You Don’t Need a Manager or Agent…Yet
by Bill True – Writer and Dept. Chair & Head of Dramatic Writing at the Scottsdale School of Film+Theatre
When was asked to contribute to this month’s Smash Cut, I reached out to friends to ask what might be the most helpful topic I could address. My pal, Gina DeAngelis, said “the most common question I hear at conferences and online generally is how to get a rep.” So let me tackle that one.
The answer, though it might surprise you, is you don’t need one. At least not right now.
I understand why new writers, still on the outside of the industry, crave representation. The notion of signing with a rep feels like a significant step in “making it” because they believe it automatically leads/equates to getting their work sold. And the prevailing (yet naive) assumption for new writers is that once they gets repped, it’s smooth sailing from then on.
The reasons why that’s not true could fill a book, and there’s plenty of support in the form of articles, panels, and Twitter threads to back up the argument against putting “find an agent or manager” at the top of your “breaking in” to do list. So instead, let me address when you do need a rep.
The reality is that breaking into Hollywood is a long process. I often joke about how anyone can be an overnight success in Hollywood…and it usually takes about 10-15 years. During that time, you’ll likely be your best and only champion.
Agents and managers are most useful to writers on the cusp of breaking through. That means the writer already has heat from doing well in a notable contest or fellowship and/or they have a sale or real, tangible interest in a project from one or (preferably) more buyers already. Which further means they’re typically not interested in writers who are at the start of their journey.
When you get to the point where Hollywood is taking notice, a rep is often necessary to help propagate your work through the system. They don’t break you in, but they are useful in helping push you across the line. But only after you’ve done the long, hard work to reach that line…on your own.
So…if you’re first job isn’t getting an agent or manager, what is it? Well, the first job is always write, write, write until your craft is ready for primetime, and have at least two or three pro-level writing samples in your arsenal. But if you’ve done that, then the next job is to get people in the industry to read them.
In her indispensable book, The New Screenwriter’s Survival Guide; Or, Guerrilla Meeting Tactics and Other Acts of War, my friend Max Adams lays it out clearly…studios (and in TV, networks) buy scripts. And “in Hollywood, producers find material, take it to studios, and the studio buys the material for the producer to produce.” If you’re going to pursue relationships with (and eventual reads from) any one type of person in Hollywood, it should be producers—specifically those focused on development. They’re the real “sales people” in the system.
Many new writers imagine “making it” in Hollywood as a light switch. One day you’re off, and the next day you’re on. But it’s really more like growing a plant from seed. The amount of energy it takes for a seed to break soil is enormous, and the most important part of the process happens under the surface, where we can’t see. The energy you muster to break through comes in the form of the positive relationships you build with industry folks…making them fans of you and your writing. A rep is like that little boost of plant food at the end to help you sprout, and then to help strengthen your stalk and branches and leaves. But the root system is all you and the strong relationships you forge, most likely with producers. And honestly…it always will be.
So don’t worry about the agent or manager right now. Trust me, when you get to the point where you really need one, you won’t have to look for them. They’ll find you. And if you keep doing the work you need to be doing now—honing your craft, and building relationships that lead you to producers that make the kind of stuff you write and who like you—you will get there eventually.
FYI — Max’s book remains one of the best, most readable and operable books out there for new writers who want to understand the industry. I highly recommend it! There’s a hyperlink to it in the title above.
Bill True’s debut feature, Runaway, was hailed by critics as “Brilliant” and “Hitchcockian” as it premiered to universal accolades at Tribeca and Toronto. Bill also took the top prize at the Austin Film Festival for his work on Runaway, which was subsequently released by eOne Films. He has since developed feature and television projects with The Film Collective, NBA Entertainment, Warner Horizon Television, Veritas Entertainment, More/Medavoy Productions, eOne Television, and more. He is currently in development at Echo Lake Entertainment on his original drama series, Way Beyond. He also working with Rom Com Pictures to produce his original drama series, Hope Springs.
In addition to his work in Hollywood, Bill is Faculty-in-Residence for Dramatic Writing and Department Chair at the esteemed Scottsdale School of Film+Theatre.
I would disagree.
Early in my career, I focused on finding an agent, as well as finding opportunities with producers, because I realized that agent’s are simply keyholders, rarely advocates of a career. And that even with an agent, I would probably end up getting my jobs or selling my material. They gave entree.
As a result, I never got an agent – I wasn’t one of those “guy who writes…” because I wrote what captured my passion, believing that you can’t anticipate or time the market. But I did write orginals that were worked with four Oscar-winning producers. I pushed doors open and used my attorney when required. I even signed releases on occasion. I wrote originals that were recognized at Sundance, Austin, Chesterfield Paramount, Cinestory, etc.
But now, at this point in my career, I’m finding it difficult to submit material, even with credible referrals, even with an attorney; and if I’d ever been able to find an agent, whether that was an agent or the latest in a series of agents, I would probably be able to at least get the work over the transom.
So I guess I’d say, those are parallel tasks that need to be pursued simultaneously.