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Getting an Agent or Self-Producing

In response to a question about how to find a Hollywood agent, a script guru replies:

‘How do I get an agent?’ is by far my most-asked question. I don’t know why, because it puts the emphasis in the wrong place. The question should be, ‘How do I come up with a great project?’

Because I swear to you — I SWEAR — that if you e-mailed me (or anyone else in the business) or sent a letter saying…

“I have a fantastic idea for a movie: an unscrupulous lawyer has a curse put on him by his son during a birthday wish, that his father won’t be able to tell a lie for 24 hours. In the course of dealing with the truth the lawyer learns to be a better father.”

… Then — again, I SWEAR — overnight, you will have all the connections you need. With the right project, you can get dozens of connections in the course of a week — and then choose between several agents. Without the right project, well, then, you won’t get an agent — but you won’t need one, either.

I think the problem comes when a writer has a high-quality but strictly non-commercial property. Agents want commercial stuff, so they stay away from those projects, to the dismay of the writers. But what isn’t clear is why writers with non-commercial stuff want agents to begin with. If you have a non-commercial high quality project, you need to make the project happen independently. You’ll need to do the work whether you have an agent or not, so why waste time on that step?

Ultimately, the most important thing is to have good work in some form. With good work, you shoot to the top in a matter of months. Without good work, no amount of connections — or live lobsters — are going to make a difference.

This is wise advice, but the reasoning is a bit circullar. He’s saying, If an agent believes the film idea is commercial, it will easily sell. But how do you convince the agent that the film idea is commercial? All ideas start out as uncommercial until someone can be persuaded otherwise.Also, what is the screenwriter’s goal? Is it simply to sell the script? Or to produce it? Production companies buy scripts all the time and then never produce them. That kind of transaction might benefit the agent, but not the screenwriter or the project itself.

(See also: this thread on protecting your screenplay).