People often have a negative perspective of agents. After all, who wants to give up 10% of their income to someone who just mails out their scripts and occasionally phones them with bad news? The truth about agents is much different though.
Put simply a good agent will save you time and actually make you money. They know the ins and outs of the industry and they know how to get you the best deal possible. Remember that an agent doesn’t take any money from you until they’ve sold a script, so it’s pretty much win/win.
Finding an Agent
The first thing you want to do is to get a list of approved agencies from the Writers Guild. They have a coded list so you know which agencies are currently accepting scripts. Keep in mind these are agencies rather than individual agencies. To find an individual agent you will need to purchase the latest Hollywood Representation Directory from Amazon.
You need to get the name of a specific agent. This might require you phoning an agency and asking them which of their agents are currently accepting new clients. You shouldn’t tell them that you’re a new scriptwriter, just that you’re a scriptwriter with a new script.
Once you have pinpointed a particular group of agencies or agents that you would like to represent (and are accepting queries) you then you should send a query letter to around 5 to 10 of them. Make sure though that you’re only contacting one agent per agency.
Working With an Agent
With the right amount of skill and luck at least one agent will get back to you and request a copy of your script. Then you should mail a copy of your script, complete with a cover letter to the agent. Hopefully your script will have enough impact for the agent to request a meeting. This is a chance to get you know each other personally and ask any questions you might have about them.
A reputable agent will take only 10% of your scriptwriting income with no extra charges (travel, reading, sending out scripts, etc.). If you meet an agent who differs from this then you should politely back out of any further dealings with them. The only cost you many have to pay for is photocopying scripts.
You want to present yourself to the agent as a passionate writer and a great pitcher. The more scripts you can produce then the more money the agent stands to make which makes you a great acquisition for them. The agent will want to know where you see your career heading. For example, what genres interest you, would you also write for television, can you travel to Hollywood regularly for meetings, etc?
Once you have signed a Writers Guild-signatory contract your agent has a 90 period to sell your script before you can terminate the deal. Do remember though that selling a script takes time, so don’t rush to end the contract unless you strongly feel nothing is being done. An agent is primarily concerned with making money though so it would make no sense for them not to be trying their hardest to sell your script.
There are four different deals your agent can strike for you, they are:
Outright Sale: If your script has created enough interest and buzz around Hollywood then it may be sold in an auction like style. As you can imagine the bidding can get high, at least six figures and can go as high as seven figures. You will also receive a bonus when then script has actually been produced as well as residual fees for things such as DVDs and TV showings.
An Option: This is a lot more common than an outright sale. The buyer will purchase the option to rights of the script for a period of time (6 to 16 months). During this time the production company tries to attract talent and/or money towards the script. An option fee can typically be anything from $0 to $20,000. You will be paid this fee at the end of the optioning contract, at which time the option may be renewed or pass on the script. If they pass on the script you receive the option fee and retain rights to the script.
Development Deal: Your agent will use your spec script to arrange a meeting with a producer. In the meeting you will pitch ideas which can result in a development deal or sale (if you have already scripted the idea).
Audition: This deal secures an audition with a producer to develop their idea into a script. This could film or TV. In the case of a TV series you will receive money to write a couple of episodes and will get residuals if the show goes into syndication. If you impress you may be asked to work full time on the staff of the TV show.
Once you have an agent you should do all you can to stay in touch with them. Arrange a time to call or meet with them once a month or so and keep to it.