Monday, December 25, 2006

Reprint: My First Agent..(or How I got Representation and Didn't Even Know It)

It seems a little premature for me to be reposting some previous entries, but what the hey...it's the holidays.


...digging back into the recesses of the mind, thought this might be interesting post, especially to those living outside the major entertainment centers.

A long time ago, I was residing in the middle of nowhere in mid-west Canada - living the life of a filmmaker in a place I had no business trying to live that life...a place that didn't know what a grip or a dolly or what a call sheet was... hell, I barely knew what they were and I'd graduated film school. But I formed a small company with another local, mostly making educational documentaries for government agencies and then repackaging them as a limited/on-going series for a regional tv network - was making a living, sort of.

Then timing and good fortune shined down (as it always HAS to do) and we found ourselves near the top of list of companies capable of taking advantage of some regional incentives that needed to be spent by some of the federal film funding agencies we have in Canada. And it was us mostly because there was hardly anyone else around with more experience (I only had a few dramatic shorts to my name). And so with my 'drama expertise', and my partner's financing savvy, we managed to produce and I directed two half hour one off tv dramas, and then I co-wrote and directed a one off hour long family drama...all in the same year.

Lucky. Yes. But you still have to deliver when you get your chance. The shows weren't brilliant, but they weren't embarrassing either (one won a Gemini award..Canuck equivilent of Emmy).

What was I talking about again? Oh yeah, the first agent...

Where I was living and what I was doing, getting an agent wasn't even on my radar. And even if I did think about it, I was sure no agent was going to be interested in me or able to do anything for someone out in the middle of nowhere. So my next project was a tv movie I had in development with one of the pay tv channels in Canada. The writing had gone well and the script had been well received, but then it stalled - it needed something to push it over the top.

The year before, I'd met a very good writer from Vancouver (who's now doing very well in LA...see Bones) at the Banff tv festival, and we'd become friends and stayed in touch.
I'll never forget a cassette tape (yes, this was back in the day, kiddies) showing up in the mail (also the days pre-internet, file sharing, etc.) from this friend with Pearl Jam's 'Ten' on one side and Motherlovebone on the other...never heard of these Seattle bands before and they blew me away...so I think I introduced him to Nirvana and we were even.
Anyway, I asked this friend/writer if he would co-write next draft of the tv movie with me to see if that would help take it to the next level. And I'll never forget his absolute shock, "...no way, this is your baby...it's great the way it is!" But for me, it's always been about getting it made/produced, not just written. So I pushed and pushed and he finally agreed (and it did eventually get made).

Oh yeah, the first agent...

So around same time I was in charge of putting together workshops for the local film festival/awards...so I came up with idea of bringing in a couple writers (I also knew a fairly successful writer/friend living in Toronto and his agent), and do an Agent/Writer Relationship workshop. I'd been negotiating with the Vancouver friend's agent for the co-write on the movie, so she and him agreed to come out (she was based out of Toronto). And the Toronto friend and his agent agreed to come out. So it was a go. And we had a great weekend of a long late dinner, the workshop, the so-called awards, another dinner, and everyone went back to their respective homes.

Monday morning, my phone rings. It's my Vancouver friend's agent in Toronto. We exchange pleasantries and boom...she quickly asks if anyone is representing me. I think I laughed out loud. And then said no. And then asked why would she care (I had no clue). She gets very 'agenty' and says she will fax me an agreement and agree to rep me right now if I'm interested. Now keep in mind she had a good reputation and repped several writers I knew, so there wasn't any sort of issue of credibility. But I remember being a little flabbergasted and said something like..."Sure, whatever." An hour later the deal was done and I had an agent - a pretty decent agent by Canadian standards...and all I really did was answer the phone.

So what's my point. Well, I remember asking her some time later why she wanted to rep me, and she said she'd been hearing my name for a couple years, and she'd heard I did good work, and the Vancouver friend endorsed me...but mostly, she said that when she came out for the workshop, I DIDN'T ask her to rep me. It helped convince her that she 'wanted' me, as opposed to me (or anyone for that matter) 'wanting' her...or wanting her as an agent, at any rate.

And I've heard that sentiment echoed over the years from a lot of writers: that it's just so much easier if the agent can hear about you not from you, and begin to think about repping you not because you are telling them to...that it's the agent who makes the first move.

That isn't to put down cold calling agents and trying to get them to read your material to see if you're worth repping ... get in front of anyone you can ... but if you can have a friend or an agent's client to recommend you to that agent, it can only work to your advantage.

And as for my first agent, alas, she's no longer repping me, though we parted amicably for reasons that will be discussed another time.

SONG & ARTIST? - There’s a man who leads a life of danger.
To everyone he meets he stays a stranger
With every move he makes, another chance he takes.
Odds are he won’t live to see tomorrow.

6 comments:

Pynchon said...

Merry Christmas.

Good Dog said...

Will,

Have a friend who is already represented 'attempt' the same kind of thing. Except he fucked it up royally.

Oh well.

Hope you're having a good day.

Bill Cunningham said...

But for me, it's always been about getting it made/produced, not just written.



Will,

a great post to remind us all it's about doing the work first, then getting the agent or manager...a wonderful Christmas present. Thanks.

We have remarkably similar backgrounds - indie production in the middle of nowhere leading to writing...

It's no wonder we can talk...

Cool.

Schmucks with Underwoods said...

Great post and represents my modus operandi right now. I'm done with cold calling agents. Now I'm just focusing on getting things in production. Did this agent get you nay paid work by the way?

EditThis said...

I believe that would be Secret Agent Man by Johnny Rivers. Do I get some kind of bonus for that?

Just out of curiousity on the agent - since you were already working somewhat consistently - did she actually get you BETTER work, or did she just take 10% of what you were earning from your own contacts?

Patrick J. Rodio said...

Good stuff. Merry X-mas.