Finding Representation: Is One Screenplay Enough?

The question “Do you need more than one screenplay to attract representation?” is one that I’ve heard come up often for many writers I work with. If you have the one great script, isn’t that enough to make things happen for you in the entertainment industry? And if that script is that good, that strong, why on earth would you need more than the one to launch your screenwriting career? After all, one script, one success, is all it takes to launch yourself into the industry stratosphere, so why on earth would you need more than that?

Last week, a writer of mine was invited to meet with a reputable literary manager, representing writers now for over 15 years. The writer, who had been around and working on his craft for some time, had put together a fantastic 1-hour pilot; as soon as the pilot made it into the professional space, a request came in from the well-respected manager mentioned above to meet. By all accounts, the first meeting between the manager and the writer went well. The manager, considering signing this writer to his slate, asked for a second writing sample. To his disappointment, the writer received an email that included this information a day later: “It’s difficult for me to sign a writer off of one sample.  When I talk to executives, part of my sales pitch is that not only will they love the script that I am sending, but that this writer will be be able to produce more work at that level consistently over time.  For me to believe that pitch, I need to have read at least 2 pieces that can facilitate that argument.” 

To be entirely frank, I’ve seen writers get signed on the merit of a single script. But that doesn’t happen as often as many writers would like to think. When looking to sign a writer, agents and managers often look to the body of work to identify whether the writer is able to repeat what they’ve done well, and extend it successfully over many different works. As another manager told me: “I bank on product, not on potential.” Some agents and managers I’ve worked with have gone as far as to tell me that if the writer does not have two fully-executed, ready-to-read pieces, they will likely not agree to read. Others have passed on a writer with a strong writing sample in favor of waiting to see whether the writer will be able to repeat before he is added to the slate of writers that they are representing.

Your body of work, rather than any one screenplay, is your calling card when dealing with the representation sector of the industry. Consider yourself lucky if you’ve been signed for representation on the merit of a single script; if you have yet to accomplish this fete, focus on a body of work that is riddled with outstanding of work, each one of which can strengthen your case as a career writer who can continuously produce stellar work for the agent or manager working on his behalf. This is, after all, the argument that, as the manager mentioned above clearly stated, agents and managers are going to have to make for you again and again with industry executives: Not only is a production or development executive taking on a single script, they are also building a relationship with a writer who has proved prolific and, equally as important, consistent.

So what would a compelling body of work look like for an industry executive?

  • 2-3 scripts (either screenplays or pilots) in like genre, all meeting the same level of excellence
  • Potentially one script in a varied format (for feature writers, this would be a TV pilot or material for a web series; for TV writers this would be a feature or web-driven material)
  • At least 5 strong ideas in like genre
  • 2 strong ideas outside brand (in a different genre)

Even at its strongest, not every agent or manager will gel with your writing. However, if you do put together a convincing body of work that makes a solid case for the quality you produce and the consistency that you are able to generate, you will make a powerful and compelling case for yourself with the people who are considering getting behind your work.