HOW • TO • GET • AN • AGENT
What Agents Want (and Don’t Want) to See
By Elizabeth English
- Story: This is the first thing agents look at, when considering whether to read your script or not. Unique story, well-told.
- Write killer titles, loglines and one-sheet synopses for the all the scripts you want to submit to agents.
- Write up a one-sheet document with titles and loglines of all your completed screenplays. You may be asked to send these before sending in a screenplay.
- In your initial contact, try to find out what genre of story that agent is looking for, at the moment. Agents generally know exactly what the buyers want to see, and will usually only request those genres. But needs change all the time, and at a moment’s notice, so let them know what you have, even if they’re not looking for that at the time of your call.
- You probably will be asked to submit your logline, synopsis and script digitally, via an email attachment. Be sure to have your name & contact info on the cover page!
- Your screenplay should be a READER’S script, not a director’s, a producer’s, or a shooting script! This means: Written like a novel, but in screenplay format; no camera directions; few, if any, parentheses in dialog, directing the actors; no notes on editing; no CAPS on sounds; no CAPS on props; intersperse dialog and action – no pages & pages of all dialog & no action, or all action & no dialog; include back story for main characters; add subtext; limit narration; no exposition in dialog; Write cinematically – show it, don’t tell it!
- Use simple, generic character descriptions. The film director and casting director will select actors for the roles. You can hint at descriptions by writing “resembles Marilyn Monroe, or James Dean”, and so on.
- Don’t describe characters’ costumes in too much detail. The film director and costume director will design or select them. You can hint at costume style by writing “dressed like a typical Wall Street trader, or dressed like a sexy motorcycle chick, or like an sold cruffy bag lady”.
- Don’t list contemporary music titles for scenes. The film director and music director will select them. You can hint at music themes, by writing, “similar to Blue Skies, or It’s a Wonderful World. Buying music rights for films is astronomically expensive!
- Presentation of script: be sure to have a plain cardstock cover, front and back; a title page with all your contact info; three-hole punch white paper; two solid-brass brads in the top and bottom hole. Or you probably will be asked to submit your logline, synopsis and script digitally, via an email attachment. Be sure to have your name & contact info on the cover page!
- Have more than one screenplay completed. At least three of your best screenplays need to be ready to go, when and if requested.
- Format and structure: in submitting your work to an agent, you should be sure the script is in proper current format and structure. There are many books and online articles on these vital subjects. Edit every word of the script with a fine-toothed comb, and correct all spelling, punctuation and syntax errors.
- Writing ability and style. Everything depends on this.
- Dialog: your ability to write good, memorable and believable dialog is paramount.
- Budget: yes, a screenwriter needs to know about this. Many buyers are looking for specific subjects with very specific production budgets. Currently, a low-budget feature film will be $10-20 million, for example. If your script requires action scenes and/or CGI graphics, double that figure.
- If you know The Business at all, make the agent aware of this, so he or she will know you are a professional.
- Let the prospective agent know you are open to re-writes and edits of your scripts. You will almost always be asked to do re-writes, sometimes “on spec”, so prepare yourself mentally and be agreeable to it. Follow their suggestions.
- Be willing and able to pitch your screenplay to production companies and studios, with the agent, in person. If you live far from L.A., let the agent know you can arrange to go there for pitching appointments.
- Be friendly and easy-going, yet professional and self-confident. Hollywood, even though it’s a “snake-pit” at times, is run on connections and contacts. If they don’t like you, and don’t feel they can work with you, you don’t have a chance there.
- Be honest! Never, ever hype yourself or your script unless the information is absolutely true and provable. If you’ve won a contest with your script, let them know. If you’ve had a script produced as a film, let them know. And if you’ve been submitting your scripts around to everybody for years, and they ask, tell the truth. Production companies and studios keep lists of what has been submitted, and you don’t want to embarrass your new agent!
How to find listed agents who are accepting scripts:
- The Hollywood Creative Directory’s Agent/Management directory
- Writers Digest
- Writers Guild of America (East & West)
How to get “discovered”:
- com is a good website to post your scripts on, to be seen by many agents, producers, and development company executives)
- If you live in or near Los Angeles, attend parties and other events where Hollywood types will be.
- Enter film festival competitions, and win!
What should an Agent do for you?
- Send out your loglines and one sheet synopses, and scripts to Development Executives at production companies and studios
- Give suggestions on potential edits and re-writes that may be needed to sell the script
- Set up pitch sessions for you at production companies and studios
- Get the best deal he or she can for you, above schedule of WGA minimums.
- Encourage and inspire you to create new material and projects.
What agents DO NOT want to see:
- A script sent to them “cold”, with no phone call, e-mail or letter first
- A script that is too long (over 130 pages), or too short (under 90 pages)
- A script that is bound incorrectly (no brads, no cover, no title page)
- A script that is not formatted correctly & has grammatical and/or spelling errors
- A cover letter that is more than one page long
- A script that is mostly descriptions of people and locations, like a novel
- A script with unrealistic or stilted/boring dialog
- A script with more than 100 scenes (each scene costs money)
- A script with a prospective production budget over that what is requested
- A script that is not in the genre requested
- A writer who calls or e-mails sooner than 2 weeks after the agent received the script
- A writer who is unwilling to consider re-writes and edits
- A script that has any typos, misspellings or poor syntax
- A script without conflict in the plot and story-line
- A script without interesting, memorable characters
SUGGESTED READING & RESOURCES:
RELEVANT E-ZINE ARTICLES BY ELIZABETH ENGLISH
- Titles & Loglines: http://www.moondancefilmfestival.com/Article-16-Titles.html
- Pitching in Hollywood: http://www.moondancefilmfestival.com/Article-15-Pitching.html
- Making of a Hollywood Film: http://www.moondancefilmfestival.com/Article-13-Hwood.htmlTwo Brads or Three?: www.moondancefilmfestival.com/Article-07-Brads.html
Characters in Screenplays: http://www.moondancefilmfestival.com/Article-06-Character.htmlConflict in Scripts: http://www.moondancefilmfestival.com/Article-05-Dreams.html
- Lew Hunter’s Screenwriting 434
- Linda Seger’s How to Make a Good Screenplay Great
- Linda Seger’s How to Make a Good Screenwriter Great
- David Howard’s A Writer’s Guide to the Craft and Elements of a Screenplay
- Creative Screenwriting
- Scr(i)pt Magazine