When an agent or manager considers taking you on for representation, they will look to and consider your body of work to confirm or refute whether you will be the type of writer who will deliver consistently and prolifically, and provide them with the sort of clarity and focus they could sell to the development, production and network executive they work with every day introducing new spec scripts and pilots, setting up general meetings, and bringing in writers for potential assignment work.
While few agents or managers will sign a writer based on a single screenplay (it is rare, but it does - once in a while - happen), most will want to see a cohesive body of work before they will make the time investment necessary to build your career by developing your talent, providing you notes on existing work and getting your name out there. To put it simply, they will want to know that they're investing their time and energy, and putting their industry contacts on the line, for someone who has done the work to be considered for a professional screenwriting career.
While the exact requirements of a compelling body of work vary from rep to rep, most want to see the following:
- Feature scripts: At least one or two completed, polished, ready for the cameras feature film scripts, in the same or like genre. Because their job will be building you a fan base, it will be that much easier to do if you approach them with focused material in the genre you are best at. While many baby writers tend to travel from genre to genre, on the pro, and specifically the rep side, many feel that if you're good at many things, you're not going to be great at any of them.
- Pilot scripts: If television is your final destination, you HAVE to have a couple of strong pilots on your hands, ones that make a real case for your ability to tap into new worlds, or provide a new angle into worlds that have been explored in the past, creating compelling, interesting characters that can be effectively extended over episodes and seasons.
- TV Specs: Once again, if TV is your world, you would benefit from having a couple of strong TV specs, putting on display your ability to develop and embellish on existing worlds and characters.
- A slew of great ideas: Great ideas are a screenwriter's life blood. You need to have at least a handful or strong ideas you haven't developed into screenplays yet, but can aptly talk about in a meeting should you be requested to.
An important thing to remember: These days, many reps complain that in today's industry climate it takes twice as long as it did 5 years ago to sell a project or develop a writer. Therefore, many prefer to take on literally talent that can be prolific in both film and television, rather than taking twice the time to develop talent who can only perform in a single format. While it is possible for a writer to break in JUST as a film writer or JUST as a TV writer, you will make a stronger case for yourself by being able to perform in both formats.
The body of work they don't want to see:
While reps want to see that you are prolific and consistent, that you are able to produce strong scripts again and again and that you have more than one marketable story to tell, don't come at them with a list of 15 unproduced screenplays, all of which you swear are great. If you do, they will assume one of two things, neither of which will work in your favor:
- You don't know how to tell good from bad, and therefore think everything you write is great. The reality is that every writer out there, even the best ones, own a trash can.
- You are a good writer, but it's your personality that's the problem. If you have all this great work but no one's ever picked you up, it's likely something about your personality that rubbed them the wrong way.
If you do have an extensive body of unproduced work, pick the best pieces within it that would make a cohesive case for your specific strengths.
- More Writers on the Verge with Lee Jessup
- Business of Screenwriting: 'Rocky' The Perfect Movie
- Story Structure articles by Jen Grisanti
Tools to Help: