How do I get an agent? Honest answer: none of us know. We barely know how we did.

“Yeah, yeah. But how do I get an agent? Yeah, yeah, I know I have to write a great thing. I’ve done it. How do I get anyone to read it?”

I understand the question. I do. And I know where it comes from. How frustrating it is to feel like you are on the outside and the barriers to entry are enormous and almost insurmountable.

And you are not crazy to feel that way. The barriers are built high so you can’t scale ’em, thick so you can’t knock ’em down, and buried deep in the ground, making it almost impossible to crawl underneath ’em. 

Easiest thing to do is give up. Second easiest: complain about how unfair it is.  

Third thing is to recognize the problem and carry on anyway, finding a way to believe that if the work is strong enough, powerful enough, compelling enough that the folks behind the barriers will find their way to you.

Which sounds exactly like what someone who has already made it over would say, right?

But here’s the thing: all you need is one champion, one assistant, one friend of a director, one boyfriend of an intern at a production company to think that your work will make him (or her) look good. 

How do you find that one believer, that one person who decides that carrying your screenplay up the line will help both of you? I don’t know. I have ideas: post it on a website, stage a reading, network, use your Facebook friends and their friends.  

Or make a movie. That’s what Shane Carruth did. He made Primer for $7000 that he saved up over years. And then he won Sundance. Equipment is the least expensive it has ever been. Access to the audience is the most available it’s ever been. Find a way to use those things to make the business come to you. If your work is truly undeniable, someone, somewhere will recognize it. Because it is in their self-interest to do so. 

If you ask 100 screenwriters how they got the read that changed their lives, you’d get 100 different answers. But almost all of them would have to do with one person, only one, seeing something special, something worth sharing. 

The first screenplay that David Levien and I wrote got rejected at every agency. Then Miramax bought it. And all those same agents lined up at our door. It was Rounders. 

I wish there were an easy answer to this question. It’s the one that all writers, directors and actors get asked more than any other. None of us really know. 

We just know this: the only thing that moves you closer is the work. Which is also the only part of it that you can control. Keep grinding away, keep going deeper, keep doing. Keep the faith.   



Published by

Brian Koppelman

I'm co-creator/Executive producer of Showtime's Billions. Some of the films I've either written/produced/directed are Solitary Man, Rounders, Ocean's Thirteen, Knockaround Guys, Runaway Jury, The Girlfriend Experience & the 30/30 Documentary on Jimmy Connors. I'm also the host of the podcast The Moment.

7 thoughts on “How do I get an agent? Honest answer: none of us know. We barely know how we did.”

  1. You hit the nail on the head with this one, Brian. And even when you get an agent, you still gotta push just as hard to get your work seen. Having a rep isn’t a magic bullet. Having consistently strong work is (or could be).

    To be honest, I’ve given up on getting an agent. I now put the time I’d spend investigating/querying/submitting prospective agents into my work. Writing more books, more scripts, more teleplays, more short fiction. And I also focus on strengthening my personal relationships — and friendships — with producers, prodcos, directors, actors, casting directors. The chances of these friends perhaps paying off mutual dividends at some point are much greater than if just put all my eggs in the Get An Agent basket.

    So, when it comes to submitting work to ProdCos and negotiating contracts, I have an attorney. A very good attorney. One who knows the business, has a strong track record, is a friend, and who, when the time comes, knows me and my work well enough to be able to guide me when the Agents knock on my door.

    Because when you DO get an agent, it has to be a good fit. Not just any ol’ agent will do. Best to be patient and smart than rush the process and regret your choice.

    Until then, it’s work, work, work, work, work. 🙂

  2. Absolutely agree — you can ask 100 writers and get 100 responses, and each would be crazier than the next. There is one thing a writer can do though to increase their chances, though: take the plunge and move to LA. Your odds of making that one connection improve once you push your chips all-in and live in a city where you either make it or have to explain to your folks why you missed Thanksgiving six years in a row. Desperation is one of the best motivations there is.

    1. Yes, or at least get there regularly. But just know that, once there, you have to GET OUT of your house and, you know, mingle. How and where? That’s up to you. But this business is built on relationships, that whole six degrees of separation thing. Friends, making connections, it’s the lifeblood and how this business works.

      Which leads to an equally important thought: it’s a shockingly small community, the film business. Be smart, be kind, be patient, don’t be a douchebag, don’t screw people over. Especially if you’re new in town. Word gets out. Fast. And once people decide something about you, it’s almost impossible to change that perception.

      So, yes, come to LA and get involved. But be smart. And just be a nice person. It’s amazing how much “nice” is sincerely appreciated.

  3. Great article! For the first few years I was at those first two places of frustration. I think a combination of maturity and patience eased me into #3.

    Can I toss in one additional asset? Confidence. Honestly Brian for me I realized I am hyper critical of my work and that sometimes comes off as a lack of confidence. I’ll never forget my first referral. I was a nervous wreck and I kept closely critiquing the script the agent had read prior to our meeting. It was a 30 Rock spec. I wrote it in 2008 and it wasn’t until 2012 that it got me my first paid gig.

    But you are so right! I think 1 and 2 are the gateway to becoming a better writer. It’s a maturation process.

    My 2 cents.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s