Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Writing Week (Vol. 5) part 224 - The Agent Syndrome

When should I get an agent?

What writer hasn't asked this question? It's probably one of the first things I asked (myself, my professors, countless message boards and blogs about screenwriting). I was eager for an agent; an agent would launch my career seemingly overnight. Step one: write script. Step two: land agent. Step three: $$$. Right?

I now have an agent. I've had an agent since October 2010. I have yet to sell a screenplay.

This is not my agent's fault. I was actually quite fortunate to land a well-known agent at UTA in my one and only agent meeting. Far as I know, the producers who set up that meeting for me had essentially orchestrated a done-deal. As long as I was personable and could hold my own in the meeting, then it was a shoo-in. At that time, we all had high hopes that my post-Apocalyptic spec - the one I was taking the meeting about - was on the verge of selling, so it was looking like an easy and mutually beneficial relationship all around. The day after the meeting, which went well, my manager told me that the agent had agreed to take me on, and that my manager had agreed in turn that I could and would deliver two scripts a year going forward. It seemed a lofty but doable goal. 

I've kept writing in the 18 months that have followed, but my agent hasn't seen a word from me (other than a few loglines early on). Due to what might seem a large period of inactivity, I worry that I've missed my chance. My manager never fails to try to console me, saying that no, the agent will read whenever I next present a script to him. When that day comes, we can tell him that I've been working on other things since we met, but that they just weren't right for one reason or the other. The chance to get him to read my next script is still there, though, and theoretically will be for quite some time. 

Yet, this fear that I've missed an opportunity to get new material in front of my agent isn't the only concern that's come from the situation. I feel as though my access to my agent is incredibly limited, almost to the point on nonexistence, until I have something new to show him. And there's good reason to this. It's been a year and a half. How does it look if my first email to him - seemingly out of the blue - is about the one and only project he knows me from? What will his impression of me and my work in the long run be? Will it seem as though I'm still a promising young, new client, or will I be that writer who only has one thing under his belt and, years later, still wants that to be his ticket in? I'm working on new things, but the older I get, the more I've done this, the more I know that "hey, I am working on something else, but you can't see it yet" emails aren't just a waste of time, they can actually serve to discredit you. It's that basic writing 101 mantra - show me, don't tell me. 

Right before I graduated NYU, the head of my department told me it wasn't worth my time going to LA until I had a script, a treatment, and a pitch - three things for three separate projects. Until that point, I'd be ill-prepared to answer the inevitable question, "so what else do you have?" I had ideas when I met my agent. I had a full script, which unfortunately he didn't like the idea for. On paper, I was prepared. In reality, I wonder if I had enough going for me at the time. 

We're all compelled to seek validation and entry to the industry through an agent. It's intrinsic to being a writer. When you decide that it's time for you to go that route, to send your query emails or ask your friend to pass something along, please have another script ready to go. Have two. Your ability to jump in with both feet and turn securing representation into an actual career will be all the more bolstered for it.