Writer, director, and producer Brian Koppelman (“The Girlfriend Experience,” “Solitary Man,” “Ocean’s 13”) is constantly being asked how to find an agent. So he decided to answer the question in a blog post. We ran across it and just couldn’t leave it alone. Big thanks for his candid response and insight.
I remember, with crushing specificity the week in February of 1997 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.”
“Agents are, for the most part, reactive, not proactive.”
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 (which would become the film “Rounders”). 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.
“There has never been an easier time to attract attention to yourself. To make yourself and your work stand out.”
“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.
Every day, 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.
Special thanks to Indiewire for this one.