Getting an agent is a massive step in the process of building a screenwriting career. So how do you do it?
You’ve just finished your screenplay and now you’re thinking “I need an agent.” We all know that to get big writing assignments in Hollywood you’re going to need an agent. But how can you accomplish this if you’ve never done any writing assignments in general?
You need to learn how to get an agent, and today we’ll show you.
We’ll go over how to find an agent, all the major agencies, and what the differences between agents and managers are. We’ll also go over how to handle agent meetings, including a checklist so you can make sure you make the most out of those coveted interactions.
So get ready to lose 10% of your paychecks! Let’s find some film agents.
What Is An Agent and What Do They Do?
An agent helps negotiate contracts for actors, writers, directors, and producers. They also help talent find jobs by networking and setting up general meetings. Generals are where talent can meet respective producers or studios that might be interested in their work.
In short, agents will show you the money.
I had to. Sorry.
Your agent’s ear will always be to the ground and if they have you in mind, and they hear of an appropriate opportunity they’ll mention your name.
People want to know how to get a film agent so they can get their careers moving.
Having an agent is not required, but most people who make Hollywood their full-time job find agents a valuable resource when it comes to booking gigs, negotiating contracts, and dealing with productions.
What Are the Big Agencies?
Want to learn how to find an agent? Start by looking where they live. The largest talent agencies are:
No, they’re not just locations from Entourage, these are the big players in Hollywood. They represent most, if not all, of your favorite writers, directors, and actors.
There are other agencies in Hollywood than these eight, but the smaller they are, the fewer opportunities they see pass through the door. That doesn’t mean those smaller places are any less valuable, but it does mean they could be good places to start your career.
But you can’t just stand outside yelling “I need an agent!”
Well, maybe you could. But it might not work.
You want to learn how to find an agent who can help you advance your career and get you to that next level. How do they do that?
Agents are often stereotyped as bullish, angry people. While this is probably an unfair generalization, agents are responsible for getting their clients paid, and that persona can be part of how they manage that.
The adage goes, “If you need a best friend to talk to, get a manager. If you need to get into a fight, get an agent.”
But the similarities and differences in the profession are not that simple.
What’s the Difference Between An Agent and A Manager?
The most obvious difference is that managers are allowed to produce their clients work, while agents are not. But there’s a lot more to it than just that...
Managers usually oversee what their clients do day to day. They’re there if you need to talk through or develop an idea. They want to motivate and help you strategize.
While agents can do these things, they’re also legally bound to act only in the financial interest of their clients. There are lots of laws built around what it means to legally represent someone as an agent. In California, agents are legally required to be licensed by the state.
Most agents take 10% of a client’s earnings as payment. Usually, they have you sign a piece of paper saying their agency represents you. If they don’t have you sign that then you’re being “hip-pocketed.” Which isn’t a bad thing, it just means it’s unofficial.
Most managers work on a verbal agreement and a handshake.
But pay heed to the famous quote from original movie mogul Samuel Goldwyn “A verbal agreement isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.”
The Writer's Guild, Screen Actor’s Guild, and Director's Guild, specify certain regulations and privileges reserved solely for agents including setting maximum commissions at 10% of gross earnings. Managers do not face the same restrictions. So they can charge more or less (haha).
This is all nuanced and complicated. If you’re worried about agents or managers, check in with your respective guild for advice and information.
What Are the Kinds Of Agents?
There are agents for music, broadcasters, and magicians, but today we’re going to focus on how to find an agent that would represent you in film and television.
So what kinds of things do you do?
Are you trying to learn how to get an agent for screenwriting or acting?
I’m guessing most people reading this want to know how to find a literary agent. Lit Agents represent writers for film and television. At bigger agencies, these departments are split. Some people represent you for the feature scripts you write, while others represent your tv ideas. Most writers try to straddle both worlds now but further define themselves as their careers move forward and they get more jobs in one area of the other.
If you want to find a literary agent, you’re going to need to have a great screenplay. Maybe a few. Most agents aren’t looking to take on someone too green, so if you only have one great sample, make sure you have an idea of what you want to write next, at the very least prep a few film treatments.
Talent agents represent actors and directors in Hollywood. They’re all about what roles you can play, and getting you into the spotlight. If you want to get a talent agent, start by getting great at acting. The way talent agents find their clients are through word of mouth, showcases like improv, or stealing clients from rival agencies by promising them more opportunities.
There aren’t a lot of clearcut ways to get into Hollywood from the outside. Most people come here and work until their star rises. It can be hard because you are not proving yourself with tangible things on the page, you have to make people believe in your performances.
Aspiring actors looking for a talent agent should try to make friends with casting directors, so they can be put in front of bigger players. They should also work on showcases, take improv classes, and go out for as many commercials as possible.
But don’t pull a Tobias Funke and send out a bunch of headshots with glitter.
How to Get an Agent
Now that you know about the different types of agents lets learn how to find an agent who can represent you.
How to Find A Literary Agent
Lit agents are always looking for new clients. It can help to win a prominent screenwriting contest, like the Nicholl, or even place high on the Black List website. I’ve found the best way to get an agent is to make a ton of connections with their assistants and get your material passed upward.
You know I’m a fan of crushing a great coming of age script as a way to break in and get your screenplay passed up the ladder.
You can make connections all over. I did it by working as an assistant in Hollywood. But what if you don’t live in the Greater Los Angeles area? You’ll have to face a harsher reality.
It’s going to be a lot harder for you.
You’ll have to try and excel on the Black List website, win a respected contest, or attend a festival dedicated to helping people network.
Some people love pitch-fests, but I’ve espoused my skepticism with them a few times.
The key here is that if you’re In LA or not, you need to generate strong material, and a lot of material. So start there. Whatever is going to help you do that is the right first step.
How To Find A Talent Agent
Talent agents function in the same way as literary agents. They want to hear you’re great from someone else, be it a casting director or just someone who cast you in their movie.
They also frequent acting showcases in Los Angeles, stand-up comedy events, improv comedy shows, and even take a look at commercials.
You can even act in your own YouTube series and gain some notoriety that way.
If you want to get a talent agent, you probably have to live in Los Angeles or New York. Or maybe be amazing while doing Second City in Chicago. It’s so hard to stand out, and it really helps to be in a place where an agent c find you.
How to Find an Agent For Directing
Let’s assume off the bat that you have some amazing directing samples, because no one is going to let you direct without them. The exceptions being if you’re a highly successful screenwriter or actor. And usually those also mean you already have an agent.
Directors, like writers, have the ability to showcase their talent wherever they are on the globe.
So if you have amazing directing samples, try posting them on Vimeo, YouTube, and qualifying for Shorts Of the Week.
Hollywood is built on finding people, but I don’t know anyone who has gotten an agent or manager by just mailing them scripts or cold-calling assistants.
When I was an assistant, I dreaded the people who would find our phone numbers and pepper us with unsolicited material. Agents hate that even more.
But what if you’re lucky enough for your material to stand out and to hear that an agent wants to meet with you?
What To Do If You Get a Meeting With An Agent
So you figured out how to get an agent? Congratulations.
But just because you have a meeting with an agent doesn’t mean they’re going to represent you. So now what?
You need to head into some of the most important meetings of your life, so first step is to head in with confidence. This is the agent’s time to figure out if they want to represent you or not. They have to know if they can sell you to other people, and how you’ll behave in a room.
Are you a natural storyteller?
Do you listen as much as you talk?
How much chemistry can you milk from tough situations?
Hollywood is about selling yourself as much as selling your ideas. So you need to prepare before you meet an agent. You got this far, so do yourself a favor and prepare even more. Another important question to ask yourself?
How can you tell if the agent you’re meeting is right for you?
As the old saying goes, “It’s the agent, not the agency.”
Sure, it’s easy to rejoice when your stuff makes an impression on an agent, but you don’t want someone who signs you and then forgets about you.
Ask about their strategies for your work. If they’re not at one of the big agencies, ask about their company’s track record. Come prepared with a few ideas to pitch them, but listen to the other properties they may represent that you can package as your own.
You need someone who’s got a long and short-term strategy for you.
Remember, they only get paid when you get paid. So make sure they have a plan for that, and a plan to get you working and getting paid for a long time.
Also, it’s okay to see who else they represent. Who have they helped break in? What connections do they have for when it comes time to package your work.
New writers spend so much time learning how to get an agent they forget that they don’t just need an agent, they need a great agent.
That’s a lot to keep in mind, so how can we help you prepare?
Checklist For When You Meet An Agent
Don’t worry. we made a checklist for you so you know what to do and say in your first meeting.
Here’s to many more!
Come prepared with a finished script to pitch.
They may have already read your work, so if you have other scripts that are done, mention their loglines in case they want to read any.
Have at least two other ideas for what you’ll work on next.
TV, Film, doesn’t matter, but you ideally want them all to be the same or similar genre so the agent knows how to sell you.
Be knowledgeable about other people on your career path.
Who do you idolize?
Whose career path would you like to follow?
Have a dream job for them to help realize in your future.
Ask about their strategy.
Do they have successful clients?
Will they get you a lot of generals?
Will they get you a lot of pitches?
How involved do they like to be in your creative process?
What’s their plan for the year?
Can they sell your spec?
Get they get you staffed on something?
What's their plan for the next three years?
How will you make it to the next level?
Do they have good contacts for packaging?
Who can they get in your movie?
Do they have relationships with buyers?
Summing Up How To Get an Agent
Now that you know how to get an agent, We hope the checklist helps you suss out who’s worthy of representing your talents.
Remember, agents only get paid when you do. So work hard, and be confident in your ideas and where they’ll take you. Find an agent who believes in you, but also is willing to get tough when things aren’t working out.
Hollywood is often about hearing the hard passes on your projects. An agent can fight to get you paid and get your stuff into the right hands, but at the end of the day, the burden is on you to create.
Regardless, get back to the grind and keep those stories coming!
After all, now you know how to get an agent!