Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Inserting Foot In Door

If you've been reading the blog religiously (ah, I like that sound, the Church of the Film Diva....), you know that I've been circling this topic since I started. There is no one way to get representation. Sometimes you'll luck out and have a personal connection to an agent, sometimes you'll get a job that will lead you to an agent, and sometimes you'll just write a kick-ass spec and end up living in Malibu with a three-picture deal at WB. Stranger things have happened.

One of the most important things you'll need is material. Feel free to look back on a couple posts about networking, and spec'ing. The type of material will be slightly different depending on what you do.

For writers: 2-3 full-length features; 2-3 treatments; 2-3 outlines; 5-7 pitchable ideas. At least one of the features should be your best foot forward. The other two can be a little rough around the edges so long as they have the entire emotional arc told, and there is no subtext or exposition sticking out (like a person with their skeleton exposed, that would be pretty gross). The treatments should be developed enough that you can go to a beat sheet/outline level within 3-5 days. The outlines should be ready for scripting immediately with the idea that you can develop at least one of them into a full-length feature within 30 days. The pitchable ideas should be thought out enough to go to treatment within a week, outline within 2 weeks, and script shortly thereafter.

For directors: 1 feature; or 2-3 narrative shorts; or 1 kick-ass visual piece no shorter than 10 minutes and 1 narrative piece that shows you know how to work with actors; or 3-5 music videos or commercials with something visually innovative that is also narrative (think of the Prodigy SMACK MY BITCH UP video by Jonas Ackerlund); or something really freaking funny like Chuck Stone's TRUE short which later became the Budweiser TRUE ads and now has everyone in America saying WASSSSSUPPPP! ). The most important thing a director brings to the table along with their sample film is a sense of story, a sense of visual story-telling, the ability to manage a project (i.e. know where the money needs to be spent in a story, and always be reaching to bring more value to the screen for the money you have) and clear grasp of why you are telling the story you are telling. You should be able to pitch out the scenes you will be shooting in a way that lets people see the film with you. Also, you should be looking for feature-length material to set up if you do get a shot. This can be material you find on your own, material you find through a producer, or best case scenario, material you find with a name-brand actor who loves your short-material/indie film work and wants to get you in at a studio.

For Actors: A reel with scenes that show you know how to navigate your way through a scene, that showcases your emotional apparatus, and that have relatively high production values (at least high enough that folks aren't waiting for a boom to drop into frame, and can focus on your acting).

For producers: Yes, producers have agents, too. In fact, although I think the practice is heinous, most working producers are representated by agencies so that they can get spec material and to help ease the packaging process on their internal material. I am not repped as a producer (but I don't really produce very much anymore), however, my producing partner on the indie I'm developing is repped by a Big Three agency and we'll be using them as much as possible to get the film made, even though it will likely cost us 20% of our fees.

If you have time, re-read the post about Demos and really think how all of the above materials represent you, your creative abilities, and the types of jobs your agent would be able to send you out for. If you want to work in comedy, have all comedy samples, if you want to work in drama, all dramas. Action films, same thing. If you love cop movies, go for it (this market is much smaller, however).

A lot of folks have said to me, "I do everything" or "I don't want to be pidgeon-holed." My answer to that is: That's an uptown problem. You'll be lucky to get any kind of agent and any kind of job, so stop tripping and pick a genre, get your place in line, then start thinking about how you're going to get out there and show folks what else you are made of. If you've been doing your homework, you've sat down and written out a plan for yourself. You already know who you want to work with, what they are doing, and you are just waiting for an opportunity to get to those people with your work.

Once you have this entire material package together (and it shouldn't take you more than 18 months to do all this), sit your butt down, grab a Hollywood Creative Directory and start looking for agents. My favorite method is to look at artists who have a similar style and find out who reps them. Fan out from there. Then, query letter, cold-call, and network your way into a read. Take seriously any feedback you get. Regardless of whether you feel the person's opinions are valid, something turned them off. They may not be educated enough to share the particulars of it with you, but something didn't work. Take a temperature reading on how your spec is doing, if it's mostly cold, pull it back in and work on it more. Talk to the folks who have read it and let them know you appreciated their feedback, you're addressing their concerns and ask if they would consider re-reading it.

It helps to start with managers. Since they will read material in a less finished state, you have more shots at getting a script up to par before it goes to an agent whose main criteria is "Can I sell this?" If you are fortunate enough to be getting notice because of contests or personal referrals make sure you create a rapport that is outside of the quality of your sample. Half of the game is getting people to root for you, to want to get you work, and to show that you will be "good in a room".

Have at it in the comments section. I hope you all feel encouraged to share war stories there with one another. This business is entirely experiential, so as much as I write about how it has worked, the actual living it part can feel really really different. I try to respond to comments as much as I can, but if nudge me if you feel neglected.

I'm pooped and I need to draft the fishing boat short I started yesterday. That one is going really well, and now makes me only want to write if I can get professionally trained actors to read for me.


wcdixon said...

Diva rocks and rules...a wealth of good advice deftly mixed with reality checks - your site should be linked to film/tv wannabe, or has been...lol

So what racket (or racquet?) are you in now?

wcdixon said...

...or wannabe's and has been's...

wcdixon said...

Ignore the racket question - finished reading through your archives and completely up to speed now.

My favourite line:

"I believe that everyone who works in the Entertainment Industry should know as much as they can about every aspect of the business. It helps to gain perspective on the process, and it's just good business."

Not as fall down laughing as a Josh Friedman post say (nor meant to be), but words a lot more in this biz should take to heart.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the wonderful post. It's helping me layout my plans for the future. A quick question: Should a writer-director "market" himself in Hollywood as a director rather than a writer? It just seems if you have a script and tell everyone you want to direct it, they laugh at you. But if you have a short and show people a script you want to direct, they consider it.