out large sums of money in order for him or her to tell you how wonderful you and your screenplays are?
Exits and Exclusivity: How difficult/expensive will it be to extricate yourself from an unpleasant arrangement? (i.e., agents who demand a commitment of two years whether they sell anything or not.) You should also be wary of those who demand that you not see anyone else, even though they have yet to declare their own intentions toward you or even return your phone calls.
Expectations: Most agents will expect you to keep working after the honeymoon period is over. New authors, on the other hand, have the rosy view that their days of struggle are finally gone now that their future is in someone else’s hands. “One book wonders”—alas!—are rarely enough to pay the rent for either of you. If you want an agent to stay committed to the partnership, how committed are you to keep supplying exciting material on a regular basis?
Former actress/director Christina Hamlett is a professional script consultant and the author of 25 books, 122 plays and musicals, and 5 optioned feature films. Her latest MWP book, Screenwriting for Teens is targeted to high school students who want to learn how to write film shorts.