Tuesday, May 17, 2011

My First Agent

An acquaintance mentioned that he worked in a law firm that shared its suite with a literary agent.   I was too naive at the time to realize that a combination of agents and lawyers housed together is like a den of demonhood, so with high hopes I gave this Good Samaritan a script that had met with some success in various screenplay competitions, but not yet proved itself as my key to unlock the door to representation.

Lo and behold, the agent liked what he read and the next thing I knew I had a meeting with him.  While it never occurred to me at the time, he was a living, breathing stereotype of a Hollywood agent:  a good looking, quietly gay, loudly Jewish, satiny slick salesman.  But he didn’t smoke a cigar and his eyebrows weren’t so bushy you could hide small children in them.  So I liked him.  Apparently, he liked me, too, because he offered me a contract.

I think I did a happy dance that night.

We began re-writing the script to my agent’s liking.  That done, he began to pitch it.  We got interest.  But no deals.  I gave him other scripts.  He made me re-write them. We got more interest.  But no deals.  He had me write a script based on one of his own ideas.  Some studio executive got a hold of it and wanted to option it for next to nothing and have me re-write it to his taste.  I did.  No deal.  A few more producers got their paws on other scripts and had me sign option paperwork and made me do re-writes to turn the scripts into what they wanted them to be.   No deals.  I felt like the cheapest whore in town, putting out for next to nothing.  Might as well have gone full slut, no?

So I learned my first  great lesson in the Hollywood: too many folks won't risk standing up alone first and saying “I want to do this.” And, on some level, who can blame them?  Movies are often outrageously expensive investments.  So Financier Dan won’t sign unless Joe Director is on board; Joe Director won’t sign unless Actor Bob is attached; Actor Bob won’t sign unless the financing is in place, and so on.  It only takes one or two brave souls to give a movie a green light and then everyone will jump on the bandwagon.  But if one pin falls out of place, the house of cards collapses at any stage.  It's like Fear Factor on crack. 

It’s also a timing game.  A subject is hot one minute and if you’ve got a script about it, folks are interested.  But by the time everyone’s read it, made notes, you’ve rewritten it (and repeated that cycle a few times) the subject’s no longer hot or the person hot for the subject has moved on or “Can you turn it into a thriller because those are big again” or “Can we make Stalin a woman because we just signed Hannah Montana” or “Can you give that whole Holocaust thing a happy ending because downers don’t sell right now” and on and on and on.

I’m no longer with that agent, but I’m still writing, still wrapping my head around the ever-changing business and, believe it or not—against the odds—actually selling some scripts.

Can I hear a “Mazeltov”?