Seven Things Screenplay Agents Really Want To See In A Screenplay
By Stephanie Palmer
Screenplay agents are brokers who negotiate deals between screenwriters and the people who buy screenplays such as producers, studio executives and financiers. However, screenplay agents aren’t just looking for great writers with great material. They are looking for 7 things that make your screenplays especially sellable for large sums of money.
First, let’s make sure we’re on the same page about this: all screenplay agents are brokers. In the same way stockbrokers buy and sell stock and are paid on commission, screenplay agents broker transactions between buyers and sellers and are paid only when the deals go through.
So, when an agent reads a script for the first time, they think: “How am I going to sell this?” The way in which screenplay agents answer that question may influence your choices when you decide how to write your screenplay.
Having a screenplay agent is not required for every situation and many script sales are made without any agent involvement. This article is for those who have or hope to have agency representation in the future.
So if you want to know how to get a screenwriting agent, consider these seven factors:
#1. ONE terrific role for a movie star (“actor bait”)
Everything you write doesn’t need to be a high-concept star vehicle, but it’s one of the “tickets” to join the club of professional screenwriters. Once you prove that you can do this, you earn the right to do other things.
Again, not TWO great roles, but ONE great role. A movie star should be thinking, “This is MY project.”
Otherwise they may be thinking, “Sure, my role would be great, but who would they cast opposite me and could that person be so amazing that I might be overshadowed?”
#2. The project fits easily in ONE genre
Screenplay agents are constantly researching and questioning executives and producers. They need to keep up with what companies are looking for within specific genres to find matches with their client projects.
I have never heard a decision-maker say, “I’m looking for a film that’s a blend of several different genres.” When reading a script, a screenplay agent’s question about genre is, “Will this meet the audience’s expectations for this genre?”
#3. Super short pitch
Not a “super, short pitch,” but a “super short” pitch. Provided your pitch is compelling, the shorter your pitch is (from an agent’s POV) the better.
Your short pitch is 1-3 sentences that encapsulates the main idea clearly and concisely. Typically this is a “selling” logline of your project that communicates the main idea. If you’d like to see an example of how to develop a short pitch, here’s a case study outlining the nine steps to creating an effective short pitch for your screenplay.
#4. Reading the script is not required
Controversial as this may sound, from a screenplay agent’s perspective, the best script is one where the agent doesn’t even need to read it.
After simply hearing the short pitch and reading coverage provided by someone the agent trusts, if the storyline is clear and easily understood, the agent can sell your script.
#5. Polished script
Screenplay agents are closers. CLOSERS. They are not script whisperers who will take the time to patiently nurture your script to its full potential over a period of months.
Agents have short attention spans (like most people in Hollywood) and you want them to be able to capitalize on their enthusiasm right away. Some screenplay agents give excellent notes and are skilled with script development, but most are not.
#6. Project could be made “for a price”
The lower the budget for the production, the more potential buyers there are for each script. Unfortunately, there are only a handful of buyers who are able to finance big budget fare which makes the odds of selling that much more challenging.
#7. Potential for additional sales embedded in project
Screenplay agents know that the best time to make a sale is right after the first sale. This way they can capitalize and very likely sell your second script for more than they sold your first script – provided the scripts are in the same genre.
Top agents LOVE to hear that you have multiple projects in the same genre (rather than having scripts in a bunch of different genres). And if there is a sequel or spin-off potential in your project, that can warm the cockles of a screenwriting agent’s heart.
You get bonus points if you have:
– An A-list attachment
– Financing in place
– A project based on successful, produced material (e.g. remake, best-selling book, comic book, TV show, web series, short film)
– Ownership of the project’s source material
A screenwriting agent’s job (finding buyers and selling projects) becomes much harder when any of the following are true:
– Script is a blend of multiple genres
– Large ensemble cast
– Long pitch
– Interweaving storylines
– Script “needs development”
– Project would be very expensive to produce
– Project would be a “one-off”
Screenplay agents will be less interested in your project if it is encumbered with additional attachments that don’t add value or if there are any unresolved legal issues regarding the project.
Now, you may be thinking, “So you’re saying I need to write an awesome script? Duh.”
But that’s not actually my point.
My point is that you are going to need to write several awesome scripts.
Then, you need to choose with which script you are going to lead when you launch your career.
My suggestion is that you do not choose your favorite script or even the best-written script.
Instead, choose the script that screenplay agents will love.
That is the script that makes it most likely that you will sell all of the rest of your scripts.
If you don’t have a script right now that meets these criteria, then it’s time to learn how to write a screenplay that meets them.
Stephanie Palmer, a former MGM Pictures executive and best-selling author of Good in a Room, has been featured by NBC, ABC, CBS, Los Angeles Times, NPR, Variety and many more. To connect with Stephanie: goodinaroom.com, facebook.com/GoodInARoom, @goodinaroom
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