No, but really, How Do I Get An AGENT???!!

I remember, with crushing specificity, the week that every single talent agency in Hollywood passed on the chance to represent me. And I remember it felt like absolute fact, like irreversible judgment, from on high, that the screenplay my partner and I wrote was not only unsalable, but wasn’t even strong enough to suggest that we had any promise as screenwriters. I was so shaken up by these rejections that I wrote down what each agent told the person who had submitted us for consideration. One said, “the script is overwritten.” Another that “these characters are underwritten.” A third that “nobody is going to buy a poker script,” and a fourth, I swear, that “there are already three poker spec scripts in the market right now.”
Not one agent asked for a meeting with us or to read any further material.
Less than a month later, Miramax bought the screenplay in question. And by the end of March, each agency had calls into us requesting meetings, offering to fly to New York to take us to coffee, asking us to allow them the privilege of explaining why they, and their team, were the absolute best and only people who should represent us. Because they were true fans of what we did, had real understanding of our work, and, from the moment they had read our screenplay, knew we were going to have a long and distinguished career, if, of course, we had the right people around us to guide us through the difficult Hollywood maze.
Here’s the best part; I read each of them the comments they had made on the script a month earlier. Being agents, none of them skipped a beat: “that wasn’t me, I had an assistant read, oh, well, I fired that reader, I only read coverage.” Not one of them owned it, said, “I was wrong,” or “I didn’t think it would sell,” or, even, “it didn’t reveal itself the first time, but after Harvey bought it, I decided to read it again, And now I get it.”
This doesn’t make the agents evil or bad people. But it does, I would think, give lie to the idea that their judgement is, in fact, a judgement on the intrinsic value of the work in question. And it’s as good an explanation as any for the reason that most professional screenwriters roll our eyes when asked, by up and coming writers, how to get an agent.
Agents are, for the most part, reactive, not proactive. They have to be; their days are spent servicing current clients, movie studios, producers, deal flow, all of it. And, they know, most screenplays that get sent in by amateurs are not going to be game changers, million dollar sales, the beginning of an auspicious career.
“Yeah,” I can hear you saying, “but my screenplay is a game changer, a million dollar spec, the beginning of an auspicious career.”
Let’s assume, for a moment, that it is everything you think it is. What then? Well, then, I believe you will find representation. But it may not be by submitting it, blindly, to the top agencies. More likely, if you have written something of real quality, you can also write emails, letters, blog posts, tweets and Facebook statuses in an inviting, memorable and witty way.
There has never been an easier time to attract attention to yourself. To make yourself and your work stand out. All you need to do is convince people that it would benefit them to invest their time in you and your material. Because that’s how the business works.
Everyday, execs in the movie business, and screenwriters, directors and producers, are online, engaging, participating, looking for something great. Your job is to find a way to get them to ask you to read your stuff. The way to do that is not by asking them. It’s by creating a smart, inviting, entertaining persona, by not seeming crazy or desperate or scary,
“Yeah,” I can hear you saying, “but that’s not fair. All I should have to do is write the great script. I don’t want to have to be some kind of online trick monkey.”
Okay. Don’t create an online persona. Take a scene from the screenplay and film it. Cheaply. And put it on YouTube. Or on your own site. If it’s really great, other people will start linking to it and before you know it, agents will be asking you to please send them the entire screenplay.
“Yeah,” I can hear you saying, “but I’m not a director. I don’t have the money, I don’t—“
Okay. Don’t film it. How’s this. Submit the script to The Blacklist. It’ll cost you about fifty dollars, you’ll get reviewed by professional readers, and if they like it—
So take a trip to LA. Find out where assistants at the various agencies go to drink or party, make friends with them—
“Not very social—“
Fine. Put the screenplay up, in its entirety, on your site, then buy some online ads in places film people go, cheap ones, to drive traffic to the site—
“No money to do that. Why can’t it just work like this: I send the script in to CAA or WME. They read it and call me and then send a dump truck filled with money and fame to my house?”
The point is this: there are huge barriers to entry in the movie and television business. There always have been. It’s a simple question of numbers and reality. And your choice is, really, to complain about how hard it is to get representation or to go out there and do something so amazing that the representation finds you.
Because that’s what the story of our first screenplay is really about. I’m not saying the screenplay was amazing. But the fact that Harvey Weinstein bought it was. To the industry. And they reacted in kind.
Worry about the work. Do the work. When it really is undeniable, your challenge won’t be finding an agent. It’ll be choosing from all the ones begging you to sign with them.

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.

8 thoughts on “No, but really, How Do I Get An AGENT???!!”

  1. What will drive wannabe writers crazy is this advice offers no cheat or secret short cut to a career and anyone who rejects this beautifully articulated guidance is looking for an easy way in — which means they don’t desire to contribute to cinema; they want fame fortune or something they think will vanquish personal demons.

    1. My writing partner, David Levien, had met a young lit manager, named Seth Jaret. Seth had just started being a manager. Had never sold a feature script. David met him networking the way I suggest above. Seth put the script in the hands of Tracy Falco, who worked for Ted Demme and Joel Stillerman. Ted and Joel gave the script to Harvey. All that is a very short answer for what seemed impossible and byzantine back then. There were many rejections and false starts and false promises along the way.

  2. I was wondering, did you start from New York? If so, do you think it perhaps helped to not be among all the noise to get noticed by someone like Weinstein? And if not, is it really just, as you say, writing something good enough that it just doesn’t matter when, where or how?

    1. David and I were in NYC. A few years before, David, just out of college, had lived in LA for two years. Made some contacts. One of those contacts gave the script to someone who gave it to someone, as I describe in the above comment. I do not think NYC affected the Rounders sale at all.

  3. Look, I get the agent question… Landing an agent is a massive deal and something you should be extremely proud of once it happens. But, then what?

    Ok, so you finally land an agent at CAA or WME or wherever and you’re on top of the world and rightfully so… Now what? The reality is that you’re a new piece of talent at a place where the people working for you keep their jobs only if they make their companies money. The only reason they give a shit about you in the first place is because they see you as vehicle that will make them money… Which is completely fine because you only signed with them so you could stop bartending and finally start making that money. So, you’re both on the same page (we can debate this point a bit, but that is a discussion for another time) which is great…

    So, now you’re with a reputable agency and you have a piece of material that is being shopped or being developed or even in production (not likely at this point, but fine…) and the jr. agent handling you is screaming from his cubby hole of an office that you are the next big deal and everyone is reading you and the train is finally moving… Next stop, the bottled water tour. The bottled water tour is an epic couch surfing session where you ‘meet the town’ so the execs can see you in person, make sure you wear pants, and determine weather or not they they can stand you as a human being.

    Assuming you’re a decent enough person (or you put on a dynamite act), you do the tour and it’s a massive success… Everyone loves you and you love them and you laugh at their horrible attempts at making hip jokes and they pretend to give a shit about where you’re from and you talk about prestige movies and amazing TV shows that you know they haven’t seen and you both promise to work together tomorrow and your agent tells you they love you and all is great because all is great… Now what?

    The inaugural period is now officially over… so now what? What are your responsibilities? What should you be doing? What should you expect? What should your next move be? Write a spec? Develop a pitch? You already have a great hour long tv drama being shopped and you met the town based on that sample, but you think you can pump out a fantastic half hour comedy to show how well rounded you are as a writer… good idea? How do you navigate the waters and work towards a career? That’s the real question…

    You come to LA and the first thing you say to yourself is ‘Ok… I need to get an agent. How do I do that?’. And that is a perfectly valid question because the first thing anyone asks you when you tell them you’re a writer/actor, etc (Important side note: ‘What do you do’ is the first thing anyone out here asks you period)… is ‘Who’s your agent?’. So, your logic makes total sense. But, getting the agent doesn’t mean shit if you don’t know how to survive long enough to build and sustain a career.

    I’m a huge fan of your work, listen to your podcast and really respect how you put yourself out there and help aspiring writers/artists (a category I absolutely fall into). And, as I said, getting an agent is extremely important. I just wanted to jump in here because, having just gone through the process fairly recently (I have a few fantastic agent/exec stories that would absolutely blow your hair back), I wish I had known a bit more about the whole ‘what next’ of it all. The hard part really starts once you land that agent because, like you said… that money truck sure as shit doesn’t just pull up to the door once you sign.

  4. Thank you.

    This is wise advice. Because I am a minority, when I went into it I forewent the agency search. As a playwright I had won a few awards and had an incredibly fun and creative outlet and support system of theatre makers to give me my creativity fix in between screenplays.

    But because I had heard the horror stories of my white friends about agent searches I decided to face reality. Their challenges were my impossibilities. So I forewent that drama.

    I’m glad I did. It forces you to use all of your resources to get your scripts out there. You should not count on an agent to make a sale on a project that you have passion for and know inside out. Only you can do that. Technology today allows you to do that in incredible ways.

    If the work is good someone will find you.

    Over the last 18 months I was hired for two screenplays. It took four years of working every day like it was a full time job, but it paid off. I partnered up with someone who is equally as passionate. And I am having the time of my life. I love what I do.

    Agents are nice to have. When you have a career that needs it. But if you’re one of those people that likes to do the work, that steps into it unafraid. Agents are just nice to have. But I think you can make a career for yourself without one.

  5. In my opinion, this is by far the best advice I have ever heard. I haven’t been writing for long but I plan to after finishing college. I know this is what I want to do. I’m hoping the few contests I have entered will raise some attention even if I don’t win a few. Just having eyes read my work is frightening. I just don’t want to believe I’m not any good. I can’t even watch a tv program without wanting to dissect it from top to bottom.

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