How to REALLY get an agent

Probably the most frequent question asked by screenwriters is “How do I get an agent?”

I’ll skip the usual advice like ‘have a bulletproof script.’  That goes without saying.

But one thing I keep hearing over and over again is contact the Writers Guild; they have a directory of agencies that accept unsolicited material.

Whoever tells you that hasn’t seen this directory in quite some time.

When I hear ‘directory,’ I think ‘phone book’.  This is a double-sided piece of paper.

I contacted each agency to find out their submission policy.  And then the fun began.

Some don’t accept unsolicited material anymore. Okay, that’s acceptable.

Some want you to send your query by fax.  Wouldn’t you expect an agent to use email?

Some places don’t represent writers.  WHAT?  Then why are they on the list in the first place?

Some of them want you to send your letter with a SASE, which is still okay (see email question above).  Of the 15 or so I sent out, I got 3 back.  Keep in mind agencies get literally hundreds, if not thousands of queries a week.  What, no interns to handle this sort of thing?  I also got 1 or 2 about 6 months after I sent the query. I’m guessing they were cleaning out the closets.

If the Writers Guild wants to be a good resource for writers trying to break in, they really need to get on the ball and maintain a solid database of agencies.  True, the list of those that accept unsolicited material is constantly shrinking, but they’re still out there.

If you think your script is really ready and you have a killer query letter, you’re much better off with the Hollywood Representation Directory.  You can get a hard copy or subscribe to it online.  Most big libraries should have it, so be prepared to work the copy machine.

My former writing group chipped in and we bought a recent edition on sale.  I went through the agent and manager sections with a highlighter, marking down who accepted unsolicited queries.

Of the 200-plus query emails I sent out, I got about 30 responses, including 10 asking to read the script.  Most of them passed, but one guy optioned it.  Nothing ever came of it, but it was closer than I’d ever gotten before, and once I have another script ready to go, I’ll do it all over again.

-Brief LUCY update:  Closing in on the midpoint, including finishing a much-needed action sequence.  Thrillsville, baby!

LA Confidential + The Untouchables

THE GANGSTER SQUAD by Will Beall was another script from the Black List that caught my attention when I first heard about it.

“Amidst the corruption and chaos of 1940s Los Angeles, the LAPD’s Gangster Squad works to keep the East Coast Mafia out of the city.”

Oh, but it’s so much more than that.

The whole time period screams out “pulp!” and “noir!”, and the script does a phenomenal job of really putting you into that kind of mood.

Notorious crime boss Mickey Cohen has a firm grip over the City of Angels.  LAPD Sgt John O’Mara is called upon by his superiors to put together a secret team to keep hitting at Cohen until that grip is broken.

Saying anything else would venture into spoiler territory.  So moving past what happens, and into how it’s presented…

The writing really sizzles. Crisp, sharp staccato phrases.  Descriptions that burn an image into your mind’s eye and stay there.  Even the writing about such mundane things such as what a key location looks like, or what a particular kind of machine gun looks like, really jumps off the page.

Beall, a former LAPD officer himself, really puts a genuine hard-boiled spin on what you see on the page; all 136 of them zip by.  Literally a page-turner I couldn’t and didn’t want to stop reading.

This is a story rich and teeming with an abundance of diverse characters. I found it pretty easy to follow along, keeping track of who was who, and what they were all about.  Even though there are several subplots, almost one per major AND supporting character, the overall story was fast-paced and never boring.

Beall has been hired to write the reboot of the LETHAL WEAPON franchise, apparently from his pitch.  I think this is a waste of his talents.  Besides, is it really necessary?  The opportunity is right there for Beall to do something new and original.

Based on this script, I’d rather see something new than a retread of something from 20 years ago.  But that’s just me.


I was lucky enough to get a gig last summer writing a short for a film student’s final project. I made a whole $20 on it, and the final result should be ready in a few weeks.

A few months ago, I got an unpaid gig helping a newbie writer put his short script together. I haven’t heard from him since, so I don’t know how it worked out.

Another writer was looking for help with a script based on his outline. I didn’t get that one only because another writer was willing to work for free. But the original writer was very nice about it.

Lastly, I came really close to writing a Bollywood-type script for a first-time director, but there was some miscommunication regarding compensation. That, and she provided 3 characters and 2 plot points and expected a 120-page script in return.

All of these came from craigslist. Every once in a while, I’ll check the latest listings, looking for something worth my while.

This is where the rant begins.

It seems that there are people out there with incredibly unrealistic expectations. One guy, fresh out of film school, admitted he knew practically nothing about writing; he had focused more on producing. He had a script but would only accept a professional writer to critique it.  For $80.  I don’t know if he got any offers.

Another guy was looking for a collaborator on a script. He had the idea, but wanted help with the writing. We set up a time to meet. And he never showed. Phone calls and emails to him went unanswered for days. When I finally heard back from him, he said he had been called away on business for his day job. He also said he’d get back to me to set up another meeting.

I’m still waiting.

It kills me that there are people out there who think screenwriting is something anybody can do. It’s not. It’s a long, laborious process that requires constant work. Like they say, “if it were easy, everybody would do it.”

One saving grace is some anonymous poster who responds to some of these listings with a similar attitude. Whoever this person is, they really rip into the listing with such gusto. Sort of a whack upside the head while saying “Pay attention!  Here’s how it really works!”

They’re usually very entertaining. At least for me.

I’ll probably keep checking the listings because there may be a perfect match every once in a while. It’s good experience, maybe worth a little cash, and it expands my credits.

Besides, it could lead to bigger and better things. Which is really what it’s all about, anyway.

Anybody have similar experiences or is it just me?

Yet another burst of inspiration

I don’t know how other writers do it, but when I start a story, I come up with the basic plot and see what theme works with it.

When I started LUCY, I didn’t have one.  I worked on the story, but couldn’t figure out a strong-enough theme.

I settled on one I thought worked.  At the time, it seemed okay.  But it didn’t fit.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but going off to V’s hockey tournament two weeks ago was exactly the break I needed.  It’s remarkable what a few days of watching 8-year-olds skate their hearts out can do to one’s creative batteries.

So when I sat back down to work on the outline, something was different.

Not only was I able to get through a creative block, but on a whim, I changed my one-word theme.  And it really clicked.

Boy, did it.

Even better, it works with a lot of the scenes I already had.

So today I wanted to see if I could keep the creativity flowing for the second half of the first half of Act Two.  I worked on expanding the ideas I came up with yesterday.  In each scene, I would ask “what’s the worst that can happen, and will it ask the central question of the story?”  That helped a lot.

Right now, I’m in the middle of a necessary sequence, and hopefully tomorrow can get to the end of it.  Working the midday shift has a better chance of yielding success.

If I can keep up this kind of progress, I’m hoping to be done with an outline I like by the end of February.  Later than I originally hoped, but the point is: IT WILL BE DONE!

And then the real fun begins.

Movie of the Moment: THE LOSERS, which I completely forgot was based on a DC/Vertigo comic.  Overall, it was a lot of fun with some really predictable moments (I saw the smoldering teddy bear a mile away).  It definitely had some good parts, but sometimes the cheese got a little overwhelming.  Glad I didn’t pay to see it.  My biggest complaint: Jason Patric as the bad guy. Either he was really playing up the camp or the only one not taking it seriously.

Since V is on her Miyazaki kick right now, tonight’s feature was MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO.  I’d seen it a long time ago, but couldn’t really remember anything about it.

It’s yet another charmer, full of warm-fuzzy moments.  Watch it with your kids.   And explain to them that, yes, Japanese families take baths together.

Lastly, it really too much to ask for Netflix to be a little more vigilant about scratched-up discs?  We missed about 12 minutes out of the whole thing because it would freeze, and then jump ahead.

V still loved it.

Not necessarily floodgates, but still…

Nice progress today.  I’m putting together the bare basics of what I’d like to happen in that page 45-to-midpoint range.  A few ideas, maybe skipping one or two scenes here and there, but overall, really coming together.

I really wish there could be more days like this.  After so much time struggling and being frustrated, I can’t write the ideas down fast enough.

Sure, some of them may not work in the end, but just the fact that I’m able to do this right now is the writing equivalent of a runner’s high.  Believe me, it feels awesome.

I also realize the proverbial well could dry up at any moment, so I’m enjoying it while it lasts and will really try to remember what this euphoria is like when all I’ve got is a blank screen and a blinking cursor.

-My two cents on the Oscars.  I haven’t seen a majority of the nominees, so I couldn’t tell you who’s going to win what (except maybe TOY STORY 3 for Best Animated Feature).  I’m always really bad at it anyway.

My opinion: go back to five nominees for Best Picture; ten is stupid.

Last year we went to a great party at a friend’s house and played Oscar bingo during the ceremony.  It was a lot of fun.  I also like to think my infamously delectable pecan pie added to the festivities.

It doesn’t look like this year’s cards are ready yet, but Google ‘Oscar bingo’ the closer it gets to the show and print ’em out for your own enjoyment.

You’ll also have to make your own pie.