What Literary Agents Look For In A Script


Recently, I attended a business breakfast with the Head Of Story Department of a tenpercentary agency. The croissants were stale and the coffee was lukewarm.

Much to the chagrin of emerging screenwriters about the unwillingness of many agencies to accept unsolicited scripts, it is still a necessary evil. Look for alternative access routes , such as any associates of the agent you wish to target. Those barriers will be swiftly torn down, once you submit a script an agent actually finishes reading and enjoys. Avoid the victim and lottery mentalities. Screenwriting is a business. Quality work will always shine through. Established writers don’t necessarily always get the job.

Literary Agents: A Typical Day

The main things agents look for in a script are a strong premise, an original execution, a part for a movie star and talent attachment. Recently, A-list actors and directors have outpriced themselves from shrinking movie budgets, so consider writing for emerging or lesser known talent. Your query letter will get read by someone in an agency and your spec script, if requested, still acts as a calling card for screenwriters.

Packaging Scripts

Agents read scripts with a different eye to a screenwriter. Apart from discovering and nurturing new talent, they are looking to match their clients to a script via a process called PACKAGING. I once met an agent who was looking to increase her thriller writer roster. Another agent was looking for a comedy vehicle for a black male actor in his forties. Various specific components of scripts such as genre, locality, audience demographic, and actor age and gender are stored in a searchable database.

An agency makes a commission on each element they attach to a project such as writer, director, producer and actor. That’s where the big money is. Not only are agencies acting as matchmaker between talent and projects, they must also gather market intelligence and know what studios are looking for. When Warner Bros requested a Vegas, bachelor party script, “The Hangover” script was written and submitted in record time. The rest in box office history.

Agents are not entirely greedy, uncreative suits. While it’s true their jobs depend on successful sales, they are also looking to be seduced by the uniqueness of a script. They respond to:

SCREENWRITERS’ VOICE

versus

STORY VIABILITY

Nowadays, it’s not enough to simply secure an option or script sale. Writers must be produced to gain kudos. Admittedly, it’s becoming more difficult to set up a feature film. That is why writers are turning to television and new media as viable alternatives to earn a living.

One agent said that 90% of his incoming scripts were atrocious. We can use that statistic to make our scripts stand out from the others.

There’s no way around it. You need to write well to get noticed.

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