The first moment many aspiring Hollywood scribes find true frustration in pursuing one’s screenwriting dream – is not in any kind of story problem or structure failure. It’s the turmoil that comes with landing that first allusive rep.
Tracking down a literary agent in the film business is a lot like searching for a black cat in a dark room. Both creatures will only be found if they themselves wish to be corralled by you in particular.
But how maddening would it be to to flip on the light in the dark room only to discover there was never a cat inside to begin with?
When you begin your lit agent search, it will seem that there are countless options available. You might, for example, pick up an old Hollywood Representation Directory and salivate over the two-inch-thick stack of bound pages all with the names and contact information for every existing literary agency connected to the film industry.
But the truth is, for you – the un-produced, un-repped screenwriter – the vast majority of those potential agents and managers might as well not even exist. Not that you expected the titans of the field – Gersh, UTA, CAA, Paradigm and WME – to open their doors to newbie writers. But, the fact is, most accredited agencies operate in the same manner as the heavies. They draw from the pool of the established or by recommendations only.
For new screenwriters, the majority of proven literary agencies are all dark rooms with no cats inside. That is to say, contacting them is a complete waste of your time.
But agents do exist who are willing to read samples from the thousands of un-established and non-recommended screenwriters hoping for their first big break. How do you begin looking for them?
The Hollywood Representation Directory – that giant listing of unreceptive gatekeepers – is actually a great launching point for your mission. The directory stopped publishing in 2011 in favor of going online, but fortunately there are tons of volumes available for purchase (check Amazon). You can also find them at public libraries.
Now you may ask – What good is a directory that has not been updated in over three years? Fair question. While the positions of individuals who participate in literary representation for screenwriters is notoriously fluid – the names of the agencies and boutiques that house them are not. When you flip through an old directory what you’re looking for are search engine terms. Pick a page at random and start reading the entries.
What are you looking for exactly? Start with the physical address of the agency. Is it located in the Los Angeles metropolitan area? If yes, continue reading. If no, move on. Some might argue that a New York City address should also be considered, but I wouldn’t. The point is to narrow down your search. And, by sticking to metro Los Angeles, you eliminate a wide swath of entries, most of which, as we know, will be useless to unestablished writers.
Next, check the area code for the phone numbers. Prioritize any agency with a 310 or 323 area code. These two prefixes cover ground central for the Hollywood entertainment industry. A truly savvy agent worth your pursuit is most likely to reside in this swath of west-side LA. After 310 and 323, add 818 and 213 as secondary choices. Any other Los Angeles metro area code – 626, 714, 562, 805 – may indeed harbor a desirable representative. But odds are they won’t. And, again, you’re aiming to whittle down your search. 310, 323, 818 and 213 will give you ample listings to go after.
So, you’ve checked the physical address. You’ve looked at the area code. Both fall within the correct parameters. Now look at who the agency represents. It should say either “screenwriters” or “literary talent.” Or some variation of those. If not, then they’re obviously not for you.
And that’s all you need. Some entries will include “comments” where the agency gets more detailed about who they are looking for. That’s all irrelevant. In the years since the publishing of these listings, such standards have most likely already changed.
Make a list of all the company names you come across that fill your criteria. Also jot down the name of anyone associated with the company.
I will give you an example. Picking up my own copy of the Directory, I randomly open it to page 141. On this page I see a listing that reads:
Next Stop Management
2923 Pearl St. Santa Monica, CA 90405
Phone: 310 ***-****
Types: Literary Talent
Represents: Directors – Screenwriters Submission
Policy: No unsolicited submissions
Elizabeth Stanley – President
From this entry you can see that it hits the geographic, area code and representational criteria. So you add to your list: “Next Stop Management” and “Elizabeth Stanley.” Everything else is irrelevant.
You then do the same thing for as many entries as you desire. Maybe you collect a dozen search terms. Maybe you collect one hundred. It’s up to you.
Once you’re satisfied with your list, start googling. Using the above listing, I will give you an example of how your search might go.
I put the name of the company “Next Stop Management” into the search engine exactly like that, with quotation marks. What I found is that no official website comes up for this particular company. That’s a pretty good indication that the company no longer exists or, at least, has changed its name. The top entry for the search on google is for the company’s IMDB pro listing. That’s a positive finding, but no slam-dunk in terms of telling you wether or not the company is still kicking.
Next, keep the company name in quotes, but now add the individual’s name also in quotes. So the search now looks like this: “Next Stop Management” “Elizabeth Stanley”
This search produced much more interesting results. Here we find that Ms. Stanley has gone on to create a production company and that all references to her management company end around 2006.
It’s probably okay to remove this particular entry from your overall search list. You might be able to dig around and find an interesting and up-to-date connection. But you’re better off moving on to search terms that will yield more current results.
On the same page, I found another entry that filled the three prerequisites – New Wave Entertainment. By googling the company name only, I was able to find a strong and current web presence, complete with an official website.
That’s what you’re looking for. By browsing their own website you will glean everything you need to know about contacting them for consideration of representation. Bookmark their website and add them to your list of future queries with a notation that a website is available.
And the process continues. What you will find is that many entries fall into the defunct category. It may take awhile. Devote a good two weeks to your list building. Eventually you should have a solid list of twenty to thirty agencies to approach.
And that is how to start your search for a Hollywood literary agent. Next we will explore how to query a literary agent to represent your work.