Congratulations! You did it! You are officially a signed writer.
Years of hard work and navigating the dizzying Hollywood labyrinth of queries, contests, and networking have paid off. Enjoy the feeling! Take a little time for gratitude and joy. Tell your friends and family. Post it on social. The people who believed in you were right. The people who doubted you must now eat crow in their shame corners. You are validated. Bask in it.
Not for too long. Because your reward for all this hard work is work! It’s the work you wanted, the work that drives you, but it’s absolutely work.
But, now you have partners on the journey with you. And, once the high wears off, you might stop and wonder, “Oh shit. Now what?” “What do my reps want from me?”
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What Should I Be Working On?
The first thing you may notice in navigating this new world is your writing process has changed. You likely got signed off of a spec script, a passion project that you birthed alone in the darkness and nurtured to adulthood. You have a writers group or altruistic readers, you took some notes from people you trust, but this script from idea to final draft was your own sacred work.
Maybe your new reps sold or optioned this script. Maybe not. Maybe it hasn’t landed anywhere but is serving as your calling card around town. Either way, the time has come to begin your next script. And this is when you realize, for the first time, you’re not writing in your own vacuum anymore. You’re now part of a team.
I think about writing the way I think about cooking. You are the chef, and you’ve made a dish that a lot of people like. But, you probably don’t know shit about starting or running a restaurant.
Your reps are there because they know how to make the place go. They know what dishes are selling right now, and what dishes haven’t been eaten since 1997. They know where to source the ingredients, how to get people to come to your restaurant, what to charge for each dish. (Have I run this metaphor far enough into the ground yet?)
At this point in your career, it’s not about writing whatever the hell you want and then surprising your rep with a sudden new script. The element of surprise is a good battle strategy, but not with your allies.
Instead, you’ll likely be pitching idea after idea to your reps, discussing them, fleshing a few out. Then, as a team, you’ll decide what is the best next project for you. The right script for the marketplace. For the next step in your career.
Then, and only then, are you ready to return to your writing cocoon.
How Much Should I Be Writing?
When perusing Writer Twitter, it’s easy to feel less accomplished than other writers. You’ll run across tweets that sound something like: “Big day! Just wrote Fade Out on another script! That’s seven new features this year! #KillinIt #WritersKnowHowToDoIt.”
Maybe that person is the best, most prolific writer in the world. Maybe they have a stack of sloppy scripts. There’s no way to tell on social media. As they say, comparison is the thief of joy.
But you might wonder, “Is that what my reps expect from me? Am I expected to be a machine that does nothing but inhale caffeine and exhale screenplays?”
How many scripts can I write? And how quickly am I supposed to be doing it? The simple truth is, it takes as long as it takes.
Now, I’m not suggesting that your reps will patiently sit back and wait five years for your grand opus. One to two features a year is probably a good goal to shoot for.
It’s all about quality over quantity.
If you’re working with your reps on an idea, and they know what you’re writing, they’re seeing outlines and treatments and pages, they know you’re working. And, when the script’s ready, it’s ready.
If you get your script to a good place, to a place where your reps are excited to send it out, they’re not going to sweat it being the only script you’ve written that year.
Focus on being the absolute best writer you can be and writing the kinds of scripts that you’re proud of. The kind of scripts that will take your career where you want it to go.
How Do I Handle Meetings and Potential Jobs?
Another new door unlocked to you once you’ve signed with reps is the world of general meetings. Whether or not your spec script sold, you’re likely to get at least a handful of meetings with production companies, studios, and the like.
In the pre-covid days, this was known as the “water bottle tour.” Now, it’s more a series of “make your own coffee and pretend you’re a professional not wearing dirty basketball shorts” tour. But either way, it’s an important part of building your career.
These meetings are fun and pretty casual. They like the way you write. You’re a hot commodity at this moment, and they have projects that they know you would be just perfect for!
And, sometimes you are! And those moments are great! They want to make something, you want to write it. Win/Win! You take the idea to your reps, everyone is excited, you get to work.
A lot of the time, though, the project doesn’t feel quite right. It’s not bad. It’s just not you. But, you’re coming from a place of scarcity, of wanting to be wanted. How can you turn down a potential writing job?
I took this conundrum to my managers when I was weighing out the merits of a potential project. “I don’t love it,” I said, “But, I know I could make it work.”
“Don’t be afraid to say no,” my managers told me. This is going to be a year of your life, at least. If you’re not excited about it, it’s not going to be worth it. It’s not going to sustain you.
“You’re going to say no way more than you’re going to say yes.”
It’s a weird, uncomfortable feeling to say no to a writing job when for years that’s all you’ve ever wanted. But, it’s normal. It’s expected.
More than anything else, your reps expect you to be true to yourself and your voice. That’s why they signed you. That’s why they trust you. So, trust yourself.
What’s the Key to a Good Relationship With My Reps?
Your relationship with your reps is built on trust. If you don’t trust them, and they don’t trust you, you’re in for a rocky ride. This is your career, and you’re building it together.
A couple of weeks ago, I sent my team an email asking for their opinion on something. I don’t remember exactly what, but the nitty-gritty doesn’t matter. Something that arose with a project. I led off my email with something like, “Sorry to blow up your inboxes this week, but…”
Within an hour or so, I got a couple of good email responses with some of their thoughts, which were dead on. But, then, my phone rang. It was one of my agents.
“First of all,” she said. “You never have to apologize for emailing us. We want to know what’s up with you, and we’re here to talk through it. We’d rather know more than not know enough.”
What do your reps want from you? The simple truth is: if you listen, they’ll tell you.
The key to a relationship with your reps, as it is with every relationship in your life, is communication.
There’s no catch-all headline for “this is what your reps want from you.” (Sorry for the bait and switch.) There’s no catch-all for what anyone wants from anyone. We’re all human beings with our own preferences, tics, and idiosyncrasies.
Does your rep want to be in the trenches with you every day, or do they want broad strokes? Do they want to develop with you, or do they want to wait for a finished script?
Talk to them about it. What do they expect from you? And what do you expect from them? Hopefully, you had this discussion before you signed with them, but if you didn’t, now is the time to define the relationship.
If you communicate with your reps, if your expectations for each other are clear and agreed upon, that’s the only solid foundation for a good working relationship.
Brian T. Arnold has won the Tracking Board Launch Pad Competition, Best Thriller and Best Drama in the Script Pipeline First Look Competition, and Best Thriller in the Shore Scripts Competition. He’s also been featured on the Hit List and the Young & Hungry List and placed in the Top 50 of the Nicholl Fellowship. He’s repped by Bellevue Productions and APA.