The Screening Room:
Feature Agents; Pitching a Reality Show

by Laura Brennan

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I live outside of L.A., and while I have a literary agent, I don't have a feature agent. How do I get my film scripts made?

Wow -- great -- you already have an agent. That's always a plus -- and a place to start. Talk to her (if you haven't already) and ask her for advice. Does she know (and like) any other agents who might represent your film work? The key here is to make sure she understands that you're not forsaking her or the type of work she represents; this is about how to expand your horizons -- and possibly her bottom line. With that in mind, talk to her about whether any novels you've already written might be optioned as features (this is, by the way, a great reason for her to want you to sell a screenplay: your previous properties instantly go up in value). You also could discuss whether any of your feature ideas would make good novels. This may not be something you're interested in doing, but that doesn't mean you can't discuss it. Enroll her and learn from her experience in the agenting trenches.

And the truth is you don't need a feature agent at all. Features can be pitched over the phone; all you want is for them to agree to a read. When they ask if you have an agent, you say "yes" -- because you do. It doesn't matter one whit that it's a lit agent and not a feature agent, they can still submit you on lovely, professional letterhead. What feature agents are good for is using their personal connections to get you in the door. As a new feature writer, you're unlikely to find a well-connected agent willing to champion your work (unless you manage to generate some heat on your own, either by getting an option offer from a production company or by winning one or more contests, see below). So much of the grunt work -- finding likely production companies, making the calls, pitching over the phone, sending out the scripts, and following up with companies who read you -- will likely fall to you anyway.

There are things you can do to help. One is to write a brilliant, high-concept feature. It goes without saying that you never send out anything less than your best work. Another way is to enter contests and win them. A third is to target production companies that want to make your type of movie and can get things made (actors' vanity companies and anyone with a deal with a major studio are good places to start.)

You do not need to live in LA to sell a feature script here. Register the script with the Writers Guild of America, west (info at http://www.wga.org) and start building your connections to the feature world one phone call at a time. Each production company is a potential ally down the line; each "yes" gets you a new fan, and each "no" is the opportunity to find out what else they may be looking for, so that if you do write something that fits their parameters, you'll know it. Be unfailingly polite and professional, and you'll be building relationships that will pay off years down the line.

I have a great idea for a new reality TV show. I have been developing this idea for the past one month but have no clue where to go with it.

Okay, with the disclaimer that reality isn't really my thing... There are lots of ways in the door. First of all, pitches. A pitch is essentially an oral treatment or synopsis, delivered with enthusiasm. It is short and jazzy and includes why you can make this show happen -- why you are critical to the project, not just why the project itself is a good idea.

If you're in LA, you want to pitch to as many production companies as possible in person. This is where you ask your friends for help. Whom do they know? Where can they get you in the door? If you're outside of LA or if you can't get a referral, your first contact will be by phone, and you may pitch by phone.

A pitch is always better than sending in a written treatment because it's a two-way street. If they don't want your project, you can learn what they do want just by asking them. You can also see who's producing what by watching the credits of reality shows you like; there are only a handful of companies very active in this field, and you'll find the same fingers in a lot of different pies.

I can't emphasize enough that you need to include in your pitch *how* you will make it happen. There are a million ideas for reality shows out there, and they're all very similar. What gets one in a million on the air is the belief that the person pitching the project can make it happen, and make it sizzle. Include whatever talent or experts or specialized knowledge that you'll be able to round up to make the project stand out. A good idea is not enough; you need a strategy for an exceptional, do-able, and fun execution.

If you're looking to put this on your local cable access, you might even produce it yourself and use it as a learning experience, or if you do a great job, as a calling card. There's more than one PBS show that started out with passionate people shooting their own specials. Or you might want to produce a three- to five-minute trailer; often it's better to whet producers' appetites and just show them the very best bits.

Good luck!

Copyright © 2005 Laura Brennan
This article is not available for reprint.


Laura Brennan has written for a number of television shows, including The Invisible Man for the Sci-Fi Channel. She also co-created the children's series, Queen Augusta's Heroes.

 

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