In part one of this article, we summarized what the various representatives do in Hollywood. Now let’s get back to our original question: “How do I get an agent?” As we said last time, this is actually a placeholder for the real question: “How do I get work?”
The short answer is: do great work. Not just good work, great work.
So problem solved, right? Okay, maybe not, but the point is this: if you want to get work as an artist in the entertainment business, no one will hire you unless you’ve already demonstrated substantial skills in your field. For aspiring directors, this means directing an impressive piece of filmmaking. For aspiring writers, it means writing fantastic spec screenplays. And so on.
Moreover, if you’re looking to get a job based on this sample media “résumé” you’ve created, the work you create must not only be great but should also reflect the “commercial” values of the kind of work you hope to get paid to do.
If you’re trying to get representation, there’s another layer of complication. This is because, with the exception of lawyers, most representatives only get paid if their client gets paid. This means they will only take on clients who can either make them money now or have a significant possibility of doing so in the very near future. So, if you’ve never made a dime in your desired profession, maybe you can see the problem.
Part Two – Breaking In
The truth is, most aspiring filmmakers do not yet have representation because their work is not yet of high enough quality to attract representation. And it’s not just fledgling artists that are seeking representation. Many established artists are looking for agents (and work) as well, so new artists are competing with many seasoned pros. All the more reason you must make sure your work stands out from the pack.
We know what the follow up question will be: “How do you know when your work is good enough? What is good?”
We cover this topic in detail in our book, The Hollywood Pitching Bible, but the short answer is this: learn your craft, practice your craft, and accept that every artist loses perspective about his or her own work, so you must seek out honest feedback about your work from trusted friends. Understand that your first attempts are not likely to be of professional quality. It takes time and practice to master something as difficult as filmmaking. And lastly, never market your work until your work is the best it can be.
You’re Great. Now What?
So, let’s say you’re a writer with many terrific scripts or a director with a great film or killer reel. What do you do next?
Well, as we’ve said, the real goal is to work, right? If you were able to pull it together to actually direct a film, you probably had to convince someone your project had merit, even if your family or friends financed the film. That’s a start.
Let’s lay out a few strategies for cracking the business.
Greetings from Hollywood!
If your goal is to be part of the mainstream entertainment industry, your first step should be moving to Los Angeles or New York. That’s where 90% of the business lives and works. Some initial contacts can be made by long-distance phone call, e-mail, or snail mail, but that will only take you so far. There are pockets of active production elsewhere in North America—in places like Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina, Toronto, and Vancouver—but most of the creative decisions on those productions are made in NY or LA.
If you’re looking for an agent, both the DGA and WGA websites have lists of signatory agencies. These are not lists of every agency out there, but rather lists of the ones that have agreed to abide by certain practices. The problem is that most top agencies will not accept unsolicited submissions. This means you will get your script or reel back with a polite but unambiguous form letter saying, “Thanks, but no thanks.”
There are some agencies that will accept unsolicited submissions, usually after you send a query letter or email describing your qualifications and what you intend to submit. We have seen lists of these agencies online — in fact the WGA website includes such a list — but often the lists are wildly inaccurate, out of date, or contain agencies we’ve never heard of.
Conversely, there may be agencies out there that aren’t on the list that would still look at your work. The only way to be sure is to start making calls. Agencies get these calls a hundred times a day, and the person who answers the phone will answer the question in thirty seconds. If they do accept unsolicited materials, sometimes they will require you to sign a release form before they consider your work. But this cold-call route to representation is the hardest way to go. Very, very few artists get an agent this way.
It’s Who You Know
The truth is that almost all filmmakers (even working ones) get representation as a result of a referral from a current client of the agent or manager, another representative (e.g. your attorney or manager refers you to an agent), a producer, an executive, or some other established member of the entertainment community.
So if you think you need an agent to get your work to producers, you’re thinking of it backwards. You might need a producer to get your work to an agent!
But be aware that even with these kinds of referrals, it is still very hard to get representation. This is because the entertainment industry has changed oved the past twenty years, and most top agencies will only agree to represent artists they consider “bookable”—the ones production companies are eager to hire.
This brings us to the crux of the matter. You shouldn’t assume that getting an agent is your only, or even best, strategy for getting started in showbiz. And getting an agent doesn’t guarantee you will get a job. Plenty of established artists with agents can’t get a job.
Your Other Options – Managers, Producers, and Lawyers
Yes, we know we said that agents are the only kind of representative legally empowered to seek work for the clients. But we also said there is some overlap with other forms of representation. The reality is that, for many artists, a manager will end up performing many of the same duties as an agent. And because managers can also produce their client’s work, there is added incentive for them to seek out new clients. But managers aren’t the only ones who can produce. You know who else can produce? That’s right — producers. Managers and producers are usually more receptive to discovering new talent that comes their way through other means.
And don’t forget about lawyers. The truth is that an attorney is very often the very first representation an artist will have. Why? Because you can always get an entertainment attorney to represent you— if you pay them. And, not surprisingly, most entertainment attorneys know many agents and managers. But don’t wait for your first deal to come along before finding a good lawyer. Make it one of your goals to connect with one as soon as possible, before you need their services.
This is known as networking. But good networking doesn’t mean cornering a lawyer or producer at a party and assaulting him or her with your “elevator pitch.” It means getting involved in the business and meeting other people with similar interests and aspirations. People who will support you, look at your work, and when they see something great, tell others about it.
This is why doing exceptional work is so important. Perhaps you’ve heard the maxim, “Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your front door”? The same is true in showbiz, which is why it is crucial that you’ve taken the time and effort to create the best work possible. When people in the industry see truly great work, they are excited to pass it on. After all, they are all anxious to get credit for helping to discover the next big thing!
In part three (coming next Friday), we will talk about alternate routes into the business and how to get noticed.