Before I get to the list of seven things, I want to make sure we're on the same page about this: all agents are brokers.
In the same way stockbrokers buy and sell stock and are paid on commission, agents in Hollywood arrange transactions between buyers and sellers and are paid only when the deals go through.
This means that when an agent encounters a new project from a new writer, they are thinking about how long it would take them to sell the project and how much they might get paid.
That in itself may not surprise you, but the way in which the assessment is made may influence your choices when you decide how to write your screenplay.
I've worked with all the major literary agencies in a variety of capacities. As a studio executive I hired 100+ writers and purchased 25+ screenplays. As a writer, I worked with an agent to sell my book. And as a consultant, I help my screenwriter clients to find literary agents.
This is just my way of saying that while I haven't been a literary agent myself, I get where they're coming from and how to write a screenplay that will appeal to them. For an up-to-date tally of how many spec screenplays each agency has sold this year (including the names of the individual agents who made the sales), check out Spec Scout's Spec Market Scorecard.
Now, having a screenwriter agent is not required for every situation and many script sales are made without any agent involvement. This article is for those of you have or hope to have agency representation in the future.
When an agent is reading a script for the first time, they are thinking: "How am I going to sell this?"
So, as you're figuring out how to write a screenplay that will get you an agent, consider these seven factors:
7 Things Screenplay Agents Really Want
- ONE terrific role for a movie star ("actor bait")
Everything you write doesn't need to be a high-concept star vehicle, but it's one of the "tickets" to join the club of professional screenwriters. Once you prove that you can do this, you earn the right to do other things.
Again, not TWO great roles, but ONE great role. A movie star should be thinking, "This is MY project." Otherwise they may be thinking, "Sure, my role would be great, but who would they cast opposite me and could that person be so amazing that I might be overshadowed?"
2. The project fits easily in ONE genre
Agents are constantly researching and questioning executives and producers. They need to keep up with what companies are looking for within specific genres to find matches with their client projects.
I have never heard a decision-maker say, "I'm looking for a film that's a blend of several different genres." When reading a script, a literary agent's question about genre is, "Will this meet the audience's expectations for this genre?"
3. Super short pitch
Not a "super, short pitch," but a "super short" pitch. Provided your pitch is compelling, the shorter your pitch is (from an agent's POV) the better.
Your short pitch is 1-3 sentences that encapsulates the main idea clearly and concisely. Typically this a "selling" logline of your project that communicates the main idea.
NEXT TIME I'll give you # 4 through 7 — Along with a few more details...