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Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Neal Gets An Agent

Congratulations to tv writer ras at Procrastinatey for getting her first agent last week.

Her success has sparked lots of discussion in the Scribosphere about the Hollywood agent hunt. So I thought I'd share my own experience.

I have had the same representation since I first started writing professionally - Jon Klane, currently of the Klane Company.

He used to be my AGENT. Now he's my MANAGER.

He was going to start producing movies, you see. And an agent isn't allowed to be a producer. But a manager is. Don't ask me how that works. A real professional would know exactly why that is. But I just don't know - and apparently can't be bothered to find out. It must be some Writer's Guild rules thing or other. In any case, Jon and I have always had a handshake agreement so it was no big deal for him to close shop and say "I'm no longer an agent", then instantaneously reopen shop and say "I'm now a producer/manager." One of the benefits to the handshake agreement - no contracutally contractal bindments. The practical impact on our relationship was negligible. In fact, it probably works out a little juicier for me, as a client, because I get the benefits of representation combined with what amounts to a producing partner.

My search started with sending out random query letters to boutique agencies. A much better organized friend had been doing a search and he gave me the list of agency addresses he'd compiled.

So I sent out to-the-point 3-paragraph letters with a brief description of the one spec script I'd finished - a vampire drama with lots of guns - also saying that I was about to finish a second script which I could show them, and mentioning casually that I'd just graduated from USC's extremely prestigious School of Cinema-TV Production, by the way. I didn't know that much about the agencies I was sending to. I chose some of them based on location. I chose blindly really. I sent a query to Judy Daish because she was based in London and I loved London and one of the projects I was working on was a screenplay about British warrior-queen Boudicca and I thought that might get a more friendly reception in Blighty (and so we will be moving to London later this year, so it all comes full circle or something like that).

A week or so later, I followed up the letters with phone calls:

"Hello, I'm following up. I sent a letter last week. I'm looking for representation."

Not knowing exactly what you're doing is more often an asset than a liability. I actually ended up talking to some of the agents on the phone directly, because I didn't know you were supposed to talk to the assistant.

"I need to talk to ---- " I would say, "I'm following up. They know what it's about...Okay, I'll have to call back again when they're available."

I was surprised at how many polite refusal letters I got back. My memory is telling me that almost half of the agencies I sent letters to sent a reply by mail saying: "We're not excepting new clients now" or "Based on your description of your screenplay, it doesn't sound like the kind of thing we're looking for."

In a mid-February of the 1st Clinton Term, I did my follow up call to one Jon Klane, who was then at his agency Circle Talent (which he was just about to leave).

I got Klane on the phone. I asked:

"...Did you get my query letter?"

And he said:

"I think it's probably over there in the garbage."

So I said:

"Well (because that is how I begin sentences), I have a very good vampire script you should read. It's really very good. I've just graduated from USC's film production program."
"I don't look at any unsolicited material. I don't look at anything unless it's recommended to me by someone I know."
"Well, you should really read this script anyway."
"What is it?"
"Well, it's like a down and dirty vampire movie, where a (insert rest of logline here)."
"Huh. That doesn't sound bad. Send it in."
"And I'm going to have another script - a science fiction thing - done in the next few weeks."
"Yeah. Send it in..."

...And I did. He read it. He liked it. We met. In the next few weeks, I gave him the science fiction script. And we made lots of money.

And then I was carjacked.

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An addendum:

I've since learned that in fact there is no Writer's Guild regulation forbidding an agent to become a producer.

Does anyone know where this common notion might have originated?

- By Blogger Neal Romanek, at Tue Jan 31, 04:03:00 PM GMT  

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