In part one and part two of this series, we discussed what the various talent representatives (agents, managers, and lawyers) do, and what you must do to attain representation. In this final piece, we’ll discuss how you can work your way into the industry in order to get noticed and land representation.
Part Three – Alternate Paths to Representation
Get an Entry-Level Job in the Biz
Very few people get to start their careers in their dream job, no matter what business they’re in. And this is certainly true in entertainment. You may have to take an entry-level job to get established and work your way up. These jobs can teach you about the business and give you access to the people who will ultimately help you find representation in your chosen field. And while working your way up, you may discover your natural talent (and opportunities) actually lie in some other job you didn’t anticipate. You may really be a great editor, sound mixer, development executive, or production manager at heart. Keep an open mind and always work hard and do your best. You won’t impress people if you act like you’re too good for the job you have.
For writers, working in development can help you make contacts and teach you a lot about writing. Many professional screenwriters got their first industry job as professional script readers. Ken Aguado, the co-author of this article, started out as a script reader. Doug Eboch, the other author, did script coverage as part of an internship.
Use the Platforms You Have Available to You
The media landscape today for aspiring filmmakers is now truly vast. It encompasses not just film and television, but streaming short-form, unscripted media like reality programming and non-fiction programming, web-series, documentaries, sports programming, news programming, mobile programming, gaming, and so on. Also, virtual reality and augmented reality programming are on the horizon and may soon be viable careers. Whenever there is disruption in the media landscape as we are experiencing now, there are always new opportunities for emerging filmmakers to get their foot in the door— if you know where to look.
Enter Contests and Apply for Mentorships/Fellowships
For filmmakers, there are a few other paths to getting attention for your work. For example, there are dozens of mentorship programs and filmmaking workshops. Many of these programs are sponsored by the various guilds and are specifically intended to develop new talent. Some are sponsored by studios and networks. Some of these programs are specifically aimed at providing opportunities for minorities and women, but most are not. In any case, most of these programs are highly competitive, so demonstrating real talent in your desired field is still a necessity, as we discussed earlier.
If you want to be a screenwriter, you can enter screenwriting contests. Placing in one of the top contests can help get your work noticed and talent validated. Most of the finalists in the Nicholl Fellowship contest get offers of representation. Just be aware that there are only a handful of these contests that matter. Many others will just separate you from your application fee with little upside if you win. Good in a Room has a list of some of the best ones. But be prepared. Know what is getting made and read those scripts. LA Screenwriter offers a truly vast selection of produced film and TV scripts you can read.
There are also director’s labs offered by organizations like Sundance and Film Independent that can help young filmmakers get their first or second feature off the ground.
If the goal is to develop your portfolio, there are numerous grants available from foundations, governments, and other organizations. Many of these grants range from a few hundred dollars up to tens of thousands of dollars. Just be aware that many grants come with very specific requirements related to subject matter and who can apply. Check out Film Daily for a comprehensive list.
For directors, entering film festivals may give you some indication of where your work stands, and getting into a good one can give your work some credibility. There are literally hundreds of film festivals around the world, some quite specialized. For a good list and to apply, try Without a Box and Film Freeway.
The Best Paths for TV Writers
Most aspiring television writers enter the business today through one of two ways. The first is becoming a writers’ assistant. Being the assistant who sits in the writers’ room and takes notes educates you on the way television shows get written and gives you tons of access to the writing staff. But being the assistant to a showrunner or even an office PA can also give you access. And if you do a good job and impress the writers with your hard work and intelligence, they will likely offer to read your work and possibly refer you to their representatives.
The second way into television writing is through the fellowship programs offered by many of the studios and broadcast networks. These are designed to match talented aspiring writers with entry-level writing jobs. If you get into one of these programs, it is likely television literary agents will want to read your work.
What It Takes to Succeed as a Writer or Director
Many directors get their initial directing opportunity by proving themselves in another area first. Sometimes they’ve been very successful writers or cinematographers, assistant directors, or producers who have leveraged their success to move into the director’s chair. For example, a writer many have written an excellent screenplay and attached themselves to direct it. Many actors have moved into directing using their contacts and favors to help them succeed at this rare and critical opportunity.
Other directors have worked their way into Hollywood feature or television gigs by creating an impressive body of independent directing work. Very often this means directing at least one feature film. Few directors are able to break into the feature film business if they’ve directed only a couple of short films, a music video, or a spec commercial. But it’s not impossible. Sometimes a collective body of short-form work (perhaps a large body of commercial work) can be enough if it consistently demonstrates a mastery of things like narrative, tone, technical skills, acting, and other less tangible qualities, such as commercial intent.
If you want to be a writer, you will probably need at least two great screenplays of the same genre under your belt. And it might take you several attempts to master the skills or learn where the sweet spot is for your talent. If you plan to seek representation, all the more reason to make sure you’ve done a variety of work and made it the best it can be. “Breaking” a new writer is a lot of work for an agent or manager, and your first deal is usually pretty small. Representatives want clients that will have a long-term career, not one-hit wonders.
And here’s the kicker — after you get representation, you will still have to produce great material and network. So really, stop worrying about how you get an agent or manager and just start building your career.
If you make your own success, the agents, managers, and—more importantly, a career—will come to you.