Getting an agent requires patience, persistence and above all talent. It’s not enough to win a few obscure contests or to send a singing telegram. What most agents want from a writer is a great script, not a good script, a great one.
Q: I’ve written ten scripts. How do I decide which one to send to an agent or should I just give log lines for all of them in my query letter?
A: Just pick one that you think would appeal to the agent. A query letter has to be short and listing ten scripts would probably make it a two page letter which will likely end up in the circular file. Choose one script and if the agency rejects that idea, wait a month and submit the next idea. With ten scripts, you have about ten shots at getting the agency to say, “Yes, send it over” for at least one of them.
Q: I sent query letters to about fifty agencies from the WGA Agency list and so far only two have bothered to return my SASE and only one of the two requested the script. Several letters that were returned came back unopened and stamped, “Not taking on new clients.” Why the hell are they on the list then!
A: The list is for informational purposes only. As for the one request, that is pretty standard as far as replies are concerned. Keep in mind that agents get hundreds of letters a week and very few of those letters pitch a script that is remotely interesting. The majority of query letters sent are tossed, however, more thoughtful agencies will at least return some type of reply. Give the rest of the agencies who have not replied to your query about two to three months before giving up on them.
Q: I finally got an agent interested in my screenplay and he wants me to send him $250 to photocopy my script and send it to producers. Is that standard procedure?
A: ABSOLUTELY NOT! Do not pay that joker one thin dime. WGA signatory agents are not permitted to charge writers fees for anything. If an agent requests a reading fee, a referral fee, a photocopying fee, do not pay it and report them immediately to the Writers Guild of America.
Q: Why do I need an agent? Can’t I sell my script myself?
A: Sure you could, but you would not be able to submit it to any of the major production companies or studios because they will not read unsolicited material. Agents know what producers and studios are looking for because they’ve developed relationships with the buyers and they intuitively know what spec scripts would interest them and who is buying. No matter how many trade papers you read or web sites you visit that list what has sold by the time you get the information it’s old news and the industry is on to the next hot idea.
Q: What is the best way to get an agent?
A: A referral. Someone you know knows someone who knows someone who knows the agent and can get your script directly into the agent’s hands. Attend seminars and screenwriting workshops to meet writers and agents. The next best thing is to win one of the top screenwriting contests and have the agents come to you. Another way to get attention is to have your script independently produced and make the rounds on the festival circuit. There is a high degree of risk involved in this venture and only do it if you can afford to take the gamble. Too many frustrated writers take their credit cards to the max making films each year only to find out that the reason no one was interested in buying the script in the first place is because it would have made a lousy movie. Try to find an independent producer who may be interested in optioning your screenplay or producing it and paying you on deferment. Again, be aware of the risk in this type of venture because if the movie fails you’ll be reminded of the old adage “you are only as good as your last picture.”