Agents’ Advice for Young Screenwriters: To Begin, Be Great

Fresh voices and execution sell, say reps

Your college screenwriting professor always said if you want a writing career, “Write about what you know.” And to get that big break, “It’s who you know that counts.”

Turns out the old man’s insights still apply, though the game has gotten rather more complicated.

The glory days of the spec script selling for millions are long gone, according to Julian Rosenberg, Circle of Confusion literary manager and producer. “There’s less development money out there and studios are looking to tighten their belts,” he says. “They aren’t looking to go out and acquire seven specs a month and see what works. They’re looking for movies.”

As a result, he says, a good script isn’t good enough. “It has to be great. Things with a good concept and average execution aren’t selling in meaningful ways. … Studios think, ‘We want to greenlight a movie without spending $600K to pay expensive writers to fix it.’ ”

Verve agent Tanya Cohen, who specializes in burgeoning writing careers, says the spec now escorts the author down a different path.

“Once in a blue moon, you’ll find that script that sells for a million dollars: the one with the great hook, or the four-quadrant tentpole movie,” Cohen says. “But to be honest, really breaking these young voices, we’re having a lot of success with stuff that’s a little ‘left-of-center.’” A lusty Catherine the Great epic, for instance, or a Carl Sagan biopic.

In both cases, she says, “the execution of the writing, a writer with a really unique, fresh voice, is what seems to be getting everyone excited.” The Catherine scribe was offered a job adapting a young adult novel for Warner within a matter of weeks, while the team on the Sagan biopic sold a tentpole pitch to Fox. Their original works may never get made, but opened doors for them.

Fresh voices, say the pros, can emerge from anywhere. (“One of my clients grew up in a nudist colony,” Rosenberg says grinning.) What they have in common are strong characterizations and passion.

Winning the Nicholls or Tracking B script contests “will almost certainly land you representation somewhere,” Rosenberg says. And he notes the Internet has also made networking easier for beginners. “The Internet gives you access to (Black List founder) Franklin Leonard, who in turn has given you access to agents and producers and managers.”

New writers, then, continue to get work the old-fashioned personal way, although initial linkups may happen online. And Cohen fervently believes “the cream will rise to the top” as it always has, so long as there’s truth and passion involved.

“I think, at the end of the day, writers should write what they know — what they emotionally know.”

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  2. Screenplay” The Dragon Never Dies ” Farzin Youabian Film hi my name is Farzin Youabian and at this time I do have a screenplay is action pack kung Fu looking for producers to make this Film my contact number is 323-809-7885 thank you Farzin Youabian Productions.

  3. DH says:

    I guarantee you some aspiring screenwriter will read this article and all he will take from it is that he should have grown up in a nudist colony.

  4. James K says:

    By the time young screenwriters are in Hollywood, the age of agents and managers will be long gone because of how poorly they’ve treated us. Useless, ageist parasites. I’m seriously sick of getting rejection emails riddled with typos from people who obviously didn’t read the entire script — and even worse is getting to response at all. I understand these guys have full time clients and other responsibilities, but there needs to be SOMEONE, and someone who’s more than half-literate, to whom the needs of the aspiring scribe can be allocated. Literary Agents (for novels, nonfiction, poetry, etc.) don’t act like this, and in most cases, they’re even busier. They give valuable feedback. Hell, they even respond to query letters (IMAGINE THAT). I should at least be able to get my work into a slush pile, or a response to my query letter to prove that you (or your assistant) has done your job and read it. I know you’re busy people, but I’ve seen your twitter accounts and instagrams — you’re not that busy. You can just get away with being dawdling, selfish, and incompetent because that’s what Hollywood culture allows.

  5. John Shea says:

    When exactly were those ‘glory days’ people keep telling us are long gone?

  6. Bull says:

    This seems like complete bullsh*t in the ever so dwindling perspective of old hollywood. If you want to make something you need to implement the Felix Dennis approach: swim with the fishes: find like minded people, inspire passion, make something truly incredible, distribute it yourself or with one of these new upstarts that believes in independent content.

    I don’t think agencies are going to die and big money from conglomerates won’t either, but great material is made by an increasingly democratized collective of talent…not these a**holes being interviewed.

  7. Screen Junk says:

    Most of these writers are crap… my God, I’d hate to be as bad as they are thinking I’m good. Man.

  8. Daniel says:

    A Young screenwriter´s advice to agents.

    Screw you.

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