If you’re looking to pursue a career in screenwriting, you’ve probably asked yourself the age-old question: how do you get an agent as a screenwriter?
The answer is two-fold in today’s climate: 1) you can get an agent by successfully navigating the industry to the point where an agent becomes necessary for a sale, or 2) you may not actually need an agent and might instead be looking for a manager.
We’ll dive more into the agent vs. manager debate at the end of the article.
Still, to answer how to get an agent as a screenwriter, we have created this 5 step resource to help you navigate the industry to the point where you need an agent (and share how to get one).
The guide is generalized so that it could apply to writers working in the feature world as well as the TV world, but if you want more help on how to become a writer for TV specifically, check out this guide we wrote about how to become a writer for TV or Netflix.
Now, for how to get an agent as a screenwriter, let’s dive in!
How do I get an agent as a screenwriter?
As we mentioned above, in order to get an agent as a screenwriter, you need to successfully navigate the industry to the point where an agent is necessary.
Agents negotiate employment contracts on behalf of their clients, so if you don’t have any scripts to sell or previous credits to help them sell you, you definitely don’t need an agent, and an agent certainly doesn’t need you.
Contrary to popular belief, you can still do a lot for yourself and your writing career completely on your own without ever taking a meeting with an agent.
By leveraging your own network and working with a manager, a producer, or a production company partner, you can land meetings and even sell projects without an agent ever getting involved. Don’t forget the lawyer, though!
That said, an agent might still become interested in you as a first-time writer when it seems like a deal is about to go through, and they could help get a deal over the finish line.
There’s still plenty of value in getting an agent, especially if you can attract one that believes in you enough to fight to get your projects sold and produced.
How can I get to the point where I need an agent?
While you might not like this answer, you’ll know you are ready for an agent when the agents come to you.
Like it or not, agents don’t accept cold queries, and because of the recent skirmish between the WGA and the ATA, getting an agent from one of the big agencies as a writer has become complicated. Most agencies re-signed old clients, but they aren’t really looking for new writers.
We’ll get into a little more about that later, but for now, it’s wise to avoid seeking representation with an agent until you are at the right stage in your career.
How do you know you are ready for an agent?
Agents want clients who are ready to take to market. They want someone who has worked with a manager or producer, someone with a body of work that is ready and polished, and, should they represent you, someone they could hit the ground running with, take to market, and build a career around.
Coming from an agent: you really don’t want an agent until you’ve already developed some work, built out your body of content, and are ready to be marketed, sold, and packaged.
That usually doesn’t happen until you’ve already had a manager, which we’ll get into below.
Five steps to getting an agent – what are they?
That being said, let’s say you want to land an agent. How do you go about it?
Here’s our five step guide for what we recommend:
1. Make sure your scripts are good enough to be read by the industry.
Before you can connect with and impress an industry professional from your network, you need to make sure you have multiple scripts that are good enough to be read by said professionals.
This means your scripts have to be good and exciting enough, and your creative voice distinct and unique enough that they will convince someone who reads your work to take a chance on you as a writer and help you get staffed or scripts sold. Maybe even made!
You never know who will connect with what, but if a person likes you, they’ll probably like your script enough to at least read it.
Besides being a good person that people want to support, your job is to make sure your work is ready to be read when the opportunity presents itself.
How do I know my script is ready to be read?
Get it peer-reviewed. Peer review can come in many forms. For instance, you can join together with a group of writer friends who all swap scripts and review each other’s material, if you don’t have one already, or send it out to individual friends for feedback and notes if they’re open to it.
Here’s what writer and manager Audrey Knox from The Cartel has to say on the subject of writer’s groups in particular:
You can also submit your scripts for professional-grade peer-review feedback, known as coverage.
Coverage is an industry document format written by a reader that grades your script and gives feedback on what’s working and what to improve upon.
Coverage is good for assessing your story and writing’s overall quality, not just for making sure your scripts are formatted correctly and don’t have typos.
But also, please for the love of God, make sure they are formatted correctly and don’t have typos before you submit them! Typos and formatting errors will negatively affect the reader’s enjoyment of the read, as well as their opinion of you as a writer.
Where can I get coverage online?
There are many companies who provide this service online, including many screenplay contests that provide coverage as an add-on service once you’ve already submitted.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but here’s some great places to start:
Some of the above options even connect you with industry gatekeepers like managers and producers to give you notes on your material.
Not all coverage comes with notes, but you can always learn from the feedback you get, even if it’s mostly negative or mostly positive.
Just remember to get a handful of opinions for a more objective point of view. An aggregated perspective on how your script comes across is best.
Paraphrasing Neil Gaimon’s famous opinion on notes, one person’s solution for how to fix an issue in your script might not be right for your story.
Still, if multiple people tell you the same issue is wrong with your script, you need to figure out a fix for that issue.
What’s the best way to get feedback?
Personally, I find the best feedback comes from having a few close writer friends and a few close industry professional colleagues that you share your scripts with.
The friends know you and your personal style, so they can give you biased but encouraging feedback to improve upon.
The industry professionals, on the other hand, will give you critical and honest feedback that your friends might be too polite to say or too close to you and the project to notice.
2. Once your script is ready, use your network to find yourself an advocate.
Now that you feel confident in your script, it’s time to find someone you trust from your network to help you get your work seen by new people.
The goal here isn’t necessarily to get this advocate to send your script directly to an agent.
Instead, it is to vouch for you and your character, to introduce you to new people who can make connections that lead to a meeting with an agent or, better yet, a potential buyer or producing partner.
As I mentioned above, if you’ve shared your scripts with industry colleagues and considered their feedback as you’ve revised and polished your script, these contacts are great first resources to start reaching out to again when you need an advocate for your project.
This could be a former co-worker who works at a new studio that you share what you’ve been working on with. Or it could be a mentor figure you reach out to and ask for their feedback.
You can also share your work in contests or third party networking services that connect you with industry professionals that you can then share your work with for a potential advocate.
What if I don’t know anyone to be an advocate for my script?
If you don’t know anyone, you still have options. You can apply for screenwriting labs, like the Sundance writing lab, where you can rub shoulders with the types of professionals that agents talk to.
These days, film festivals now try to provide online forums for you to network with from a distance, be it with industry professionals, other filmmakers, or other writers.
You can find groups of writers and industry professionals online that you can connect with over zoom or through social media networking groups to build relationships with and expand on.
Whether you are social distancing or live out of state, these are real opportunities.
3. Perfect your script’s pitch before you take it to the industry at large.
No matter who you are pitching on your project, the goal should be to pitch your script quickly and effectively to get the potential advocate excited enough to read the script.
To do that, you need an enticing logline and a well-practiced pitch.
Check out our article on loglines here.
Pitching is an art all its own, but getting it right is not altogether different from mastering your logline. To sum up, the difference, think about it like this:
Can you sell your movie in one sentence? It’s a logline.
Can you sell your movie in five minutes? It’s a pitch.
Can you take more than five minutes to sell your movie? Of course.
But should you be able to do it in five minutes or less? Absolutely.
Test your pitches on your network first.
The best way to know if your pitch is working is by trying it out on friends, family, and friendly industry contacts first.
Start by pitching friends – preferably your writer group mentioned above.
Then try it on a family member who knows nothing about movies. See if they are interested.
Lastly, try it on a friendly industry contact. Do they seem excited or lukewarm? Adjust accordingly.
4. Seek a manager or producing partner to develop your body of work.
Once you’ve got someone, preferably multiple someones, in your corner rooting for you as an advocate, now is the time to use this advocate network to seek representation from a manager or a producing partner to help further develop your work.
Here is how and why you should pick either a manager or a producing partner to help you.
Managers might sound similar to agents, but they are different, as they provide a more robust set of services to working writers for a percentage of every sale you make.
Managers work to develop your creative voice, helping to hone your scripts and guide which of them to take to market, all with the goal of creating a pathway for a long-lasting career.
The more work they are able to help you get, the more they stand to make, so long-term career development is a key goal for them – not just one-off sales.
If you can impress a manager with your material, they may offer to sign you or continue to develop your scripts in a hip-pocket type situation.
Hip-pocketing is a term used by managers to refer to when a manager helps a writer by giving them notes or advice as the writer develops their body of work, but before the manager is officially ready to come on board and represent them.
The term is most often used by junior coordinators who are trying to hip-pocket enough potential writers that they can sign when they get the opportunity to become an actual manager, but it can also be used by working managers who aren’t ready to sign a writer with potential.
For you as a writer, both you and the potential manager are hoping to strike a partnership when the moment is right, but you don’t want to ask them too soon and they don’t want to sign you before they can actually get you work.
Ultimately, the manager’s goal is to make you a bankable name that they can take to their own network and vouch for you enough to get you meetings.
Once the manager does sign you and believes your work is ready to go to market, they will set you up with meetings to connect you with potential buyers or producing partners to market and sell your most bankable script.
With or without a manager, another avenue for developing your work is securing a producing partner to help pitch and produce a specific script.
A producing partner could be a producer, a production company, a director, or a showrunner who has taken an interest in a particular project and would like to option it from you (via an optioning agreement) to continue working with you to develop it to take it to market.
One advantage to coupling with a producing partner (in addition to, or instead of, a manager) is you might not need a manager to sell your project, as the producing partner might have their own connections with buyers that they can leverage to secure a pitch meeting for the project.
From there, they might introduce you to additional contacts to help the project, like a manager or even an agent, especially if a sale seems imminent.
How can I reach out to managers or producing partners?
Utilizing your existing advocate network, you can leverage personal or mutual connections, wow with a third party award, or work with a third party company that connects writers and managers to find producing or manager partners to work with.
Ask if any advocates know any managers, agents, directors, or producers directly, as they might be able to connect you with someone they know if they trust you and your work and feel making an introduction wouldn’t be wasting both parties’ time.
Besides a direct connection, the most straightforward way to find managing or producing partners, no matter where you live, is by submitting to specific online contests or submission platforms.
These contests have a good reputation for getting the winners or runner-ups connected and signed by managers, or at a minimum, putting their names and their work in front of potential producing partners.
5. Work with your reps or producing partner to get your pitch “agent ready.”
Once you’ve wooed your manager into signing you or wowed your producing partner into latching onto your project, you will work with them to continue to develop your project(s) to be as viable as possible for the current market.
At a certain point, you will take enough meetings, land enough deals, or get close enough to landing a big enough deal that the conversation will turn to bringing on an agent.
This could be because agents hear about your work, take an interest in you or a specific project, and directly reach out to you or your team.
It could also be that your team thinks an agent would help move your career or specific project forward and connects you directly.
Here’s what both look like:
Getting an agent with a manager.
Once your manager thinks your work is “agent ready,” they will make the appropriate introductions to agents they know.
Hopefully, they should introduce you to multiple agents so you can choose who is the best choice for you.
Like I said at the top, they might decide you don’t need an agent even if a project is far enough along that an agent would be helpful.
Work with your reps to decide if an agent is right for you. It may be you can get enough work without an agent at the stage of the career you are at.
Getting an agent with a producer.
Having a knowledgeable and well-respected producer on board could be what sets your project apart in the eyes of an agent, which could attract them to reach out to you.
A well known and experienced producer attached could even introduce you to agents directly.
You will probably approach an agent with a producer after you have a lead actor attached to your project. This would be somebody that’s commercial and viable to agents looking to make deals.
Once you have a package in terms of producer, bankable cast element, or bankable director or showrunner as producing partner, you and your team can bring it to an agent who could take it out for financing and add additional cast.
Do I really need an agent if I already have a manager?
If you have a manager, you probably don’t need an agent, at least not yet. It depends entirely on where you are in your career, and if your manager thinks it would be beneficial.
Have a conversation with your rep about if they think an agent is necessary. They can then help you through the process of meeting potential agents and weighing your options accordingly.
It’s a manager’s job to hone and develop your writing and build a body of work ready to take to market. Agents come on board when it’s ready to sell, and the managers will reach out and connect you when the time comes if they see fit.
Can I get an agent without a manager?
Unless you are an outlier and your script has been picked up or gotten on the Blacklist, or a script you wrote has been made and is premiering at Sundance, not really.
The rule of thumb among agents is this: until a writer’s had a manager help them go through their body of work and develop it extensively, they don’t want you and you don’t need them.
The most tried and true way to attract an agent? Have a manager first.
What are agents looking for?
Agents across departments really want to find somebody with a fresh voice who has created a body of work.
Everyone can write and direct a small indie drama. What sets yours apart? Where are your voice and your personality in the project? Does it shine through as unique?
Agents want evidence of a larger body of work. They want to know you’re not a one hit wonder, and that there’s a lot they have to work with. They are also looking for a really impressive writer with depth. Mostly, they want you to create something that can’t be ignored.
After the WGA vs ATA debacle, most of the big agencies that renegotiated with the WGA focused their efforts on resigning old writer clients, but have now settled back down to normal. They aren’t necessarily looking for new writers unless those writers are ready to sell.
When agents do look for new clients, they will often check the Sundance lineup. Who is repped, who is unrepped, who is unhappy with their current reps, who are having their directorial debuts?
They’ll check who is and isn’t repped from off the Black List, or get referrals from colleagues, usually from managers or producers they know.
What’s the #1 thing agents want?
Whether your script makes it on the Blacklist, premieres at Sundance, or ends up in their inbox from a client, agents are looking for something massively impressive.
So the number one thing agents want? A massively impressive script! Make your scripts massively impressive, and you’ll have no problem getting an agent when the time is right.
Easier said than done, I know, but it has been done, plenty of times before, by writers just like you. It’s not impossible!
Always put the writing first. Focus on making your scripts as good as possible, follow the five steps above, and the agents will come… later, much later, but… eventually!
That’s all on how you get an agent!
If you need more help deciding how to get an agent or who to sign with, defer to your manager. If you don’t have one of those, there are two great Script Notes episodes on the subject from the masters of the craft, John August and Craig Mazin.
Here’s the transcript from the first, How to get an agent and/or manager, and the transcript for the second, featuring an interview with an actual agent, The one with the agent. The full episodes are still around but only available for Script Notes premium feed subscribers.
The transcripts are great, so I highly recommend giving them a read, and if you find yourself turning into a fan, check out the Script Notes podcast as well. New episodes come out every week.