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Agents: The Road Over-Travelled

September 23, 2010 | By | Add a Comment

Editor’s Note: this is a part of a series from a screenwriter (under a pen name) who details her experience with selling a script. She begins with her experience with agents and … well, just keep reading the series. The story has a happy ending.

Margaret Ann Stewart

When I was in college, I was part of a group of students that developed what we called the “Detroit Scenario”. The “Detroit Scenario” relied on asking one question: Who would know how to get to Detroit better – someone who had actually been there, or someone who had not?” The question wasn’t really about going to Detroit per say, but about getting career advice from others – those who had tried out their theories of success and those who had not.

In the world of film I personally have only parked my car in Detroit, but have not yet had the opportunity to get out and enjoy the scenery. And while that may not seem like a huge accomplishment in my travels as a screenwriter, it has taken two years to get to that parking space, when I started out without so much as a map.

“Two years?”, you may be asking yourself. Yes. The primary reason for that is that most of the time when someone completes a screenplay and then decides its time to try and get it out there, the person has no idea where to start and no one that’s been to “Detroit” around to ask questions. So this series of articles is about my quest to get there and what I have found out along the way.

Agents

In my own personal experience I naturally thought I had to get an agent. Rational thinking told me that an agent would make me sign a contract and then do all the work needed to sell my script. Simple enough, right?

Well, that is a nice theory until you consider that the Internet is also the source of millions of other fledgling screenwriters who also want an agent. Therefore, once an agent posts his or her website and accepts submissions through it, that person is bombarded by letters requesting representation and/or 90+ page scripts that they are expected to read. As a result, many of the agents that do consider screenwriters for representation are almost impossible to locate on the World Wide Web and some will not accept any material unless it is from someone that they already know in the film industry.

Don’t get me wrong, there are agents for screenwriters listed on the Internet, but every screenwriter must use absolute caution when approaching them. This is because many of the people that claim that they will get your script sold are people with an agenda that is not in your best interest. For example, there is one company that is listed by multiple names on the Internet and that has paid for ads on almost every search engine page. That company invites screenwriters to send them their material and offers to represent even the most novice of writers, regardless of the writer’s ability to actually write. But it also provides services for a fee to work with the writer on writing skills, clean up the script submitted, copy the script, etc. And these fees add up quickly. Most importantly, in the two years that I have pursued screenwriting I have never known anyone that actually had their script sent to a producer by this company. Knowing all of this led me to discover a site that every beginning screenwriter should be aware of and visit often: The Preditors and Editors website at http://pred-ed.com/pubwarn.htm.

Preditors and Editors list thousands of complaints by writers, as well as any inside information that is available about numerous people and agencies that writers have had experiences with. While some of the complaints are minor, (it took to long to get a response), many of the complaints are quite valid and should, at the very least, make you hesitate to contact the individual that the complaint is about.

So where are the real agents? The absolute best place to look is the Writer’s Guild of America, West or East: www.wga.org/, www.wgaeast.org/. The sites not only provide valuable information to writers about registering their work, rates for screenwriters and membership requirements, they also provide WGA signatory agency lists that are legitimate. However, you must read the listings before you query an agent because some of the agencies listed do not accept queries or material from unknown screenwriters. Furthermore, many of the agencies on the WGA site do not have websites that you can get contact information for, or send an e-mail, so you must query the old fashioned way – through the mail.

From a personal perspective I meticulously went through those lists and queried every agent I could, but never received a response. As a matter of fact, one agent that I accidentally queried twice sent me a lovely e-mail and told me to NEVER query her again. Trust me, that’s an e-mail that I will remember forever. And I have to be honest, it was after that e-mail that I pulled off to the side of the road on my journey and contemplated turning back. But then, like a cat that has a string dangled in his face, I got distracted when someone told me about Managers…

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