In October, we were pleased to host agents Sara Putt (Sara Putt associates) and Matthew Bates (Sayle Screen) in conversation with director Samantha Harrie about all things concerning agents and representation.
From approaching an agent, to managing your agent relationship and changing your representation, the in-depth conversation covered areas relevant to directors at all stages of their career. You can read a round up of the insights the session provided below.
Please note that the advice is subjective, and individual agents may potentially have differing opinions on how they see their work.
APPROACHING AN AGENT
What are agents looking for in a client?
- Agents have to love the work. They need to relate and respond to it if they’re going to be out there pitching it.
- They also have to respond well to the person. They’re asking themselves: what do this person want from me as an agent?
- If you’re new, the agent needs to get a sense that you’re in this for the long run. Building a career takes time.
How do agents make choices about who they represent?
- Agents need to be conscious that they can actually do something for the client.
- They also look out to see that there isn’t any clumsy crossover with their list already.
- It’s a numbers game. Sometimes they need to pass on talent so that they can have enough time for those they already represent.
- They try to have a range of difference voices, with different lived experiences. A lot of agents are aware of industry inequality and lack of representation and are seeking to redress it. But this is all in the context of the talent.
On a practical level, how do you approach an agent?
- It’s always important to head to the agent’s website and read their own advice on how they prefer to be approached.
- Some agents like approaches to have a recommendation from those they already know. If someone they like or admire has had a look at you and recommended you, then this can improve your chances.
- If you are approaching an agent cold, you have to be really clear in what you are asking of them. Are you asking for a chat? An introduction? Or representation?
- Focus is important. Don’t ramble in your email, and don’t send three 90 minutes programmes. Send your punchy headline clips and showreel.
- Build relationships with assistants and people in main offices. If you’re unpleasant when an assistant or receptionist picks up the phone, you will harm your chances.
- Remember good agents are busy. They may be less communicative or have less time to respond than others, and this isn’t personal.
What about directors working in specific genres like animation, or looking to change genres (such as from factual to drama?
- Agents do take on animation directors, and the deals they strike are broadly the same. There are very few agents in the UK who specialize in animation directors, as the genre is relatively small in UK production.
- When changing genre, you need to demonstrate why you would be suited to the genre you want. If you’re moving from docs to drama, you need to have shown some storytelling flair in your work. It also helps to have some experience of directing performances – consider directing short films or docudrama.
Do you actually need an agent?
- If you’re early in your career, maybe not. When you’re earning very little, it may not be beneficial to part with that 10%. This is where your community of peers and filmmakers comes in – they will be your best agents at this point in time.
- It’s important to identify what you think you can no longer achieve on your own, and how you think an agent can help you with that, before reaching out.
COLLABORATING WITH YOUR AGENT
How should your relationship work?
- Negotiations and contractual issues should be the agent’s domain. Agents should also be able to provide career advice, creative feedback and promotion of their client. These are more collaborative areas between the agent and director.
- It’s useful, early on, to plan out your objectives, tastes and interests so there is a common understanding of what you want to do.
- Agents can stop you going down blind allies creatively, advising on which future projects are worth pursuing.
- With larger agencies, there may be a trade-off between the amount of time you get and the institutional weight of your representation.
What if you have your own production company?
- This doesn’t necessarily make a difference but should be discussed with your agent, especially if you are out there marketing yourself as a producer.
What if you want to work in both the UK and the US?
- It’s hard to force your way into working in the US if there is no prior approach to you. You may need to be patient and wait for the opportunity to come to you.
- If you do have an opportunity to work in the US, your agent can sometimes recommend you the representation they think would work for you.
What should the fee structure be?
- 10% is the generally considered the standard rate, though some agencies can ask for up to 12.5% or 15%, if they feel they can offer that extra value.
- This fee is deducted only from contracts that the agency themselves have negotiated.
- Agents cannot guarantee that by taking 10% you will get 10% more work than you would otherwise.
CHANGING YOUR AGENT
How should you go about changing your agent?
- It’s not what you do, it’s the way you do it. It’s perfectly reasonable to make the business decision to change an agent – but it’s important to be up front and respectful.
- If you feel like you need to move, try and schedule a meeting with your agent to let them know how you feel before announcing your decision.
- Changing agents is completely accepted and reasonable. However, if a potential agent sees that you have changed representation very frequently, they may want to find out why.
- By all means explain and justify your decision to your new agent, but don’t just complain about your old agent.