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Screenwriting: How to Get and Work with an Agent

By C.J. Perry  |  09-Nov-2010

As a screenwriter, there are a few ways to get your script sold and -possibly - made into a movie. Screenwriting contests have emerged as a way for unknown writers to get their name out there, but this requires either winning the contest or placing very high, and more than likely having to do it in multiple contests to get noticed. If you have the money and are a director as well as a writer, you can go the indie route, but providing you get the movie made, there is no guarantee of any kind of distribution. The most traditional way for a screenwriter to get his or her work sold and made into a movie is by getting an agent.

The first step is to find an agent. Agents, by virtue of their occupation, are well connected and can help a screenwriter immensely. If you find representation, this helps you out because an agent is supposed to only have talented writers as their clients, enhancing your reputation, while using theirs in the process. An agent should not charge anything unless they’ve sold your script.

While the internet and social networking tools like Facebook have forever changed the way that writers and filmmakers interact with each other, this may be a time to go the old school way. Filmmaking is a notoriously closed off industry, and to break in, many studios, agencies and managers will only give you a chance if you go through the proper channels. You can certainly use different methods to search out a particular agent, but trying to contact them this way probably won’t work.

Going through the Writers Guild of America (WGA) is a good place to start. The WGA will provide you with an approved list of agencies. Look for an agency that is accepting new submissions; the WGA’s list is coded, which will help determine which agency may be right for you. And while the WGA provides the names of agencies, they do not list individual agents. A publication such as the Hollywood Representation Directory would be your best bet.

This is where it can get tricky. Your aim is to get the name of an individual agent. If an agency lists its personnel by seniority, go for the agent farthest down the list. Don’t tell the agent that you are seeking representation or say bluntly that you need an agent. Merely ask who is accepting new clients or inquire to whom you should send a short query to. Calling an agency and asking who is accepting new clients may be a last ditch maneuver.

Once you have made contact with an agent, do not send them your script. Either fax or send a query. Don’t e-mail a query unless the agency states that they accept e-mailed queries. Send queries to multiple agents but not within the same agency; try not to put all your hopes on the first agent that you find. Do not include a synopsis or treatment. Sending out multiple queries will help you gauge their responses to you and help you tailor the queries you send out.

Read the rest of this article for free at Film Slate magazine.

After graduating from the University of Toledo, C.J. Perry began his career in television, eventually becoming a director. After a brief foray into public relations, he returned to television as an editor. His articles have appeared in several regional and national publications.

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