Author : Sandra Leviton
Dear Script Chick,
I’ve hit the point where I am ready to dive head first into the deep end and find an agent. I’ve read on many blogs that if they respond at all, it can take forever – they’re always so busy. I know they’re busy getting their clients jobs, but something still doesn’t seem right. When I think about the TV schedule and what I know about staffing season, those agents must only work 3-4 months of the year. What are they so busy doing? Should I try to time my submissions to a certain time of the year so that I may actually get a response? I’d really like to be included in staffing season this year!
All Wet and Need a Towel
Dear All Wet,
First of all, kudos to you for doing your homework! I’m sure this is a something many writers, producers, and heck, even executives wonder about sometimes. You are correct in thinking there are better times of the year where you are more likely to get read. Let’s start with your first question….
What are agents so busy doing?
Agents, as you know, try to get writers (and actors, directors, producers, and other creatives) jobs. In between making sometimes, hundreds of phone calls a day, they are playing lawyer, psychologist, parent, bill collector, political advisor, and development executive. And that’s just working with their clients. Agents have to serve many masters. They balance the needs of their department along with helping out network and studio executives, and showrunners. These include activities such as reading scripts, attending countless meetings, updating grids and tracking (or reading them if their assistants, which is more likely, doing it), attending breakfasts, coffees, lunches, dinners, and drinks. I’ve known agents to do all of the above in 1 day, everyday. It sounds luxurious, but it can wear on you after awhile. Many do sacrifice an extracurricular life – friends, family, health.
Is there a better time of the year to submit your material to an agent?
Yes, there is and particularly in TV. Features are on a more year round schedule, but do have peaks and valleys where it’s busier than others. Seeing as your question centers around TV staffing, let’s focus on TV agents and their cycle. As you know the traditional TV cycle runs late August through May. Agents’ cycles are similar to this, though they are always thinking about the next year ahead. Here’s what a typical year looks like for an agent:
August – November – See what clients are developing. Work with them to get it ready to pitch. Assemble packages with talent (i.e. – pair clients with more experienced ones, a hot director or actor that are all clients of the agency). Pitch the pilots. Make deals for the ones that have been bought.
Thanksgiving – Agencies shut down for half of the week, many agents take the full week off.
December – Final push for selling pilots mixed in with a ton of holiday parties. Shut down 2nd – 3rd week of December. Agents and assistants will get about 2 weeks off typically.
January – February – Networks announce what pilots they will to put into production. Much celebrating , crying, and hand holding. Help clients assemble good teams, do their best to get other clients of the agencies involved.
Late February – March – Pilots prep, some may start shooting if it comes together really fast. Agents visit clients, make sure they’re eating, sleeping, and playing nice with everyone.
March – April – Pilots shoot and submit to networks. Along with taking care of the ones working on pilots, agents are preparing those clients that didn’t get pilots made for staffing. Making sure they have good material and strategizing what potential shows they may want to target. Studios, networks, and existing shows are starting to read and staff returning shows if they have already been picked up for another season. Agents start making rapid fire calls to said studios, networks, and shows and sending out client materials. Then they set up meetings with all of the above, because typically, unless they’ve met with the clients in the past, writers will need to meet with all three for approvals.
May – UPFRONTS!* The few weeks leading up to upfronts is hell on earth for agents (and their assistants). This time is, again, spent phone calling, sending out materials, settting up meetings for their clients, wooing showrunners and execs, using every favor and available resource to make sure their clients get meetings on the new shows. Upfronts – Agents travel to New York, new shows are reveals, if they haven’t been already. Writers are staffed! Deals are being made fast and furious.
June – The flurry of staffing continues until around July 4th. Usually by the end of June, most shows are staffed. New shows will start working pretty quickly and returning shows are on hiatus until late July/ August.
July – Vacation! This is when agents take their vacations, work slightly shorter hours, and can generally breathe. They still work – staffing on cable shows, setting up clients that didn’t get staffed on general meetings and getting them ready for the next development cycle. Meet with networks to see what kind of development they will be looking for. And the best part…..finding new clients!
Many agents do recruit new clients throughout the year, but typically, they are already established – had a freelance episode of a hit show air, published some novels, journalists, etc. When it comes to fresh and unproven clients, the process is longer. Some will try to read year round, but as you can see, staffing season is pretty much impossible to pin any of them down.
The ideal times to get them are when things are slower – summertime, and yes, even the holidays. They want the time off to relax, but many are workaholics and will read on the beaches in Hawaii. December isn’t ideal as they usually want those 2 weeks to really unwind, but the beginning of January can be a little slow as Hollywood wakes up from their holiday food coma. And don’t wait until the last minute to get it to them. Get it to them in December if you want a response in January or February.
Depending on how well you know the agent, there’s a 75% chance, their assistant will read first and do coverage on it. This can also account for why it can take 2 months to get read – its going through multiple people and you should have multiple pieces of material for them to read. Once they’ve read and liked your work, they then meet with their departments and if there’s interest in your work. Then if you have interest in other areas like film, they will meet with those agents too. Those agents will then read the material. From there, they decide as a group whether or not to take you on as a client. Nowadays, as a client, you typically have a team working for you with a point agent, especially if you’re cross-disciplined. So it is a process that really, only receives their full attention a few times a year.
To put it simply – always work to get your materials read any time you can, but you are more likely to get read and to get a response around January – March and July – September.
So All Wet – Now is a great time to submit to agents if you have access to them. Don’t hesitate and dive on into the pool, swim your laps and get strong, because the competition is fast approaching! And don’t forget your towel!
*Upfronts are went the fall TV schedules are announced by the major networks in New York. This is so advertisers can decide which shows they want to buy ad time in.