Trying to Get An Agent to Read You - Complications Ensue
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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Q. I queried Madhouse Entertainment (a management company) with my pilot premise, and they're interested in reading the script. However, they want me to sign a "release form," which basically waives my rights to the script so they could actually take my idea. I got a bad feeling about it (especially since my bible-format has already gotten me to episode three, and nine more to follow).

So, I decided I'd wait until June to query the big shot agencies. I actually contacted assistants at ICM, UTA, and William Morris about whom I should address my query letter to. They said they only take writers with industry referrals (what the hell, right?). You recommend in your book these are among the ones to contact. What's up with these agencies? Is this the way it's always been? Do you know the names of agencies off the top of your head that actually take unsolicited TV scripts?
First of all, sign the goddamn release. Yes, the language of just about every release form is unconscionable. The CBC release form states that if they somehow happen to develop a show that is word for word identical to your show, there's nothing you can do. It's an outrage, and the Writers Guilds should do something about it. Until then, that's how it's done.

The good news is that agencies and management companies are not in the business of stealing ideas. (Just clients. But that doesn't hurt you.) Even production companies and studios and networks almost never do it; why steal an idea from a newbie when you can option it for chump change?

Anyway, they won't read you without a release, so grab your lube and relax and think of England.

You ought to be able to scrape up an "industry referral"; isn't that just any producer? But it's going to be hard to get in at the top agencies without credits. It is screamingly unlikely they'll rep you even if they like your script. Those agencies are not in the business of breaking baby writers. They're in the business of stealing clients from smaller agencies, and selling them to networks.

The WGA has a list on their website of agencies that take "unsolicited" scripts; you'll do better with them.

Good luck!

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4 Comments:

One of the biggest mistakes in the world of entertainment is aiming too high right away. I've got a friend who's a music producer who used to manage two singers who were offered very good contracts, but turned them down on the hopes they would get a shot with a big label. It's years later and neither of them have done anything since. It's extremely common. And I've been guilty of it myself, to a degree.

ICM, UTA and WM are big, important agencies. Unless you bump into Steven Speilberg, slip him your script, he reads it, loves it and buys it on the spot, you've got no chance of signing with them. And even if, by some miracle, you do, chances are you'll be so low on the totem pole that they'll do nothing for you.

Madhouse is a legitimate management company that you should jump at the chance to sign with, if they give you the chance. If you're really good, they'll be a stepping stone to bigger and better things, including agencies like William Morris.

Do yourself a favour, don't kill your career before it's even started.

By Blogger Tim W., at 1:33 AM  

The release form thing freaked me out when I first came across it too. I'm from UK where I'd never been asked for such a thing (which I gather is down to our different copyright laws amongst other things) so when I started querying producers in Canada and was asked to sign away my life (it seemed) I was a bit taken aback. I've never had any problems though, and I think that Alex is right that logic dictates no production company is going to nick your idea when they can legitimately get it off you for peanuts! That's a happy thought ;)

As for the big agents, you don't want to be repped by someone too big when you're a baby writer anyway - you'll just get lost in the shuffle as they concentrate their efforts on their big clients who're actually making them money. Start with someone small who's as hungry as you to move up the ladder.

In fact, the same advice could go for approaching producers - in my experience a producer who is ambitious but new, while they won't have a lot (or any) money to option your script, will put their everything into actually getting the project into production because they need it as much as you do.

Good luck!

By Blogger Claire, at 5:35 AM  

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

By Blogger lpcyusa, at 6:34 PM  

Thirding or fourthing the advice not to sweat the release form too much.

Most companies require release forms because they're paranoid about what you might do, not because they're malicious in their own intentions.

Plus, not only is it cheaper and easier for a company to buy or option your script than to steal it, if you've written one script they think they can make money off of (the big if), they're going to want to want a positive business relationship with you so that they can make money off of the next three scripts you write.

By Blogger Margaret, at 3:26 PM  

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