Screenwriting representation can be a white whale for all screenwriters, the thing that they feel will take them to the next level. And indeed, it can be the first step to becoming a professional and working screenwriter. But how do you achieve screenwriting representation? What are the steps to getting an agent? We look at the absolute key steps you should take to set yourself up for potential screenwriting representation.
Table of Contents
- Why Should You Get Screenwriting Representation?
- Keys to Achieving Screenwriting Representation
- 1. Write a Lot but Be Focused
- 2. Enter Screenwriting Competitions
- 3. Find Networking Opportunities
- 4. Work in the Industry
- 5. Write Query Letters, but Choose Carefully Who You Write Them to
- 6. Agents vs Managers
- 7. Make Sure Your Pages Are Ready
- In Conclusion
Why Should You Get Screenwriting Representation?
Having representation as a screenwriter can seem like a golden ticket to success in the industry. Simply put, representation can get your scripts in front of the right people.
A good agent, for example, will help you to effectively edit and package your work to improve its marketability. When an offer comes around, a great agent will make sure you get a good fee. They’ll also support you to build a reputation that leads to further success.
The question is, how to get that representation in the first place? Agents are in constant demand and have their pick of talent to choose from. So to stand out from the pack you’ve got to be relevant, original and visible.
No one tactic is going to achieve this. So try several things in combination and see what works for you. Here are some essential things to think about when attempting to get screenwriting representation…
Keys to Achieving Screenwriting Representation
1. Write a Lot but Be Focused
This may seem obvious, but one of the best things you can do to demonstrate your skills as a screenwriter is to have a varied body of work to show potential screenwriting representation. Every agent has different market niches and styles they are known for.
Opportunities to speak with an agent may not come often. So make sure you can appeal specifically to them and their business. Having a wide variety of scripts, treatments and ideas allows you to make that first conversation more dynamic.
If you need some prompts, make a list of genres and formats you haven’t explored, and see if you can generate any ideas that still feel like your style. Not everything will work for you. But this process will improve your flexibility as a writer and lend a fresh perspective to existing projects.
Having said this, make sure you write in a way that feels true to you. Stories and characters come across best when you feel connected to them. So venturing wildly from what you enjoy writing about will not be convincing to a reader or agent. They’ll want to see potential variety in your work but they’ll also want to see what exactly is unique about your voice.
Moreover, an unrepresented writer with a vast collection of middling screenplays will be less appealing and exciting than one with a select few killer ones. So pick what you’re writing and showing carefully, making sure it’s what best reflects your style, skills and interest. You don’t want to overwhelm the agent with everything you’ve ever written but instead succinctly and effectively convey who you are as a writer.
2. Enter Screenwriting Competitions
If you are a screenwriter seeking representation, competitions are a great option. They sometimes have pathways to meetings with potential agents. But even if they don’t, agents will keep an eye on competitions for new talent. So if you place it’s a great way to have agents come to you.
Even when you are unsuccessful, having a look at the winning scripts (if they are available) can give you valuable insight into what is popular in the current market. Entering screenwriting competitions also gives you deadlines to work to if you struggle to self-motivate.
In a world where the parameters of how writers get found are increasingly shifting, screenwriting competitions are great options for unrepresented writers to get their work in front of top talent, as our own TITAN Awards demonstrate.
Do thorough research into each competition before entering and choose carefully. There are lots of competitions around, and some have better reputations than others. This can be another crucial factor in demonstrating you are a writer worth an agent‘s time.
3. Find Networking Opportunities
Sending emails and entering competitions are good ways of getting attention for your scripts and finding an agent. However, they require persistence and you will often not receive a response, which can be demoralizing.
Sometimes speaking passionately about your ideas in person can be the best way of getting people to be receptive. Talking about your scripts to every industry person that you come across isn’t always appropriate. However, when you attend events and conferences that are specifically designed for networking, agents and managers in attendance will be more relaxed and open to new ideas.
Furthermore, networking in general will introduce you to other writers or people in the industry. And this will, in turn, make it more likely for someone to connect you with potential screenwriting representation.
If you’re struggling to find or attend networking opportunities, you can seek out online screenwriting groups such as those on Facebook or LinkedIn. This is probably unlikely to lead you directly to screenwriting representation. But it will keep you connected to the screenwriting world and potentially introduce you to collaborators and connections.
And although much of networking has gone online, you can still find in-person events where you have an opportunity to make an impact. These events can take a few different forms, including social events connected to film festivals. In general, try and get the notion of yourself as a writer out there in the world.
4. Work in the Industry
In pre-production or development roles, for instance, you can get an insider’s understanding of how and why new scripts are chosen. This may also bring you into contact with agents, managers and producers who could be helpful in furthering your screenwriting career. Even if they’re not going to be directly receptive to your script right there and then, they may be useful in providing advice or a general understanding of how to seek representation.
Working in the later stages of production and filming can also have benefits. You get to see how filmmakers draw upon, manipulate and sometimes disregard scripts in order to realize the story. You can take this insight, for instance, and use it to tighten up your projects so they translate well to set and post-production.
This may not appeal to everyone as an option; maybe you already have this insight from having a script made before, or you just want to focus on writing. However, if you are just starting out, getting some experience in the world of film and TV can help you understand what works in a script on a more practical level.
5. Write Query Letters, but Choose Carefully Who You Write Them to
Query letters are a way to formally introduce yourself to prospective agents or managers via email. In the letters, writers will propose one or two ideas that are hopefully powerful enough to solicit a request for a script from the agent. Although it’s a more conventional way to contact agents, you will need to avoid some common mistakes to make sure your email can stand out.
- Directly seeking screenwriting representation from agents via query letters can be a frustrating task if you don’t take the time to really research the person beforehand.
- Firing off lots of generic emails and seeing if anything comes back may seem efficient. But they will likely be ignored if you haven’t personalized your message for that specific agent.
- Research as much as possible before you contact someone and find out what kinds of projects they tend to work on. You can do this with IMDBPro or through their website if they have one.
- Try and specify, albeit subtly and without pandering, why you wanted to get in touch with this agent if possible.
- Avoid generic, formulaic phrasing and tailor each letter to each agent you are contacting.
Agents will get many of these emails a week from other writers. So as far as possible you need to make yours simple, with a logline or brief synopsis and a short bio of yourself. Avoid including attachments because sending unsolicited material is considered rude. If the agent is interested they will ask you to send through some pages.
6. Agents vs Managers
Depending on your current experience or credits, consider reaching out to a manager before trying to get an agent. Managers are more likely to take on someone in the early stages of their career. Whereas an agent will mostly be looking for people they can secure work for in a shorter time frame.
Often part of a larger company, agents are generally more regulated and risk-averse. This has the benefit of giving you access to lucrative opportunities if you are successful. But you may be encouraged to make your ideas conform to a structure or style that is more conventional. Moreover, they can lose interest if they have more lucrative clients.
Managers are not able to directly take care of issues such as contract negotiation. Though they will still likely take a commission. However, acquiring a manager when you are first starting out could be beneficial. They will be able to advise you on your career path in the long term. People often become managers because they want more creative freedom, and to pursue projects that they personally like.
As you progress, a manager can also advise you on finding an agent that is right for you. These are of course generalisations and often managers‘ and agents‘ roles and responsibilities can overlap. Either way, however, a knowledge of what each may give you will only benefit your decision as to what you need, where to look for it and how to approach it.
7. Make Sure Your Pages Are Ready
One of the biggest mistakes an emerging screenwriter can make is to reach out to representation with unpolished or unoriginal material. First impressions really count. And if an agent or manager reads something of yours that feels half-baked, sloppy, or too similar to what they’ve seen before, you are unlikely to get another chance to impress them.
It’s also worth noting that as a mainly referral-based industry, you can build a reputation for yourself (be it positive or negative) quickly. So it’s worth putting your best foot forward every time you reach out.
The best way to avoid sending sub-par material is to get good feedback.
- If you are able to, take advantage of friends and family and have them check your work for basic errors.
- Just as importantly, find someone who will give you completely honest feedback on your content. Ideally ask someone who has some knowledge of film and TV who can put your script into an industry context.
- Script coverage services will give you a detailed breakdown of marketability, story and other areas.
- Or for something more informal, a local script writing/reading group will provide peer feedback.
Whatever the route, a polished, rounded screenplay is vital to making a good impression. You can’t always plan the timing of these things. Sometimes an opportunity may present itself, for example, where you haven’t had time enough to get proper feedback from lots of sources. But in order to account for this as much as possible, give yourself time to write a screenplay that best displays your potential and abilities and don’t rush the process of seeking screenwriting representation.
Finding screenwriting representation amidst the fierce competition out there is challenging. You will need a mixture of persistence, trying different tactics and pure luck to get you where you want to be.
Focus on the things in your control and you can make headway. In this instance, that is primarily honing the quality of your work. It’s also putting yourself in spaces where you can speak passionately about your material, get feedback and form connections.
Finally, it’s choosing the right kind of representation for your career stage to set you up for long-term success. Screenwriting representation is not just for Christmas. It’s a relationship that will ideally last for the length of your career.
Therefore, it’s important not to rush to find screenwriting representation. Instead, keep writing, working, putting yourself in the way of opportunities and trust that when the time and opportunity are right, it’ll come.
This article was written by Rebecca Hindmarsh and edited by IS Staff.
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