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The Screening Room:
Should I Pay an Agent to Rewrite my Script?

by Laura Brennan

Return to Screenwriting & Scriptwriting · Print/Mobile-Friendly Version

I heard from an agent who liked my script and said the agency will post it on their web site for free and represent me but also that the script reads as a first draft and does not adhere to the Cole and Hagg Guide to Standard Screenplay Format. The additional service they offer is working with me to put it in final draft status and then actively soliciting it to production companies etc. This for $450. Honestly I don't mind spending the money, and I suppose this is what an agent does. Is it?

ABSOLUTELY NOT!!!

Run, do not walk, from these people. Never, ever pay an agent to "rewrite" your script. No reputable agent will ever suggest that.

If you think the script needs work, the $450 is much better spent on a screenwriting class where you will learn and receive feedback from your professor and fellow classmates. That's outrageous!

Just FYI, I've never heard of their screenwriting format guide, either. Standard screenplay format is readily available in any number of books, David Trottier's work being in my opinion the most complete, but there's still leeway. It's a creative endeavor. Sure, your script should be in standard screenplay format, but ultimately the use of camera angles and shots, narrative structure, even the amount of "white space" on the page are all opinions. No one's going to turn down a great script because you did or did not put "continued" at the bottom of every page.

The thing to remember is that there's no magic formula to get your work sold. It takes luck, persistence, and creativity, not to mention great writing.

Smart of you, by the way, to try to find out if you they were legit before sending off the check. I hope my answer helped.

I have a great idea for a movie, but I'm afraid if I tell people about it, it'll get stolen. What do I do?

While it's true that if you tell people about your idea -- or "pitch" it -- there's no guarantee that someone won't steal it, if you never pitch your idea to anyone, you can pretty much guarantee that no one will ever buy it either.

You have to strike a balance between protecting yourself and getting your idea out there. First, write as much as you can. An idea, however high-concept, isn't copyrightable. What can be protected is the execution of the idea; in other words, the script, the outline, or the treatment. The more you have on paper, the better protected you are. Register this with the WGA west ($20 for non-members).

Second, keep great records. I keep a logbook and in it I jot down the name of anyone I talk to about the project, along with their phone number and the details of the conversation. If I pitch to a production company, I include any info I have about the company and the kinds of movies they produce, and whether or not they requested the treatment or the script.

You also have to follow up when someone does request material, or else tells you they're going to pitch your project up to their boss. For some reason, writers feel they're bothering executives or agents by calling to follow up. That's just silly; executives shuffle constantly from one company to another, sometimes taking ideas with them but most often leaving behind projects stuck in limbo. The way to handle it, and to make sure you're kept abreast, is to set a follow-up date during the initial conversation; that way, you can pleasantly remind the exec or agent that you're calling when you said you would, to see what the status of the project might be. You're professional... and most of all, you're not left hanging.

Finally -- and this is the hardest -- you have to recognize that sometimes ideas are not stolen; they're just in the air. Whoever pitches the concept first, and best, wins the brass ring. It's up to you to do your research, get your pitch in shape, and start making those calls. Don't let your fear of getting ripped off keep you from getting in the game.

Copyright © 2003 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.

 

Copyright © 2017 by Moira Allen. All rights reserved.
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