8 Questions about Agents Every Screenwriter Wants Answered Right Now

Chad Gervich is one of our favorite writers about writing for TV. Check out this article based on a chapter in his new book and you’ll see what we mean:

by Chad Gervich

how-to-manage-your-agent1.) What does an agent do if a client is passionate about writing something the agent feels is un-commercial?

Scott Hoffman, Folio Literary Management: It depends on the client, and it depends on the project. There are projects you think are entirely wrong projects, career killers, and there are projects that are just not the right next project for a client, in which case you have a dialogue about each of your respective roles, and what the benefits and drawbacks are to each specific party. [Likewise], if a client turns in work that happens to be not their best work, or not up to the kind of quality you as an agent feel you would like to represent, it’s up to you to have an open and frank discussion and say, ‘I don’t feel comfortable sharing this [with buyers].

When I send something [out], there’s an implicit endorsement of it. I don’t think this work is your best work, and I don’t think it’s the kind of thing I would like to be professionally associated with.’ But, in general, if the dialogue is working between the agent and the client, what needs to happen for both parties will happen for both parties.

2.) Is it okay to ask my agent for help or feedback as I’m writing? Can I show her early or interim outlines and drafts?

Hoffman: I don’t want to see anything till there’s a script,” says one feature agent. “I hate to say it, but I don’t have time to read more than a couple of drafts. The job of the manager is to read the first draft, maybe another draft, then give it to me.”

3.) One of writers’ biggest frustrations with agents is that agents don’t always read and respond fast enough to clients’ material. When this happens, writers are unsure how to respond. They don’t want to get angry and alienate their representation, but they’re also anxious and frustrated. What should you do?

Zach Carlisle, agent, Verve: Given the life of an agent—given the life of just people in general—giving someone a weekend to read it is fair. So if you give it to them on Monday, the following Monday. [And if your agent hasn’t read by then?] It depends if the representative has reached out and said, “I’m sorry . . . I had something go on this weekend—I didn’t get to it. Give me a couple of days and I’ll absolutely get to it.”

But if Monday rolls around, and Tuesday rolls around, and you gave somebody a piece of material for [the previous] weekend, then you have a right to pick up the phone, call your representative, and say, “What’d you think?!” Maybe they’ve read it and just haven’t have had a moment to call you.

Robyn Meisinger, President, Madhouse Entertainment: This is where a good manager comes in handy. Part of our job is to work those agencies. We’re usually the ones driving the strategy, driving the process. Also, it gets to the point where we (managers) do so much, the agent feels like he or she has to keep up. So if you have a manager who’s in there nudging, saying, “We’re going to go out with this script whether you read it or not,” they usually do.

Carlisle: Put the onus on your representative. That’s something clients don’t do enough, and are afraid to do. [Clients] think “Oh, they’re doing something more important,” or, “They’ve got other things going on; I don’t want to bother them.” But what clients forget is we own ten percent of your business. I work for you, so never hesitate to pick up the phone, put the onus on me, and make sure I’m doing my job. [That] job consists of: when you give me a new piece of material, reading it and figuring out what to do with it—whether it needs more work or to go to a producer—then executing it in a timely fashion.

4.) I had a general meeting with a producer yesterday, and I mentioned the screenplay I was developing. The producer loved it and suggested developing it together. On one hand, I’m thrilled to have someone excited about my project! On the other, it’s my idea. Is working with this producer a valuable partnership? Is it worth attaching a producer before the script is written?

Tanya Cohen, literary agent, Verve: It’s a case-by-case situation. If a writer came up with an idea [on his own], I don’t see the value in developing it on spec with a producer—unless that producer adds a substantial amount of creative value in terms of breaking the story. If you have a writer who is a great executor, but has a hard time coming up with the next great thing, and a producer gives him an idea—something he loves—then I would encourage it.

In some situations, it’s [even] easier to just go and pitch it, to try and get a studio or financier to put up money for development. If you’re a brand new writer, and there’s a great producer who has a track record, fantastic actor and director relationships, and is invested in the project . . . it can open doors where there are paying opportunities that the producer is working on.

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