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AGENTING YOUR CAREER - How Screenwriters can take control of their careers.

Feb 7, 2017 9:29PM

SO YOU'VE FINISHED YOUR SCRIPT...NOW WHAT?

 by Randy Becker (founder, NexTV Entertainment)

How many times have you spent months and months pouring your heart onto the page, only to be stopped in your tracks the moment you’ve finished it. You pass it around to some friends. You do endless rewrites. You enter it into competitions. Maybe another rewrite. You post it on a screenwriting site like Inktip or The Blacklist. You do all of the things writers who are trying to break in do… and you're STILL not getting it to the people who actually need to read it....the decision-makers. You're still not seeing the kind of career progress you know that you need, in order to reach your goals.


I transitioned from being an artist to being a guy who represented artists. That meant I didn't make money unless I could figure out how to SELL scripts and raise money...period. The system I had to learn that allowed me to build strong relationships and help set up my clients' projects all over town, is the same system YOU can use for your own career as a writer or filmmaker.

 

This article will lay out a whole new approach for screenwriters and filmmakers; a STEP-BY-STEP system for navigating the industry effectively... one that you can practice and get better at each time you dive in.  One that will put you in the driver’s seat of your career.

 

If you like it, share it with other artists. If you hate it...let me know...and I'll probably try to convince you why you're wrong. I tend to do that.

 

So take off your writer hat, for just a second, and put on that Agent or Producer hat. It's not as uncomfortable as you might think, and I promise you that thousands of scripts get sold with this hat on. Millions upon millions of dollars are made when the Agent turns on his or her system. And it IS a system…the same steps every stinkin’ time.

 

Are you ready to AGENT YOUR OWN CAREER?

 

STEP 1 - CLARIFY WHO YOU ARE?

Until you are absolutely clear with who you are in this industry, it will be very difficult to make any progress. What impact are you trying to make? What is your 'genius'? How can you benefit others?  Reaching out will always need to be about how you can benefit the people you are reaching out to. Not just with the specific project you have to pitch, but in an ongoing way.  They must see you as a valuable part of their own career-build....I therefore strongly recommend STEP 2.

 

STEP 2 - BUILD YOUR PRODUCTION COMPANY

The best way to codify who you are and what you bring to the industry (and the world) is to put a "company" in place that is a true representation of this. We'll call that your PRODUCTION COMPANY. You may already have one, but spend time getting very clear with your mission, goals and what you bring to the industry anyway, because this company will be absolutely essential for helping you move forward (not just a place-holder or vanity thing...it's a strategic must).

 

STEP 3 - LEARN HOW SCRIPTS ARE BOUGHT AND SOLD

You have to learn how this industry works.  How projects are financed.  How companies and people are stacked up in order to make a project viable.  You'll need to learn who is financing TV, what criteria film financiers use to determine 'value', etc....

This will be an ongoing process, but make it a priority so you are not the only one in the room who is clueless about the realities of our business.

 

STEP 4 - FIND YOUR TARGETS

When you know what you want to accomplish FOR YOUR CAREER, in 5 years and have a company that is the embodiment of that, and you have a basic sense of how it all works, now you have to identify the producers, execs, companies, et al...that you will need to have in your network in order to get this done. Who is doing the kind of work you will be doing when you are in full swing? These, and only these, are the people you will be focusing on, moving forward.

Note: don't think about your individual projects yet. Think much more broadly. For you to succeed in this industry, you will need to bring many, many projects out, so today's passion pieces are just your opening salvos.


STEP 5 - CHOOSE THE RIGHT MATERIAL TO LEAD WITH

Consider 3 things:

     a) YOUR GENIUS - the material that moves you most and you are best at delivering.

     b) Your specific long-term industry GOALS.

     c) The RELATIONSHIPS you will need in order to get there.

To be clear, I am not suggesting that you consider the needs of the people you want to build relationships WHEN CREATING YOUR WORK.  That, of course, needs to be done in an authentic, protected space so your creative self does not get distracted.  However, WHEN DECIDING ON WHICH OF YOUR PROJECTS TO LEAD WITH you will have to consider the marketplace.

So...if you are working to build a career as a feature film writer/director who does meaningful, Academy Award-winning dramas, leading with, say, a low-budget horror, may not get you in touch with the people who you'll need for that goal.  YOU MUST SEE EVERY MOVE YOU MAKE AS PART OF THE LONG PLAY TOWARDS YOUR GOALS.  You are not going to sell most of the things you write.  Sorry...that's true for EVERYONE in this business.  But you CAN make progress with every move you make, if each move gets you in touch with people you need in your network, in a powerful way.

So...is that script you've written the perfect one to lead with?  If so, why?  Look a few steps ahead in your calculations.  Will this serve the people you need in my network?  If not, do you have other material that makes more sense?  Maybe you can find other material that is better...remember, it's all about building strong relationships which will pay out for your own career in a big way!

 

STEP 6 - GET YOUR FINANCIAL HOUSE IN ORDER

Artists can only build their careers, if they are either independently wealthy (would be nice, eh?), or if they have a sustainable revenue source that affords them enough time to take on the huge tasks of navigating the entertainment industry.  If you are jumping from your money-making world to your creative career and there is no cross-pollination, you may find that it is difficult to do ether as well as you could.  As we begin building a real production company, creating a viable short-term and long-term revenue model will be important.  In some cases that may mean that you use the same resources and skills you use for your creative career to make money.  In other cases it may simply mean that you'll need to begin aiming your revenue 'machine towards the people who you need to build relationships with for your career.  Ex: a client of mine is a very talented writer and filmmaker.  He also produces events. He now does high-end events for the same entertainment companies that he needs for his creative career.  Guess who he is building strong personal relationships with?  Because he is clear with his MISSION and the overall impact he wants to have in the world, it was not complicated to align the films he was working on with the companies he supported with his events. 

There are many other ways to approach this, but one way or another, YOU MUST BE ABLE TO STAY IN THE GAME LONG ENOUGH TO BREAK THROUGH. Eventually you'll earn all of your money (reliably) as a writer or filmmaker, but that will take time.

 

NOW BACK TO YOUR CAREER...

 

STEP 7 - MAKE PHONE CALLS (aka MARKET RESEARCH)

You will need to MAKE CONTACT WITH EACH AND EVERY COMPANY/EXEC/PRODUCER ON YOUR LIST

Before you can ever sell anything in this industry or any industry, you need to build relationships and you need to clarify who needs what...and how they need it to be presented. Anyone who has tried to make cold calls to studios, networks or production companies has heard "no unsolicited material" many times...SO DO NOT TRY TO SELL ANYTHING RIGHT NOW. Don't even think about your project. Don't pretend you are calling for one thing, but really you are looking for a chance to pitch your project. If your project is in your mind at all...you will get shut down...as you should get shut down.

Would you like a stranger showing up at your place of work, trying to sell you a vacuum cleaner when you have a ton of work to do....and you don't even have carpets? NO, so don't call to sell anything.

You need to find out what these companies and execs NEED. And know that content is only a small part of the equation. They may only deal with partially funded projects, or films with directors attached, or TV with NO attachments, or....you get the picture.

Put yourself in the shoes of the development exec you are calling. Before you bring anything to your boss, what do you think needs to be in place to feel like you have a chance at impressing him/her?  What do you imagine is a non-starter?  If you don't know, these are great questions to ask.  

 

STEP 8 – DECIDE ON A FINANCING MODEL

How will your project actually get made?  Whether it is film or TV, big, fat studio projects or tiny indies, knowing how your project is most likely to see its way onto the screen is an essential part of your strategic process.

That means you’ll need to learn a bit about Film and TV Finance.  Just a bit, so don’t get too stressed about it. 

This is important because it will tell you what needs to be in place before someone will actually write the check to finance your project.  TV is generally financed by studios (not networks).  UCP, Lions Gate TV, Sony TV, Fox TV Studios, etc… Knowing what the studios you’ll be approaching need in place before they can consider your project will give you some clear marching orders.   Same thing goes for film.  What makes your film “worth the money” that you are asking an investor to fork over?  More on this later.

 

STEP 9 - GET YOUR PITCH IN SHAPE

As you get crystal clear about who you are as an artist (and what your company does)...and as you get clearer with what your network NEEDS...and you begin nailing down the material to lead with...your next step is to create a compelling way to communicate both the content and the value of the content.  That can translate in to a powerful logline, synopsis, one-sheet, sizzle reel, phone pitch, in-person pitch, depending on your strategy for approaching the marketplace.

And if you really think like an Agent, you'll have to craft a compelling "marketing narrative".  What about this material or this artist is perfectly in line with the elements that need to be in place for a buyer or exec to be able to say yes?

When I was selling scripts, I'd always have to think about that narrative.  If it's a first-time director, how do I speak about the material in a way that mitigates that potential liability.  If it's a drama, how do I highlight the things, aside from the story, that a drama must deliver in order for it to be viable; namely, brilliant opportunities for marquee CAST to dive in to.

This is where your knowledge of the industry is key.  It is also where you can apply the specific things you learned during the "MAKING CALLS/MARKET RESEARCH" phase.

 

STEP 10- TEST THE MARKETPLACE WITH YOUR MATERIAL

The marketplace is fluid, it shifts and it can feel unpredictable.  Having said that, people who spend their lives and make their livings on a day-to-day basis buying and selling scripts know what works and doesn't for them.

Getting feedback from friends and even from people who provide feedback for a living is not the same as getting feedback from those currently in the marketplace.

Before bringing your material out in a robust way, it's always useful to consider slipping your material to a few people to test the marketplace.  First of all, it gives them a first look at material that they otherwise might have to fend off competitors for, so that is a kind thing for you to do for them.  More importantly, you may get some consistent feedback, or no feedback, that is worth looking at. 


STEP 11 - MAKE ADJUSTMENTS

A huge part of a professional writer’s job will be filtering feedback properly, then making useful adjustments.  After reaching out to a few key industry folks, this is a time to tweak your approach or even the material itself.   

Remember that most people in this industry are smart and motivated to TELL GREAT STORIES just like you are.  You may have a vision for your project that is simply not being communicated or is not attractive to the people you are bringing this to.  Back when I was repping artists, I would do one of two things.  Either suggest that we make adjustments to the material or to the approach to selling it, OR…. suggest that we move on to other material so we don’t present material that will not resonate with the companies we need to build relationships with.

This is very, very difficult when you’ve poured your heart and soul into a script.  Tenacity is essential, but objectivity is too.  Your scripts are not going anywhere.  Some are much more likely to sell next year or after you’ve built stronger relationships.  If you expose the material before it is ready, you may be cutting off future opportunities for it. 


STEP 12 - PACKAGING

Assuming you are going forward with this, now it’s time to DIVE IN TO THE MARKETPLACE.  Strategy is everything. 

Remember your “financing model” from STEP 7? Now is the time to get some of those key elements on board.

I always say that there are 3 kinds of people:  MONEY, TALENT and the people who CONNECT the two.

Before you (the talent) go to a buyer (the money), it’s likely that you will need connectors on board that allow a buyer to take the material seriously.  We call that PACKAGING!   How you create a collection of “ASSETS” to bring out will make all of the difference. 

Work your way backwards from the person or entity that will be writing the check to figure out who needs to be on board and in what order.  If you determine that you need, say, a marquee actor on board before Lions Gate will write the check, your next task will be to figure out what will allow a big actor to look at the material. Usually you’ll require a director.  Well, what will allow you to connect with relevant directors?  Probably a producer or production company.  Notice that AGENTS are not part of this equation.  While they are very important, it’s unlikely you will find support among agents until you have serious momentum behind the project, so don’t bother trying. 


And FINALLY - LET IT RIP!


You can spend days, months, years, getting ready to be ready.  When it comes down to it, you may simply need to get your material out…period….whether you have the right package in place or not!

 

This is where all of those phone calls you made during the “MARKET RESEARCH” phase will come back to support everything you do.  Not just because you have accurate information about what each company needs and how they need to see it presented, but because “NO UNSOLICITED MATERIAL” only applies to people the executive does not know.  You will be going BACK to each of these execs.  You will be bringing them exactly what THEY said they need and… if you’ve done this right, you will have been nurturing each of those relationships all along the way.

 

So…is this quick?  No.

Is this easy? Not always.

Does this work?  It depends on how you define success.  If you do this right, you WILL build relationships and move your career forward.

 

Will you sell your script the first time out?  I have no idea…probably not, actually (if you look at the numbers), but you will be poised to sell your script and to take many, many more well-aimed shots at it. 

 

That is something I can work with. Taking shots in the dark is not!

 

AND…  I’ve done this many, many, many times.  When an artist embraces these principles and makes them his or her own…it’s amazing to see the progress.

 

Just THIS WEEK, my client, who has spent 18 months (admittedly) building his company in this way…RAISED $1 MILLION FOR HIS FEATURE FILM.  Others have sold their scripts to studios and indie financiers.  Some have been signed by huge agents and managers. Some have been hired for writing or directing assignments.  All have moved their careers forward.

 

That, folks, is my life, day after day after day…and I love it.  We are all very fortunate to work in a business like this.  Get systematic about it and you’ll be able to stay in the game for as long as it takes to reach your goals.

 

WANT MORE INFO?  Contact me directly at: rbecker@nextventertainment.com.  I’d be happy to discuss your career with you…if you are truly serious about doing whatever it takes to get your voice heard.

 


   
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