Good advice to those writers hondeling their wares and talent to various agents. But while you’re reading this advice, remember LB’s Dictum: “Having a bad agent is much more harmful than not having one at all.”
And, with that caveat out of the way:
by Priyanka Mattoo
As a former comedy agent at UTA and WME, Priyanka represented numerous big-name writers and performers before leaving to start a TV production company with Jack Black. Now she writes and produces on her own, but she still encounters a tidal wave of comedy hopefuls looking for the advice, information, and pep talks that only a former agent can provide.
I want to be a TV writer, but I’ve written a couple of pilot scripts that haven’t really gone anywhere. How do I get an agent’s attention?
Before anything else, make sure you’re desperate to be a TV writer. Is this your dream of dreams? TV writing can be a long slog in which even the greats have lost count of their canceled shows, but they can’t imagine doing anything else. You have to love it, and if you don’t, it is palpable in your screenwriting. If you want to write a book, write a book. If you want to be an actor, act. If you want to be a lawyer, sure, but do you realize how much paperwork it entails? It sounds basic, but follow your actual passion, and the work product will naturally be of a higher quality.
Don’t be discouraged.
I’m sorry if this hurts your feelings, but your first couple of scripts are probably garbage. Whether or not his calculations are accurate, you’re working on your Gladwellian 10,000 hours. You are going to write a bunch of terrible things that no one cares about before The One that gets you an agent, and that One will get you a paid job. The good news is, whenever you have that perfect sample, your agents will send it out to people and claim it’s the first thing you ever wrote, and you will be lauded as a genius. The others will be wiped from your hard drive and memories. I bet you’ve heard lots of stories about people who wrote one pilot over a weekend and then were magically discovered and immediately writing onBrooklyn Nine-Nine — untrue. Writing two half-hour scripts and then waiting for TV stardom is like taking a couple of showers and then signing up for the 200 yard Butterfly in the Olympic Trials. You can get there, but give yourself the space and time to hone your craft.
Write something special.
Eighty percent of writing samples in circulation are about an unconventional family, a workplace, a wacky couple. If you’re a preternatural joke machine or have a shocking personal history, then OK, try it. But representatives have seen everything. Search for a story that is meaningful to you, and excavate the depths of your imagination — what have you dreamed about writing, what do you wish you could watch? It doesn’t have to be a pilot, even. Is there an indie movie idea you’re dying to get out? A play you’ve wanted to stage? My friend Van Robichaux wrote big commercial comedy scripts for years, but blew up when he wrote his legally untenable passion project: a biopic of the guy who played Chewbacca in Star Wars. Carrie Kemper (of the St. Louis Kempers — hi Dotty!) wrote a brilliant one-act play about a dog who committed suicide, and was hired on The Office. Katie Dippold (The Heat, the new Ghostbusters) wrote a pilot about an unfortunate town whose long lucky streak is interrupted by their recurring serial killer. It was like nothing I’ve ever read, I still reference it, and it got her hired on Parks and Rec. One of the most brilliant comedy writers I’ve ever read is Monica Padrick (Community) who I hired for her first gig after reading her loony pilot about an Elaine Stritch type, swanning around a Carlyle-esque hotel. Everything she writes is unconventional and hilarious, and she’s irreplaceable….