Pearls or Wisdom from Working Writers: BEFORE YOU GET REPPED

Part II of the Pearls of Wisdom from Working Writers blog series

For most screenwriters seeking to break into the industry, getting a screenwriting agent or manager represents a significant, career-making milestone, the first bona fide step towards industry recognition. An industry rep can become your passionate advocate in the professional space, so of course any writer would seek to get their attention. However, there is plenty you can do for your screenwriting career before you’re repped, whether it’s to garner a potential reps’ coveted attention, or move your screenwriting career forward yourself. 

What are those things? I turned to my friends and clients in the working sector, and asked them: 

What advice do you have for writers who are not yet represented? 

Moises Zamora, who previously wrote on STAR and AMERICAN JUSTICE and is currently Executive Producer and Showrunner on Netflix’s SELENA bio-series, offered this: “(My advice would be) to worry about their craft first. To write a killer script. Then write another.”

Greta Heinemann, producer-writer on NCIS NEW ORLEANS, winner of Final Draft’s Big Break contest, creator of the Writers Wright Journal and most recently featured on the Young and Hungry List told me: “The big writing competitions are a great way to get exposure. Many reps field these competitions for potential clients so a connection happens organically. Beyond that, once writers hit the mark of a stand out sample and branch out to get feedback from peers and more experienced writers, introductions are often made.”

Jimmy Mosqueda, a fellow 2018 Young and Hungry list-er, currently represented by Bellevue and CAA and staffed on ABC’s SCHOOLED told me: “I think a lot of writers ask how can they get a rep, and my advice is to flip the question: ask instead how a rep can get you. What contests are you winning? What lists are your scripts on? What short films and web series are you making that are getting buzz? Basically, what are you doing that’s putting your name out there in front of people. If your material is good and it’s getting exposure through labs, lists, contests etc., then the reps will come to you. So my advice is to keep writing, keep getting better, and keep giving yourself opportunities for exposure by entering contests, applying to fellowships, applying to assistant jobs etc.”

Josh Renfree, a feature writer currently repped by Bellevue and on assignment, said: “Keep writing to build up your portfolio, get your work into the most reputable screenplay competitions, attend a pitchfest or two, network, and build up a small circle of peers and/or mentors that you meet with on a regular basis, even if that be only monthly.”

Not sure what those competitions are that Jimmy, Greta, Josh and others speak of? Check out my recently published RESOURCE GUIDE

Bob Dearden, who is writing on iZOMBIE, said: “I’m not sure I’m the best person to ask, given the above non-traditional way it happened for me, but I think having high-level writers that want to advocate on your behalf with their agencies certainly doesn’t hurt.”

Comedy writer Nora Nolan, repped by Skyway Entertainment and ICM, previously on TRIAL AND ERROR and currently on Netflix’s PARADISE P.D. had this to add: “Keep writing and working on breaking in. Representation will not solve all of your problems, and connections are more important at this stage.”

Successful Author, TV writer (whose credits include SHADOW HUNTERS and THE CLIENT LIST) and Script Anatomy instructor Hollie Overton, who is repped by Verve, broke it down: Number one: Focus on material If you’ve written a script and people say it’s good but they’re not offering to pass it along to their reps or it’s not placing in contests, it’s not THE script. Keep writing until you write that one. You’ll see the difference. The level of enthusiasm will be hard to deny. Number two: Build relationships – making real and genuine connections with other writers, agents, and execs is an important part of the business. And number three: Enter contests – I am a bigger believer in contests and using that as a barometer for how your work stacks up, especially when you’re still looking for representation.”

Sarah Acosta, previously on SHOOTER and SULTANA, who recently sold a show to Amazon and is repped by Industry Ent. and UTA had this advice: “Write original material and take it to a reputable script consultant for feedback. Enter established contests in the industry: Tracking Board, Blacklist, etc. Get a job in the industry as an assistant, PA — anything to build your network.”

Paul Puri, who is currently on CHICAGO MED and repped by Circle of Confusion provided: “I wouldn’t let this be the bottleneck to trying to get a job. Like many, I got my first job on my own. Focus on building relationships, real relationships, with others in the industry.”

Feature writer Melissa London Hilfers, who has had a couple of big spec sales to her name and recently completed the high-profile JAGGED EDGE remake assignment shared: Focus less on getting represented and more on writing. You think the first script you finish is the best you can do, but it isn’t even close. You will get better and better with each one, so write several before you think about getting a rep. Moreover, any good rep wants to see more than just one great script, they want to see consistency, longevity — the potential for a career. And to show that you need more than just one sample.”

As for me… What they said! I agree whole heartedly. To distill the message, prior to getting represented, focus on: 

  • Pushing your writing to the next level
  • Building meaningful industry relationships with other writers, next level writers and industry executives who can make introductions on your behalf once your work is THAT good
  • Exposing your work by any means necessary: Screenwriting competitions, writing programs, listing services, etc. 

Do those things, and you will find that a path to representation because more readily available than you anticipated!

Want to read other Pearls of Wisdom from Working Writers posts? Check out MY FIRST BIG WIN.