On Sunday night, I guested on #scriptchat, talking on ‘How to get writing work without an Agent?’
Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Him? Really? They’d already scraped the bottom of the barrel and he was still the best they could get?”
Well, apparently, yes. Maybe there’s been some kind of writers’ cull?
Anyway, I came, I chatted, I wished I’d learnt Latin so I could write this sentence in a really cool way.
If you can make head or tail of it, there’s a transcript here. Once I’d got my head round trying to process questions flung hither and thither and answering in 140 characters or less (less, if you include the #scriptchat hashtag), I really enjoyed myself, even if I did seem to end up firing out a string of sub-Jerry-Maguire’s-mentor-isms. I mean, seriously, I was pissing myself off after a while, God knows what anyone else thought.
In the question free-for-all, I think I managed to miss one or two – I did go back and answer one or two privately, but re-reading all the chat just made my eyes hurt and brain wobble, so I gave up. If I missed you out, I’m sorry – ask me again here or email me and I’ll answer as best I can.
One thing I do want to clear up though is one of my initial, panic-fuelled statements:
Agents aren’t needed to get work, not initially. In fact, I’d say they hamper you in the initial stages of your career.
I feel I should explain this, since it sounds like I’m pooh-poohing agents, and I’m really, really not. If you can get an agent at any stage of your career, you should. Absolutely, you’d be a bloody fool not to.
However, sometimes, under certain conditions I think they can be detrimental. I’ll try and explain, but will probably end up talking myself out of it, since I rarely think these things through beforehand.
Sometimes I think a new writer can write an absolutely excellent script (possibly several excellent scripts), bag themselves a well-deserved agent … and never actually find any work. The problem as I see it is agents want to make money for you and them (which is fair enough) but there are only a few places to get paid proper money for writing in the UK and there’s a lot of competition.
This new writer is a small, inexperienced fish competing with the bigger, more experienced ones.
Sometimes that works out – which is cool, congratulations.
Sometimes it doesn’t, because the writer has no idea how to write to deadlines, to a brief, with co-writers, with a script-editor, a producer, a director, to a budget … basically, they have no idea how to do the actual job. Some learn very fast from lovely people and it’s no problem – after all, the only experience which counts is on the job experience.
But what if the people you work with aren’t so sympathetic? What if they get pissed off with you because you argue notes instead of steering them towards sense or you miss deadlines or you can’t grasp the concept of how many camera set-ups are needed per scene? You can end up getting a bad name for yourself because you’ve jumped into the game too soon and don’t understand all the rules.
Another problem could be you find yourself going up against writers with more credits – if a commissioner has two equally good ideas, they’re more likely to go with the person who they KNOW can deliver the goods. If your agent only wants to put you up for well paid jobs, you might find yourself constantly passed over for more experienced writers.
And this is where my knowledge of agents and their practice really starts to show me up, because maybe none of this happens? Maybe agents are sensitive to the need to gain experience and credits and recommend their clients work for free occasionally? Or work on cheaper productions?
Some facts I have observed/been privy to:
A few agented writers I met them seven years ago who had no credits – still have no credits now. They might well be earning a living behind the scenes doing development work, but on the Internet, they look like they’ve done nothing.
A writer who was offered a feature film gig – for good money. Their agent demanded more money … and lost them the gig. Because for that money the producer could get X – who is a much better (or at least better known) writer. If the new(ish) writer hadn’t had an agent, they would have got the gig, been paid what (to them) was a lot of money and gotten a credit on a really good film.
A brand spanky new writer who landed a flurry of high-profile TV work, couldn’t quite handle the pressure/deadlines/writing to budget skills and doesn’t seem to have worked since. The initial flurry seemed to be a cascade effect from being offered one show – everyone else assumed she must be good and hired her too … then they found out she wasn’t. Not that she’s a bad writer, just inexperienced.
And probably other such stories, if I can be bothered to use my remembering engine.
Which I can’t.
So that’s why I say an agent COULD hamper you in the initial stages of your career. Only could, mind. Probably won’t, just could. I am in no way anti-agent or bitter because I can’t get one or angry because the one I’ve been trying to sleep with slept with my best mate.
In a way, I’d quite like an agent. In other ways, I’m quite happy pootling along writing whatever the hell I like for whoever I please.
I have this vague fear an agent will want me to compete with writers who are better than me, when I can avoid the confrontation by working with people who want to work specifically with me.
I have no basis for this fear and do wonder if I should make some kind of agent-getting effort soon; but at the moment I’m in constant employment (too constant – sorry, sorry, I am getting to your script), I’m getting work produced and I get to keep 100% of the money I earn – apart from the tax; but thinking about that just makes me cry.
Every now and then I make a quick sweep of Agencies, wondering if I’d like to approach some of them. I did once, long ago and had a lot of positive responses … but didn’t really follow any of them up. If I’m totally honest, I’d like to be represented by these people:
Purely on the grounds their website is orange and elements of it are a little silly. I like silly. And orange.
The colour. I’m fairly ambivalent about the phone company.
So, yes, this was a long post; but the salient points are:
- #scriptchat – I enjoyed it.
- Agents, I don’t have anything against them.
- Getting an agent too soon might not be as brilliant as you think (but probably is).
- I like the colour orange
And that’s it, really. I should probably do some work now.