Rep: To Have and to Have Not

This entry was posted on Monday, December 3rd, 20122012-12-03T17:34:00Zl, F jS, Y at 9:34 am2012-12-03T17:34:00Zg:i a

Agents and managers. Everybody wants one. But getting a rep is a paradox. It’s something you absolutely need and something that definitely puts you on the next level of your aspirations – but on the other hand? It guarantees absolutely nothing.

Writers can go through different reps over time and generally do. Getting a rep is tremendously validating. At first. But once you get over the glow of that, you may find yourself doing rewrite after rewrite of the script that got you the rep – mind you, these rewrites are FOR the rep – what he or she is thinking will strengthen the draft before it goes out. I’ve seen many a writer get stuck right there. I got a rep!! Three months later they’re still rewriting the draft for the rep because the rep liked it but doesn’t feel 100% confident about sending it out yet. Here’s what can happen during this protracted rewrite period – the rep continues to look for and get new clients with other, possibly hotter scripts than yours. So one day, two months into rewriting your script, you get the funny feeling that what felt like a huge step forward has become a lukewarm dead end. Your rep’s ardor has cooled. This is a rotten feeling. Trust me. I have been there more than once.

Alternatively, the rep asks for maybe one or two polishes and takes the script out. You’re so excited! It’s going out! Wide! Fast forward two weeks. The script didn’t grab any traction. So the rep works with you on more rewrites on that draft because he/she is thinking maybe there’s someone who didn’t see the script who might bite. But we’re already talking about second tier now. You’re – kinda – hopeful but there’s a distinctly different feeling now. The slight whiff of failure. But, you tell yourself, all kinds of hungry young producers are out there and hey, you don’t need six figures! Any sale is a good sale! (True, but…it’s not what you had in mind).

And round and round it goes.

The bottom line about looking for rep: If you’ve never had a manager or agent, it will give you a HUGE boost mentally. You will feel like a million bucks. But then reality kicks in – is this rep really, truly going to help you? And – was your material really, truly ready for prime-time? It may not have been. Not all reps – especially those who are not yet real players – have the judgment, taste or connections which will truly anoint you and your script as something to take seriously on the market place. In other words – some reps are not an achievement for you at all. This is a sucky realization, trust me.

If you’ve never been repped and therefore haven’t made the connections nor garnered the experience, the chances that you could get your script into the hands of meaningful producers is almost nil. But if you have had rep in the past, you have had meaningful relationships and meaningful feedback that the material is competitive, you absolutely can make a sale without a rep – because you don’t need the rep to shop the material. You’ve made a hand off.

Screenwriters come in different stripes and go through distinct stages like:

The absolute beginners happy to be writing draft after draft of premise after premise. They are realistic. They go to classes, they know they’re not very good but they’re having fun and love the challenge. They are willing to write six scripts before looking for rep. They don’t even give getting rep a whole lot of thought yet.

The absolute beginners who’ve done half the work of the writer above and start looking for rep. They think it goes like this: write script, get rep, sell script. They usually wind up bitter and disappointed and angry. Some have an epiphany and put their nose to the grindstone and really do the work, reverting to the type of writer above. Others just go to screenwriting message boards and spew bile about other writers and sales and how it’s all NOT FAIR. Please don’t be this person. Please?

Intermediate writers who’ve done the above (whether they had the epiphany or knew all along it would take time) who enter competitions, keep writing and finally look for rep. They find rep. But it doesn’t turn out to be a very good rep. They keep writing. They make relationships. They keep trying. They get a better rep. Their script gets read around town. They get meaningful external and internal validation but no sale. Now they are in the Pool of Potentially Selling Writers.

Potentially Selling Writers have written seven, eight, maybe 10 scripts. And they’re working on another one right now. They have placed in competitions. They have been or are repped now. They take meetings from time to time. They are neither head-in-the-clouds nor bitter. They hang around with other good writers. They are always learning. They have humility and high hopes but they are also realistic. They know the brass ring is elusive but they’ve come a long way and their chances are better now than they have ever been. Because they’ve made it through the fire and paid their dues, they aren’t particularly worried about rep. They don’t look for rep – rep looks for them. They no longer see obtaining rep as the be all end all. They see it as a chance for the script to go out. They may not even need a rep; they may know producers who can take the work out to other producers. Through experience, they know that not all rep is alike.

Getting repped – especially if it’s your first rep – does NOT mean you are about to make a sale. But it does mean that somebody who works in the business sees potential in you and your work. And that’s a great feeling and one that can fuel your writing for some time – regardless of the outcome.

My bottom line advice is this: maintain perspective at all times. Get great feedback on your script and rewrite it to near perfection (that’s where I come in) and definitely think about paying a branding and strategy consultant like Lee Zahavi Jessup so that you are armed to the teeth with every advantage.

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