LB: Should I Contact Agents Even Though I’m Starting Graduate School?

Building-Relationships-e1349448015688

Glad You Asked Dept. 3/14/14

This just in from M.R.,

Hello, I am a screenwriter who recently registered a TV pilot spec script with the WGA. I was wondering is prudent for me to pitch and to send is TV pilot script to screenwriters, agents, and managers, if I am attending graduate school in fall?
Does being a full-time grad or college student, limits networking, for example, to pitch, to correspond, and to meet with screenwriters, agents, and managers until he finished college?
Thank you for your time, and have a nice day
M.R.

Thanks for writing, M.R. I love it when people send in questions I actually have answers for. So here’s my take:

Dear M.R.,

I was in grad school at the University of Iowa when I wrote my one and only spec TV script. I already had an agent who was doing a great job selling my fiction to various science fiction, fantasy, and, um, man’s magazines, so I shot the spec off to him.

That agent sent the script to a friend at the then alive and kicking William Morris Agency. Her name was Sylvia Hirsch and she was beyond doubt the go-to agent for newbies back in the day. Sylvia called me and said she liked it enough to want to talk further, which meant face-to-face in her Beverly Hills office, so I got on a plane and made my way to that very place.

Sylvia and I had a short meeting during which she said that based on what she’d read, “I can sell you as easily as any of my other clients” and she hoped she would get the chance to do so. She made it clear that particular chance depended on me living in the L.A. area so that I could have meetings like the one we were having with any producers or executives who were interested in me because, she told me, “This is a very personal business. It’s all about friends and contacts and communicating a sense that you and anyone who might hire you belong together.”

This was more than enough for me to think, “Fuck grad school.” I went back to Iowa just long enough to quit my new part-time job at McDonald’s, gather up my meager belongings, and fly back to L.A. I was so eager to take advantage of the interest Sylvia had shown that it never even occurred to me to tell the University what I was doing. I’ve always assumed that I got a lot of “incompletes” that semester, which I’m pretty sure have long since turned into “F”s.

OTOH, six weeks after I’d moved into my new apartment in Studio City, California I had a deal to write my first paid, WGA sanctioned screenplay. At MGM, which in the late ’60s was still, you know, FUCKING M FUCKING G FUCKING M.

Although the biz has changed a great deal in the last 40+ years, it’s still intensely personal and everyone I know who has succeeded big has dived in wholeheartedly, all-or-nothing. Even now, it’s almost impossible to sell material or get writing assignments without meeting face to face with those who can buy your material or hire you. (I’m hedging by saying “almost impossible” only because even though I haven’t met him or her yet  there’s always someone to screw up anything we think is absolute.)

Bottom line: My advice is if you think you and our talent are up to it, then definitely get in touch with everyone you can. But if you’re thinking of doing the pro thing while staying in school and finishing your degree, don’t waste everyone’s time, including yours. Wait till you finish (and have your potential fallback employment position) safely secured, and then send our your material and take your shot.

Oh, and I wouldn’t advise sending pitches or scripts to screenwriters. Just agents and managers…and producers too. Working writers don’t want to ready other people’s work. There’s way too much potential liability involved in that. And in my experience most of them wouldn’t help you anyway because if you’re good enough to score in the biz, then you’re a not a discovery, you’re a rival.

Good luck, dood,

LB

While I’m at it,here’s another, related question, from the selfsame M.R.:

What can a screenwriter do to establish good working relationships with agents, managers, and producers?

To which I reply:

Short and sweet, the way to establish good working relationships is to do good work. Write brilliantly and quickly and be relatively easy to get along with during the process. I say “relatively” because I can’t make myself encourage any writer to compromise his/her creative principles. But I can encourage you all to stay open to suggestions that can prove helpful. And to work out a way of saying no when you need it in such a way that you screw up your relationship.

Hmm, this aspect of showbiz is sounding just like real-life, isn’t it? How to disagree without destroying our friendships…well, hell, if I knew the secret to that I’d still be hanging with a lot of people I really miss. (Because sometimes intimacy is more important than principles, or being right. But that’s an issue for another day…)

Meanwhile, if you have any questions, remember: I love addressing these issues, but I can’t answer if you don’t ask. So send your questions and make everyone’s day!