Friday, 8 June 2012

Free Agent

The more eagle eyed readers may have noticed that recently I have added a tab on the right informing people that I now have agency representation. Actually this was done and dusted a few months ago but I only just got around to updating the blog. And I thought, that because the question of agents (how to get one, do I need one, which one, etc) comes up a lot, especially, understandably, with new writers, I would talk about my own experience and how this evolved.

The main problem writers find is that you can't get an agent without work, and you can't get work without an agent. I think whilst both of these can be untrue, there is still generally speaking a lot of truth to it - especially now when things seem to be more competitive than ever.

Certainly when I finished my MA in 2006, with a small portfolio of work, I wanted an agent but didn't think I was in a strong enough position to get one yet. Also, I decided pretty early on that I wasn't going to take the blanket approach and contact anyone and everyone that had a business card saying literary agent. I had a few in mind that were well established, reputable, had writers on their books I admired, that I had met and/or been recommended to me. Funnily enough, after a networking event I found myself getting a lift to the nearest tube station from an agent I was particularly interested in. But I didn't even realise it was him until we started talking in the car. Once I did, I of course told him I would like to send him a script and why. Meaning, not that I was a desperate new writer (which I was) and not because I suddenly found myself sitting in car with him, but because this was my plan all along and it was just serendipity that he was giving me a lift now. To be fair to him, he's a nice guy, read the script, gave nice feedback, but passed - because he kept his client list small and wasn't really looking to add to it unless someone left. (But I liked him and he seemed nice so I approached him again after I won the Peter Ustinov Award, and he read the new script, liked it, but passed again for the same reason. I'm not kidding myself because presumably the fact that he even agreed to read material at all meant that had he thought it was the best thing since sliced bread he would've made room on his roster. But he didn't, so obviously thought it wasn't worth it. But people will read stuff because everyone is terrified of missing out on the next big thing.)

After I won the Ustinov I went out with that script big style. I made a list of agents I wanted to approach (I was still not going to take the scatter gun approach) and hit them all in turn. And every single one passed. Everyone was nice, positive about the work, but either it wasn't for them (which is code for they didn't think they'd be able to sell it) or their books were full (and again, keep in mind they took the time to read it so if it had blown them away...)

But around this time I got talking to an agent who represented a friend of mine. She read two of my scripts, invited me in for a meeting, and everything seemed good to go. We were talking for quite some time, a few months probably in all. The problem was, her own career was taking a different turn with a bigger role, and she didn't feel she would have the time to 'launch' a new writer. When these talks came to end I was pretty disappointed and completely fed up with the whole agent thing.

And just after this I got my biggest break so far with the Dough option. I thought about leveraging that to get an agent (because now there was a deal on the table) but all the ones I was interested in had just passed on taking me on. And I thought sod it, the deal is on the table, I called in a couple of favours to get the contract checked, and thought okay, I'm keeping the extra 10% thank you very much. My feeling now was to give this script my all and if it got made and was well received, I'd be able to take my pick of agents knocking at my door.

That was the theory at least. It takes time to get movies made. That's just a fact. But I wasn't in a hurry any more. I was just getting my head down, working on Dough, writing new stuff, and script reading too. But time went on and two things happened that made me change my mind. The first was that I knew for a fact (because he told me) that my employer, John Goldschmidt, had recommended me to a couple of top, top agents based on the work I was doing for him, my attitude, and commitment, etc. Basically everything an agent should be looking for. And for the first time, despite this weighty recommendation, they both declined to even read my work because their client list was full and they weren't taking on anyone new. That was an interesting change in the status quo for me because I felt if that was (truly) the case, there might be nowhere really to go now.

Soon after this - incredibly - I was approached to sign with SMART. To be fair, this new agency was being set up by people I knew, and they knew me, and they wanted me to join them. It was as simple as that. I hesitated only because I was concerned about mixing business with friendship, and sought advice of experienced writers I knew and whose opinions I valued. They all told me the most important thing is the trust between agent and writer and the working relationship that evolves through that. One thing I knew for sure was that I could trust these guys, because I'd already known them for nearly a decade. I also decided it was time for me to have another pair of eyes and ears out there hustling on my behalf, to chase people for me, to send my work out for me, etc. And also, because of who it was, to get feedback on my work from - once again - people I trusted and whose opinion I valued. I also like being involved with things at their inception, so a new agency appealed, and I already new the team had good industry contacts.At the end of the day, I decided there was nothing to lose, only to gain. I liked the project, so I signed on the dotted line.

Day to day nothing has changed. As a writer you've still got to do (virtually) everything you did when you didn't have an agent, even now that you do. But it's nice to know there are people out there, keeping their ear to the ground for me, watching my back, and providing a sounding board when I need it.

And I should point out, that if you're thinking 'oh bloody hell, I'm not going to get an agent unless I'm mates with one,' another friend of mine (with no screen credits or any deal on the table) signed with a really good agency only a couple of months ago.   


Adaddinsane said...

Hey Jez, great to see you blogging again.

I decided a couple of years ago not to worry about getting representation - where an opportunity presented itself I've used it (and had similar "good but.." responses). And since I'm now producing my own work I can trust that I'll treat myself properly :-)

Jez Freedman said...

cheers, good to get back into the swing of things.

I think that's exactly the right approach, and now people will come to you looking for work!

Anonymous said...

congrats Jez. It's nice having someone who likes your work and wants you to win in a competitive market. Janice

Jez Freedman said...

thanks janice - not sure i'd quite put it like that, but i understand and appreciate the sentiment. at the end of the day - i think - it's about having a support network. so much of screenwriting is about rowing your own boat but i like having people around me (like a writers group to share war stories and feedback, a writing partner to work with, and now an agency)

Anonymous said...

I agree about writing is rowing your own boat. Wish it wasn't.

Jez Freedman said...

that's why we've gotta get people around us

Lisa said...

Glad you put that last paragraph in because I was just thinking that if you can't get repped then there's no hope for me. There's still no hope for me but I'm glad you've got an agent.

Jez Freedman said...

Listen, there's a certain randomness to it that has nothing to do with hope or ability. And all it does is create a support system for a writer who normally works alone, for which you pay a percentage of your earnings for. That's fine, but it's a techinal thing, not an emotional one. It's got nothing to do with what's on the page.