The dos and don’ts of obtaining a screenwriting agent
By Amy B. Taylor
Owner, Cedar Grove Agency Entertainment
firstwriter.com – Sunday July 31, 2005
Every year record numbers of screenwriters send out queries with hopes of obtaining representation, or even better, having their script optioned or sold. Unfortunately, many would-be successful screenwriters never make it past the receptionist's desk.
Contrary to popular belief, this particular agent's heart is not as black as her coffee. As a literary agent and judge for many competitions, I continually see four basic mistakes become major pitfalls to up and coming writers: format; structure; over-writing; and querying. So, I thought I'd offer some guidance on these fundamentals.
Everyone should know the rule of thumb – each page of script represents one minute on screen. Seems basic, but I've received countless scripts over 120 pages. Also, scripts should be typed in 12-point Courier font. Yet I've been given scripts typed in Arial 8 pt, and even one with the dialogue typed in different colours! Believe me, I've seen it all. Know what? If you're one of those rebels wanting to get your script "noticed" by taking artistic license, don't. Nobody will read even the first page of your great story, and your script will get tossed in the "round file". An online source to double-check your format is www.oscars.org/nicholl/format_a.txt
Sounds simple, but the standard form of the three-act structure is another often forgotten bit of information. While it's exciting for writers to get caught up in their story and carried away with their characters, watch out. Without the three-act structure (situation / complication / conclusion) stories can drag on, become uninteresting, and can cause the character arch to suffer. If you are not using scriptwriting software, it might be a good idea to get some books specifically geared to formatting / structure to aid in your writing.
"Also along the structure guidelines, don't forget your 'hook' and inciting incident. Yes, 'hook' is exactly as it sounds; the element of your story that will hook the audience. Your inciting incident, the situation or event that makes today different in the life of your protagonist."¹
I'm often told that, as a creator, the writer visualises their character's every detail; perhaps you're even writing with a specific actor in mind. This is fine, but all those details shouldn't make it to the written page. Camera directions or too much description should not be on a spec script. Descriptions are great for stage plays or novels, but do not translate well to screenplays and often convolute the story for the reader. And, trust me on this one – camera directions should be left for the shooting script.
When querying an agency, it's important to find out what their submission guidelines are, and whether or not they are accepting submissions. Your query letter really is your first impression. Spell check. Try to limit your query to one page and include an SASE for reply. It's also "good manners" to take rejection graciously. Again, sounds like common sense, but it is not often followed.
This may seem like "preaching to the choir" to many of you, but more and more submissions are lacking these basic elements. It's these very points that contribute to producers wanting writers to have an agent, and why agents can be hard to come by. Screenwriters who don't use these basics and hone their craft are destined to repeat their past (read: failures). So, learn the craft and obey the rules, and success should follow!
¹ Excerpt from "How To Write A Screenplay In 9 Weeks", Carol Roper
About the Author
Amy B. Taylor is the owner/literary agent of Cedar Grove Agency Entertainment and is listed in the Hollywood Creative Directory.
Cedar Grove Agency Entertainment currently represents several screenplays of various genres. Taylor has judged multiple screenplay competitions, including the Washington State Screenplay Competition and the Venice Arts Screenplay Competition. She is also on the Film Advisory Board for Bellevue Community College and was featured in the 2003 and 2005 Annual Agent Special Issue of The Hollywood Scriptwriter and was profiled in their 2004 Annual Agent Special Issue. She has participated in several seminars that engage writers in the dos and don'ts of screenwriting and getting an agent.
Her experiences as an agent have allowed her to work with production executives from Seattle to Los Angeles, including: ShadowCatcher Entertainment, Numenorean Films, Rastar Productions, Phoenix Pictures, Sony, and Paramount.
Taylor is presently in preproduction in an associate producing capacity on "WebCast", a feature film slated to begin filming by the fall of 2005. Other producing credits are listed on IMDb.com.