Hey, Pamie: “How do I get an agent if I’m a writer/director/filmmaker?”

Today’s Weekly Procrastination came from an email out of last week’s comments section, and is a little out of my wheelhouse. So I enlisted the help of my longtime friend Kat Candler. Kat and I met at the Kansas City Film Festival what feels like six million years ago, and I’ve watched her grow into a breathtaking badass.

It also speaks to the caliber of person she is that when I asked if she would help me answer this week’s question, she took time out of her hectic schedule not to just jot off a quick line or two, but go the extra mile like the teacher she is. She’s amazing like that.

First, our question:

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Hi!

With your COPIOUS free time, I would love to ask you the follow up question about how to get an agent. And seriously, I realize it’s an imposition and you have a lot going on. But I hear such wildly, wildly different things, you know? And hoped that you might be able to shed some light on the subject.

Really, I have two questions: 1) How do you know who’s reputable and how do you find their address? and 2) Once you’ve figured out who’s reputable and what their address is, do you write a cover letter and say, this is what my career looks like right now, these are my accomplishments, I’m looking for representation?

I asked a manager-type person at a conference this question and he was basically: don’t contact us, we’ll contact you–you don’t want to be represented by anybody you had to ask, because then you look desperate and sad and they won’t care about you anyway.

I’m a writer so I can have something to direct at the beginning of my career. So I suppose I need an agent for directors. And I guess I have a follow up question: what’s the difference between a rep for a filmmaker and an agent for a director?

Anyway, thank you for Pamie.com. Been reading for forever.

Annie Coburn
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Kat’s answer follows:

“How do I get an agent as a writer/director?”

So this is all based on my story and my experiences. Nothing terribly fancy or exciting. Everyone’s path is totally different. And that’s the beauty of all of this moviemaking madness.

So the big question… “How do I get an agent as a writer/director?” Cause it seems like if you have an agent or a manager, everything will magically fall into place. You’ll get a 3-picture deal at Universal or huge, and I mean huge actors (preferably Colin Farrell or that new guy Chris Hemsworth) will be throwing themselves at you. That would be crazy ass rad. But it’s not necessarily the case.

They say this a lot out there in Hollywoodland (I live in Austin by the way) — you’ll get an agent when you need an agent. And in my humble opinion, I think that’s true.

Full disclaimer: I don’t have an agent. I did for a little while, but I don’t anymore. At the time of landing an agent, I had already made two super small features, made a ton of shorts and written at least five feature screenplays that had won screenplay competitions. When I was with that agent (at a 2nd tier agency), I was at the bottom of the totem pole. The lowest of the low. When the initial honeymoon was over, it was often difficult to get a phone call returned or an email replied to. Everything that was happening in my career was stuff I was making happen. And when it felt like the right time to “break up” the agent and I had the “this just isn’t working out” talk. So we parted ways and I’ve been solo ever since.

I think I wanted an agent no matter who it was because it was what the “cool kids” had. I’ve definitely changed my tune on that one. I worked my ass off for the few paychecks I’ve gotten from selling and optioning scripts or directing a commercial. And I’ve gotten those paychecks on my own. So I’m not willing to hand off a percentage of those paychecks to someone who didn’t do anything. I probably had the wrong agent. In fact, I know I did. And that’s totally fine. But I’d rather be the girl who holds out for the dream boy (or girl) rather than sleep with anyone who just wants a one-night stand. Call me a romantic.

What I do have and highly recommend is a fierce entertainment lawyer. My lawyer deserves every cent I pay her because she works crazy hard for me and protects me with a vengeance. Those contracts that land on your desk are insanely complicated and you shouldn’t screw yourself over because you thought you could do it yourself.

So how in the world did I get things done without an agent? Hard fucking work, man. Hard fucking work. Knowing people. Networking. Never stopping. Lots of blood, sweat and tears. And lots of “woe is me why wasn’t I born into Hollywood royalty” moments.

But you’d be surprised what you can do on your own. A whole hell of a lot, friend.

If you’re going the indie route, there are tons of fantastic programs that most people don’t take advantage of or even know about. I strongly recommend investigating the development programs through the IFP (Independent Filmmaker Project), Film Independent, Sundance Labs, Tribeca All Access. I’d also recommend looking at grants from places like Rooftop Films, the Austin Film Society, the Adrienne Shelly Foundation and the San Francisco Film Society.

I’ve had projects go through several of these programs– found producers, gotten optioned or helped find distribution. These are gentle ways of learning the industry, meeting the players, getting advice and criticism. Especially if you’re more interested in writing and directing in the indie world.

For me, I’ve made short films from feature scripts as “examples” of what I’m going for aesthetically that have gone to play the festival circuit. My short film, Love Bug, helped me option a feature to a producer. And then more recently I made a short film, Hellion, that premiered at Sundance and is now being developed into a feature film. I sold a script last year called Love Me because the VP of Casting at Nickelodeon saw a feature film I did that premiered at SXSW in 2006 and then later championed me to Nickelodeon and some of the Nickelodeon producers. Those producers passed on two other scripts of mine, but ended up buying and making Love Me. I met someone on a bus in Park City at Sundance in 2001 who later would champion me at Showtime and then became an associate producer on the short film, Hellion, many, many years later. All of these relationships, connections, friendships continue to grow, foster and become something special.

Without an agent, without a manager, I’ve gotten scripts into the hands of studios, agencies, production companies, actors — it’s about being resourceful and staying connected. And more importantly being a sane, normal human being. Don’t be that desperate, weirdo. No one wants to work with the desperate weirdo.

If you are a writer/director you do not have to live in Los Angeles or New York. There are so many kick ass, interesting films coming out of smaller cities. And it’s probably less expensive and easier to make films in those places. Look at Seattle, Columbia, Missouri …There are “scenes” cropping up everywhere and trust me, the industry is paying attention. Sometimes it’s nicer to be a bigger fish in a smaller pond rather than drowning in an ocean.

In my humble opinion the most important thing is to make stuff. Make a lot of stuff, grow, develop and be the filmmaker that industry stands up and notices. It’s much cooler to have them contacting you then to be contacting them. It’s kind of like high school or an unhealthy relationship in so many ways. They don’t want you if you so desperately want them or think you need them.

Which leads me to my other big piece of advice, befriend other filmmakers. As you’re on the festival circuit with your shorts or your first features, befriend as many filmmakers as you can. That’s how I met Ms. Ribon. In Kansas City, I think? We were both on a panel at a film festival. Those relationships, those friendships have often proved more invaluable than industry relationships. More often filmmakers help out other filmmakers. We know it’s a fucking hard road and we champion and support each other.

And with that said, please promise me…as you climb up that ladder and keep getting higher and higher, remember to reach back down. Cause I bet you ten bucks someone (or rather) a whole bunch of people helped you.

Kat Candler’s award-winning films have screened at Sundance, SXSW, Slamdance, Los Angeles Film Festival, San Francisco International Film Festival, Houston Museum of Modern Art, Chicago International Children’s Film Festival, The National Institutes of Health, and on PBS. Her latest teen thriller screenplay Love Me was produced by Dolphin Entertainment and Anchor Bay Films for release in 2012. She’s currently in development on two features, Nikki is a Punk Rocker and a feature version of her Sundance short film, Hellion. Candler lives in Austin, TX and is a film Lecturer at the University of Texas.

Don’t you love Kat like I do now?

I will add a few things to address your “Do I write a letter and how I do I find their address?” question. In my experience, the best way to get an agent’s attention is through a recommendation. Use those connections you made following Kat’s advice above and you’ll either get to write an email that begins “Hey! I had SO MUCH FUN with you at Austin Film Festival, and it was great getting to meet you. Here’s the script we discussed and I look forward to talking with you further.” Or you get something even awesomer: someone else writes an email on your behalf, talking about how great you are, and attaches your spec/script/reel/etc. People who like your work will want you to help you. And agents are looking for people who do good work. Planets will align if you are doing the right amount of hustle combined with the proper amount of preparation.

I don’t know why that manager would tell you no agent whom you approached would respect you in the morning. That’s crazy, too. If you’re in the proper environment, like a festival or a showcase, agents should and will be expecting to be approached.

You can also eliminate that worry by saying you have interest from an agency, but have an interest in this other agency/agent and are wondering if they’d like to take a look at your material. (Yes, people in Hollywood lie. It’s hard for me to accept, but it’s the truth.) And if that is the truth, and someone’s interested in you, feel free to use that as leverage to talk to more than one agency before you make a decision. You don’t have to go with the first fish that bites. Remember: this agent will be working for you and taking a piece of whatever you make, whether or not he or she was the reason you got the gig. Make sure you feel like you’re being supported, that someone’s speaking on your behalf in a tone/voice/passion that you feel represents you.

You hear stories every day about how nobody out here wants to help anybody. That’s not true. I mean — YES, THERE ARE DICKS OUT HERE — but it’s not everybody. And why would you want to take a swim in Lake Dick, anyway? Make your own glass slipper that fits just perfectly and go out looking for Prince Charming. Ask around and keep doing your hustle and you will one day find that wonderful agent who looks at your material and finally says to you the magic words: “OH MY GOD, I ABSOLUTELY HAVE TO WORK WITH YOU.”

Good luck, Annie! Don’t forget about us when you’re accepting your Independent Spirit Award!

Indie filmmakers, do you have any advice? Give Annie some help in the comments below.

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If you have a question about writing or television or novels or screenplays or any of these places where I write words and other people read them, send an email to pamie at pamie dot com with the subject line: YOUR WEEKLY PROCRASTINATION.

Past Weekly Procrastinations

10 thoughts on “Hey, Pamie: “How do I get an agent if I’m a writer/director/filmmaker?”

  1. Love all of this, especially the advice to keep working on your own stuff all the time.

    I always get excited when I see Kat Candler’s name and movies pop up because I think we briefly worked together at a movie theatre in Florida when I was in high school and I always thought she was so cool then and seems like she’s still got it!

  2. Jessica, what? Oak Lake 6 in Tallahassee? Royal Palm in Jacksonville Beach? Man, oh man, small world.

    Annie, like I tell my kids at UT, talent (absolutely), but more importantly working your ass off, being professional and being a good human being can take you far.

  3. I think the other thing aspiring directors need in their back pockets are actor friends. Friends who will work for free and be in your movies and do staged readings, etc. It is incredibly helpful to hear your written words come out of real people’s mouths. Your writing will definitely improve.

    Good luck, Annie!

  4. Oak Lake 6! That was my first job and I loved working with all the cool film school students there, and then eventually ended up at FSU for film school myself later on. I always loved how you made the really boring corporate outfits more interesting with your striped tights! Always nice to hear about you and your successes in the several years since then!

  5. I’m not super familiar with that area , but it looks to me like the ceoslst location listed on the chart is Farmington, with a date of May 1. If you tend to have similar weather to Farmington, I would use that date. You’re right on the edge of the two groups. If it is a mild winter/spring and you are excited, I would follow the yellow schedule. If it is a cold winter-spring and you are more relaxed, I would use the green schedule.

  6. This was a great article to read. So many times we are discouraged especially when seeking great passionate representation that matches our ambition and vision. Never want to just be a name on a roster. Thanks so much for taking the time!

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