By Danny Manus
“The duck flies at midnight”… BAM, you got an agent.
If only it was that easy. Making cold calls to agents, managers and producers is one of the most nerve-wrecking things a writer can do. You only get about 10 seconds and 98% of the time, whatever assistant answers the phone is going to hang up with a requisite “We don’t take unsolicited submissions” or “Please submit through a referral or lawyer” – and that’s that.
But in those 10 seconds, is there anything you can do or say that might stop them from hanging up?
Sure. But none of them involve the word “script” or “pitch.”
Make sure before you make ANY calls that you have done extensive research. Make sure you are calling the right company for the right project at the right time and that you know who to talk to at that company. That they don’t have something similar in development, that they do the genre you are writing, that you have your logline tight and polished, etc. And then prepare exactly what you’re going to say.
If the first words out of your mouth, are “Hi, my name is Joe Blow and I’ve written a new script I want to submit.” CLICK. You’re not getting a second sentence out.
If your first words are, “Hey I was wondering who I could talk to about getting representation?” CLICK.
If your first words are, “Hey there, I’ve got a script that is PERFECT for your company. I know you’re going to want to buy it!” CLICK. CLICK. CLICK.
So, what are the magic words?
Well, there aren’t any. However, the closest things Hollywood has to magic words are “Financing” and “Referred by.”
When calling a producer or an agent to submit to their client, having financing or a firm attachment are always the key words. If you’ve got REAL financing (and by real, I mean there is provable money in the bank for the project’s LLC, or you have a signed letter of intent from a real investor - not your parents) and you’re looking for a producer to develop, package, produce and find distribution, then mentioning you are bringing partial or full financing to the table will at least get you to the second sentence of your pitch. It might even get you to a logline.
Even if you’re a legit producer or executive working IN the business and you’re calling an agent to get their client’s interest in your project, the FIRST question out of their mouths is, “Is there financing?” If your answer’s no, your script is going in the “non-priority” pile unless you work for an A-List company.
If you have impressive attachments (a great actor or director) already connected to the script - and by great I mean one that can sell a movie and whose name means something overseas – then mentioning that in your first sentence will also get you a second and third sentence.
“Hi, my name is John Smith and I’ve got a project with Reese Witherspoon attached to star and partial financing on board and I’d love to speak to someone at your company about it.” Yeah, obviously this call is getting sent thru to someone important.
But if you have financing and Reese Witherspoon, you probably don’t need advice on getting a producer’s attention. So, let’s assume you don’t have them - what else can you do?
Get a referral. The easiest way to ensure that the assistant listens to your second sentence is by using a referral and a name they know and recognize to break the ice.
“Hey there, Important Executive Name You Know suggested that I should give you a call. My name’s Joe Blow and he thought that my project about THIS might be up your alley.”
Or even better - “Hey, I’m a good friend of Important Agent Name Here and she thought I should give you a call and introduce myself, maybe grab a coffee sometime...”
The key to using referrals isn’t just to get the script read - it’s to forge a connection and a relationship. Instead of rushing things and asking to submit your script on the phone call, ask the person to coffee or a drink (on you) and at THAT meeting, pitch your project. Use the referral phone call to talk about you, your connection, and how much you love their projects and would love to chat further. And since you only use a referral when it’s REAL, you should always offer that the person you’re calling can call or email the person who referred you to double check.
If you have no attachments, no financing, no referral and no connection to these companies at all, then go to your own experience. If you’ve recently won an IMPORTANT award for the script – and by important I mean one of the top 12 contests and not some po-dunk regional top 10 placement bullshit – then start off by saying you have a major award winning project. Again, that’s if you WON. Or if you’ve gotten a high rating and recommendation on a site like BlackList, that can’t hurt either. FYI, a 75 is not a high rating.
If you have worked in the business in some worthwhile way (as crew, for instance) or were optioned, produced, published before or you’re a book writer and have a book agent – then open with that. If you have something about you that is going to make them care – if you’re currently in the military, if you’re a pediatric oncology surgeon, if you run a dog rescue – something that will make them feel bad for hanging up, then use it. Or if you know something personal about the assistant, exec or agent that you can (honestly) connect with, use that too. If they went to the same college or came from the same home town or go to the same gym – mention that!
“Hi, I’m Jane Blow and I’m a graduate of Ithaca College and I realized that your boss also graduated from Ithaca and has always been really receptive to speaking with alumni, and was wondering if I could perhaps speak to him for a moment.” Hear that? No click.
Just as important in knowing what words might get you a “YES,” however, is knowing how to shut up and get off the phone as soon as you get it. Do not talk yourself out of a yes, and after you get one, that’s all continuing to talk can do. So, once someone agrees to meet with you or read your script, the only words out of your mouth should be, “Great, thanks so much (or “I really appreciate it”) and I will get it over to you asap. I look forward to hearing what you think.” Get their email address and hang up. That’s it.
There are no secret words that guarantee you get read or rep’d, but these are some strategies that will give you the best chance possible and help you avoid the dreaded CLICK.
- More Notes from the Margins articles by Danny Manus
- Notes from the Margins: Cracking the Executive Code
- Loglines: The First Essential Step to Defining and Elevating Your Story
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