Yup, desperation is a terrible thing. It drives perfectly normal (or somewhat perfectly normal) screenwriters do really silly and costly things. I’ve just come across yet another novice scribe who tells me how their “agent” is asking for more money in order to get a project off the ground. I’ll tell ya, hearing this sort of thing really upsets me. So, I need to get the word out to those of you who are new to the screenwriting game. Here it is, ladies and germs, so read verrrrry carefully…
Reputable literary agents DO NOT charge their writers. If you are being charged any kind of fee (even if it’s a “maintenance” fee), you are being ripped off.
Writers DO NOT pay agents; agents get paid (typically a 10% commission) when they sell your script.
Legitimate literary agents, the kind that can actually be a boost to your career as a screenwriter, are usually NOT located in Florida, Utah, or Nebraska. Sure, sure, maybe agents who rep poets, novelists, or short story writers are located in those regions…but screenwriters? Uh, no.
The agents who will be your biggest asset are located in either Los Angeles or New York City.
If an “agent” jumps all over you, saying, “I think you have an incredible script. I can sell this,” you need to be wary. I know you think your script is incredible, but chances are good that it’s just not. I’ll go a step further and say – and I say this with LOVE – your script, at best, is probably mediocre. Just ask any Los Angeles lit agent and they’ll tell you about 99% of the scripts they read are lousy (as a part-time script consultant myself, I'd concur with this number). Perhaps the most egregious offender of all the less-than-legit lit agencies (or the company I’ve heard the most complaints leveled against) is an outfit calling themselves The Screenplay Agency. Sadly, many people have been ripped off by these jerks, so I suggest you steer very clear of them.
Look, getting an agent – a REAL agent – is a difficult thing. Fact is, even writers who have written several scripts, who have even had a movie or two made, can find it difficult to land an agent. So, if you, Mr. or Miss Newbie, with one or two completed scripts, suddenly grabs the attention of an “agent,” just stop for a moment and ask yourself “Why is this guy so interested in me?” It’s a question that needs to be asked. But if you won’t listen to me, go ahead and do some research on this so-called agency that “loves” your script. Ask ‘em, “What produced scripts have you repped?” I’m willing to bet they’ll tell you something like, “Well, we’re a relatively new agency, so we’re hoping YOUR script will be the first!” Or maybe they’ll spit some phony names and titles at you, “Well, we just sold John Smith’s political thriller Flatboy Wigwam for six figures.” My guess is no production company in Hollywood, New York, Canada, or Europe has ever heard of the title Flatboy Wigwam.
You’ll also find that most of these literary scammers have nothing more than a website where they post names and loglines of the scripts they rep. Big deal. You could do that sort of thing yourself (and probably do a better job running it). Anyway, legitimate producers aren’t scouring the Internet, looking for screenplays on websites. They just aren’t.
So, please, don’t be so desperate in your search to gain representation; don't sign on the dotted line with the first person who shoves a contract at you.
Always look carefully before you take that leap. Very, very carefully.