We have already discussed the best ways to get an agent. Let’s assume that an agent wishes to represent you. Now what? In this column, we’ll explore some of the factors that help to set up a good client-agent relationship.
In an initial meeting or phone call, both you and the agent should communicate your expectations about your relationship.
Among other things, you should discuss particular submission ideas (both yours and the agent’s), the submission history of the screenplay, resumes (if you have sufficient background to warrant this), and any requirements you might have in the event that the screenplay is sold or optioned.
In our experience, the most rewarding client-agent associations are collaborations that have good communications on both sides.
Agents are professionals who work with their clients. Although we do not accept offers or agree to terms without our clients’ instructions, we should not be expected to blindly follow our clients’ orders either, whether in terms of submissions or in terms of taking actions that are unethical, improper, or against WGAE working rules.
We welcome our clients’ ideas about submissions, provided that you’re willing to listen to the agent’s reasoning as to why a particular submission or approach may not be wise.
Also, you may have contacts in the business that are especially strong which should—and can most effectively—be followed up directly by you. (Be sure to discuss these with your agent, too.)
You’ll want to establish an understanding of how — and how often — the agent will communicate with you (or you with him or her). Obviously, we will be in touch immediately if something positive has occurred, but we do not as a rule call or write our clients to say that so-and-so has just returned your script (unless, for instance, the rejection included useful information) or that there is no news.
On the other hand, you should expect to be updated on a reasonable basis. Discuss how you both expect to deal with updates so that you’ll both be satisfied.
Talk about how you’ll work with the agent to develop new ideas, too.
Give the agent all of the information he (or she) needs: change of address, telephone numbers and their effective dates (for vacations, too, since a deal today may disappear tomorrow); your social security number, or, if you have a loan-out company, its name and federal ID number.
If you have an attorney you’ll want to use or need a recommendation for one, be sure to discuss this with your agent. We work with our clients’ attorneys all the time, and are happy to do so, but we generally prefer not to deal with "family" attorneys unless they are thoroughly experienced in entertainment law.
Discuss the number of submission copies you’ll provide the agent. In some cases, one or two copies are enough. In others, six, eight, or even a dozen are more appropriate.
And, your new agent must have a list of all the prior submissions of the screenplay, whether to producers, directors, actors, agents, or others "outside" the business.
There are so many possibilities of overlap, even if the submissions were made years before, that both you and the agent could be embarrassed—or worse—if you fail to provide a complete list.
Some agencies require that their clients sign a representation agreement. The terms of these contracts vary greatly from agency to agency.
We won’t have enough room to discuss these terms here (and the WGAE will give you good advice on these matters), but be sure to discuss this point with your new agent, if only to understand what will happen if the association is terminated.
If you cannot agree on how you will work together, you shouldn’t enter into the association.
The object is to establish early on the most productive way for your particular client-agent relationship to work in tandem. There is no formula for this but, as with any other relationship, flexibility, understanding, and good communication are key factors.
Robert Freedman and Tim Knowlton are members of the Association of Authors' Representatives. Mr. Freedman is President of Robert A. Freedman Dramatic Agency, Inc., and Mr. Knowlton is Chief Operating Officer of Curtis Brown, Ltd.