If you are like many writers, getting a great representative on your team or motivating the one you have to put in their best effort on your behalf is on your wish list for 2011. Here are 7 tips that will give you your best opportunity for the successful relationship you desire.
Write Authentically. When you ask most representatives what they are looking for one of the most common responses is “voice”. They are looking for that something special in a script that makes them believe that the story they are reading, with all of its magic and imaginative elements, still feels real. They want stories that keep you invested in the characters and the situation while suspending their disbelief. The way you achieve “voice” is by being real and being true to your own experience, point of view and your philosophy about what life means. You want to capture a common human experience in a way that lends your own unique slant and perspective to the story. In addition they want to care about what happens in your story and they want know that they can sell it because other people will care. Their ability to believe what’s happening in your story will directly translate in their ability to believe in you.
Write More Often. As you step into the world of professional screenwriting you’ll find that you’ll be frequently requested to write. You’ll be asked to rewrite the script you’ve already written, to come up with new ideas and to write new screenplays. There are a few representatives who may make the investment to represent one project in the marketplace, but someone who makes their living from a 10% commission is looking for writers who have long term potential not only to sell a single project but to be hired again and again as a result of presenting new original material as well as jumping through the many hoops to secure studio writing assignments or getting an independent project off the ground. Once a representative signs you and has sent out your initial script, they’ll be looking to you to write your next one in a timely manner. In the current marketplace, it’s also important to be building a name for yourself as a writer beyond writing screenplays. This may also mean writing for television, shorts, web series, novels, articles or a blog. As you look to be taken seriously as a writer it is important that you write and write often.
Write Strategically. It is common for an unseasoned writer to get an idea for a screenplay and write it. They then hope to query representatives who will take it upon themselves to find the right home for it in the marketplace. Different types of stories actually require different strategies in order to find their way and many ideas just aren’t special enough to be shopped at the highest levels. Some ideas would be better received if they were based upon a successful book, comic or graphic novel. Other ideas are only viable if they can attract the interest of A-list talent. A rep knows where the opportunities are in the marketplace and are looking to take on new clients who share an understanding of those market needs. When they look to sign a new writer it is typically because they are offering something that meets the needs of the existing “spec market” or have a buyer or talent in mind they’ve been looking for something to bring them. If customers are good for business, keep in mind that a representative’s customers are studios, networks or independent funding sources. To get their attention, you want to offer them viable inventory for their existing customer base.
Listen & Learn. One of the best things to happen to both the in and out of town screenwriter in the last ten years is the advent of the internet. The internet has made marketing cheap and as such there has been a proliferation of events, conferences, consultants, coverage services, competitions, panels, courses, teleseminars, podcasts, websites, blogs and social networks. These resources can connect you and your work with peers, teachers, mentors, development executives, producers, agents, managers and more. Your job is to listen and learn. You want to take note of three things 1) Who these people are and what they are looking for from potential clients 2) What opportunities you can take to further your connection with these reps, the industry and its denizens. 3) Where your ideas and scripts are strong and where they can stand to be tossed out, developed or polished. There are some writers out there who have a sharp knife and know how to hit the bullseye right out the gate, but for everyone else this process is designed to help you sharpen your knife and practice your throw in the right direction and with greater and greater accuracy.
Connect & Share. The primary task of the writer is to get the words on the page and this is a solitary pursuit. Yet, the task of being a professional screenwriter in Hollywood includes a social element. For some who have not tackled this aspect, it can seem daunting. The key is to take small and consistent steps from the beginning. Being social includes being connected to your passion while being interested in what other people are doing and saying. You can do this by reading books, articles, blogs or listening to podcasts. You can also participate in teleseminars and online courses. The next steps include getting out of the house and going to where you can connect with like-minded folks. These can be at local events or at conferences or film festivals in Los Angeles, New York or around the country or world. Your goal at these events is to be centered in your identity as an emerging or up-and-coming screenwriter and find other people who share similar passions and are on a similar path. As your community continues to grow you’ll be able to find more channels to get informed feedback on your writing and sales strategy. By doing your research and talking to others you’ll be able to identify potentials reps that you think might be a good fit. Getting a good word into them about you from industry professionals is the best way to get their attention.
Do 90% of the Work. If you want to get the right representative, you have to remember that you are hiring them. They want to be comfortable with the terms of your engagement where their typical compensation is set at 10%. They want to be sure they can in fact get you paid because you’ve put forth the 90% effort and they only need to guide, steer, introduce, negotiate, protect and promote for their 10%. If you’re expecting a lot from them, know that they are also expecting much more from you. Nothing turns an agent off faster than a writer who bemoans how much they’ve had to do on their own to get themselves to a place where a rep might actually be interested in pursuing a professional relationship. The other truth is that there are enough resources and opportunities that you can get your work into the hands of the industry without representation. It is not their job to run two sticks together to start a fire for you. Once you have a flame they are great at helping you to fan the flames and bring attention to you. As your work becomes worthy of professional attention, your ongoing dedication to surround yourself with supportive friends, mentors and professionals will lead you to identifying the best possible representatives for you. Your well-earned confidence, professionalism and quality of work will do wonders in winning the heart of the right representative.
Be Positive & Practical. This may be your dream, but this is their livelihood. They are only going to invest the time and effort if they feel that there is going to be a reward at the end for both of you. They have also followed their own dream to work in this business and for as many difficult people and situations that they encounter every day, they want clients who are positive and proactive. You don’t want to be so needy, difficult or inept that you end up on their life-is-too-short list. You need to respect their time and efforts and make sure that you are both respecting them and compensating them for their talents. It can take some time from when they sign you until you are paid. It’s important to have a steady source of income that meets all of your practical needs so that there is no desperation surrounding your screenwriting efforts. When you are paid, be sure that they receive their commission check in a timely manner. If they are working hard, be aware of what you are actually paying them for their services and if you’ve not written them a commission check lately, see what you can do to help them or send a gift card or thank you note to let them know that they are appreciated. If you are switching representatives, do so in a professional way that shows your gratitude for their support and efforts to date. You want to be hopeful yet realistic so that they can do their job without any added stress. Knowing that you know this basic etiquette will also go along to make your relationship with your rep succeed.
Philippa Burgessis a partner at Creative Convergence Inc. She graduated from USC and started her career at ICM. She co-founded the boutique management company Mason Burgess Lifschultz which subsequently evolved into Creative Convergence. Company and client credits include projects for Disney Channel, Lifetime, Sci-Fi, Starz, MTV, Cartoon Network, CBS/Paramount, ABC, New Line Cinema, Fox, Sony and Paramount. She teaches the 8 session teleseminar course Screenwriting Career Intensive (www.screenwritingcareer.com) which includes 5 Bonus calls with Hollywood Literary Agents & Managers.
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