Questions about agents

I haven’t got an agent and for the most part I’m not really bothered. I have a plan, I have a strategy to follow and I’m vaguely heading in the right direction at frustrating speeds so it’s all well and good. At the moment I get paid for everything I write and I get to write pretty much what I feel like in any genre or style without too much interference.

In short, my writing life is pretty peachy.

Every now and then I get this vague pang of guilt for not having an agent, kind of like I need one in order to be a real writer. When that feeling of self-doubt strikes I make a halfhearted effort to send something to the first agent I think of … and I get rejected.

This happens about once every two years or so and is to be expected. The chances of picking one agent at random and them liking your work is pretty small. The best way is to make a concerted effort, do your research and specifically target agents who match your preferred style/genre/oeuvre (isn’t that French for egg?) or whatever. Merely pointing at another writer, thinking ‘I want his career’ and spamming his agent isn’t really the best way to go about these things.

But never mind. The rejection fires me up, indignant rage burns off the paralysing blanket self-doubt and I just carry on writing. I have this (possibly ill-conceived) idea that sooner or later someone will just ring me up and offer me representation. In fact, I think it might have just happened; but I was inadvertently rude to the guy and he hasn’t been back in touch.

Oh well, fuck it.

The question is, do I actually need an agent? What do they actually do for you? Okay, so if I was hell-bent on getting into TV then they might be useful for putting me forward – but I’m not that bothered. There isn’t really anything on TV I desperately feel like writing for (except Doctor Who and maybe The Sarah Jane Adventures) and at the moment I’m having too much fun with movies to concentrate on learning new skills. I have plenty of ideas for TV shows but rarely have the time to write them down – if I did, I have a handful of contacts I could send ideas to and I know they’d be happy to read them. They might think they’re shit, but they’d be happy to read them.

Movie wise, yeah, I’m doing fine. I have enough work for the rest of the year and probably the beginning of next year – I haven’t had to generate any work for myself for a while because of repeat custom and random emailers; and the only time I’ve recently expressed a vague interest in a spec project I find myself signing a contract for it a few months later.

I suppose the only thing I’d be looking for in an agent (apart from maybe approaching TV people on my behalf when I’m ready) is negotiating contracts – I fucking hate the whole thing. I mean, it’s not difficult (or at least I don’t think it is. I’ve been doing my own for years now and I still have both kidneys and all of my many pounds of flesh) but it’s fucking tedious and I have very limited interest. I’m kind of like Will Ferrell’s character in Austin Powers – talk about the same clause three times and I just give up.

“Oh, so if the Option is exercised, to make such reasonable amendments to Assignment A and the documents set out in Exhibit 2 as the Purchaser’s distributors or financiers may require then I don’t fucking care! I just don’t! Whatever you fucking want, just leave me alone in my box with my imaginary friends!”

Having someone to read the small print and be an obstreperous cunt during negotiations would be rather helpful, but is that a good enough reason for wanting an agent? But still, there’s that small nagging voice – real writers have agents. I don’t have an agent therefore …

And then there’s the Screenwriting Festival Speed Dating thing. Can I be bothered to apply? Do I actually want three face to face meetings with agents? Assuming I won a place, which I probably wouldn’t. Would I just be wasting their time and taking up space which could be allocated to be people who are desperately pursuing representation?

I had a look at the application process and figured I had nothing really to lose until I got to the question about ‘genre of your project’ – what project? I’m not trying to push one project on anyone, I have a raft of things going on all the time and want that to continue forever. Can I just put ‘all’? I know this is so they can match the lucky winners up with suitable agents, but I’m quite happy bouncing around from one genre to the next – conventional wisdom says you can’t carve out a career like this because people won’t think of you as the ‘western guy’ or the ‘comedy guy’ … but I don’t care. I’m enjoying myself and don’t want to specialise just yet.

So 

I’ve decided to leave it in your hands. My questions are:

  1. Those of you with agents, do you find them useful and have they helped your career?
  2. Should I enter this speed dating draw or not?

Someone please make some decisions for me, I’m far too busy and only have a limited interest in my own well being.

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Categories: Career Path, Festivals, Industry Musings, Random Witterings, Sad Bastard | 7 Comments

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7 thoughts on “Questions about agents

  1. Well, I got lucky in the first draw and have won 3 dates with agents/producers so I will be wasting lots of people’s time. But seriously, this ‘speed dating’ thing isn’t doing much to the myth that to be successful in the industry you need to sleep with someone.

    I think you should do it, you might be offered the next big thing and you can always turn them down.

  2. I think you’ve answered your own question in a way.

    Contracts and legalities.

    Since signing with an agent, I’ve had more work through my own contacts than I have through the agency, in terms of actual money earned.

    But the work I’m doing that came about through my agent has more potential for the future, partly in terms of generating further work but definitely in terms of potential future earnings.

    I wouldn’t have been any good at sorting out my own contracts at all, it’s so complicated. I’d have just signed whatever they gave me. And it wouldn’t necessarily have been as good a deal as I got.

    But it depends what you want to do and the way you want to take your own career.

    I understand that some writers working with low budget indie film producers option their script for as little as £1-£100 to get the project moving and with the promise of a big payment when principal photography starts. I can’t imagine an agent would be happy with that sort of arrangement. Which might even ultimately mean avenues of work become closed off. I don’t know.

    On the other hand, they might be able to get that writer in touch with film producers who have access to more development money up front. But then that would more likely be on the back of sending a spec script round, rather than having people just turn up offering work.

    And when it comes to Speed Dating Agents at SWF and what “genre” to put down, I’d guess that applies more closely to those looking to meet producers to discuss a specific project. If you’re looking for an agent, the sort of thing you might be better of putting is what sort of work you want to do. Sitcom? Soaps? Series drama? Single drama? Film? In the UK or US?

    That’s how they’re going to put you in touch with agents who have the right sort of contacts. And they’re the sort of questions you’d be asked if you went in to meet an agent interested in representing you.

    And yes, you should put your name down, because the best person to ask these questions to is an actual agent surely?

    That’s my tuppence worth anyway.

  3. Oops, sorry.

    Went on a bit there didn’t I?

  4. Lisa Barrass

    Hmmm, this is very interesting (not sure if that should be in some kind of accent or not!). From the point of view of someone who a) has yet to sell anything and b)has no agent – I find the whole ‘getting an agent thing’ very odd. You are working steadily and consistently ergo you are likely to earn an agency money in percentage by signing you and getting you more work yet they don’t want to sign you…Why wouldn’t they want you?

    I never undertand the whole ‘we don’t think we can place your work’ because I thought, or rather, I was led to believe, that new writers should work towards getting a great portfolio which demonstrated ability to turn in pieces of different lengths/formats.

    Of course I would like those pieces to be made but essentially they are my calling card, my ‘hey, this is me, my voice, how I write.’

    Very fluid, I think, the rules on this one!

    Well, I say, if you’re doing it, do it and good on you!!

    • Why wouldn’t they want me?

      Lots of reasons – individual agents need to be passionate about their clients’ work. If you happen to send your script to someone who doesn’t like your writing, they won’t want to represent you. Maybe if you’ve had half a dozen blockbusters produced they might swallow their pride; but for a guy like me who’s only worked on low budget movies – there’s not enough money involved to make pushing work they consider crap (or don’t fully believe in, I think the phrase is) just isn’t worth the effort.

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