Agency Script Coverage – Do agents even read it?

B. O'Malley

Agents and script coverage

Agents and script coverageSo you’ve gone to all the trouble of writing a script, which you happen to think is the greatest little romantic comedy since they invented Romantic Comedies in 2010.  And you’ve gone to all the trouble of getting feedback on that script from friends, writers groups, and even paid for script coverage from a script coverage company like Screenplay Readers so you can tweak your screenplay to perfection.

Now let’s say you’re ready to submit. You’ve got a friend of a friend who works at Creative Artists Agency, who says they’ll cover your script and get that agency script coverage in front of a junior agent. This could be your big chance!

And let’s say you get that script to that friend of a friend, and the friend of a friend loves it, writes a bang-up, awesome coverage for your script, and then hands the coverage off to his boss, a junior agent at CAA.

Do agents even read agency script coverage?

The question is now:  Will the agent read the coverage?  Forget the script. We’re just asking if the agent will even read the coverage.  Not the Screenplay Readers coverage you paid for, mind you, but the in-house CAA coverage written by your friend of a friend who works for the junior agent.

The short answer is:  There’s a good chance that they probably won’t.

And the long answer?

First of all, junior agents, senior agents, heck even mail clerks and assistants at agencies are slammed.  At a place like CAA, which handles talent (actors), literary (screenwriters/novelists, etc.), and all sorts of other entertaining folks, they’re impossibly busy. And for much of the staff, completely overworked. 

At some agencies, it’s because they’re truly busy. At other agencies, it’s because whoever runs the agency or the department is bad at managing, or likes drama, or busywork for the sake of busywork.  (Or maybe whoever they employ is one of those dreaded “7 Deadly Script Readers” I’ve written about.

But the net result is the same at most agencies: everybody’s distracted by a billion different things.

Second, and this is a big one, unless  your coverage gets handed to the junior agent with a fervent “I recommend you read this immediately,” even it probably has only a very slight chance of getting read. And I’m not even talking about the script. I’m talking about the coverage.

Why is that? 

But it’s just coverage! Why wouldn’t they read it?

Think of the sheer volume of scripts and coverage passing through a small to mid-level literary agency, let alone a major one like CAA. Unsolicited spec scripts (spec scripts that are simply mailed in by a screenwriter to the agency without asking the agency’s permission) are usually trashed, recycled, or mailed back to the screenwriter, cutting down on the vast majority of scripts in the building at any given time.

But the amount of submitted scripts that remain – scripts sent over from friends, allies, third party recommenders, etc. –  is still simply staggering.

If agencies existed for the sole purpose of filtering out thousands of bad scripts every day just so the agency could get its mitts on a good script, then I’d be happily telling you a different tale here. But the fact is, any agency’s prime directive, prime motivator, priority #1, is to procure employment for their existing, financially proven talent base.  Secondary objectives are career management/navigation, publicity sometimes, and other arcane interpersonal relations, the likes of which anyone who’s never worked in a talent/literary agency would ever understand.

New talent is great, but their signed talent keep the lights on

Yes, agents are always on the look for new talent to add to their base. By and large, that talent has to be a known quantity (read, the new screenwriter has to have sold a script, or the new actor has to have been a part of a successful project).  But the “scouting for new talent” objective at any agency worth its salt takes a backseat to the aforementioned procuring employment for the agency’s existing, financially proven talent base. (Caveat: it’s a lot easier to get an agent to love you if, quite simply, you’re one of those screenwriters that agents love.)

That means not everybody’s antennae are always up at an agency, waiting for the new Robert Towne to send in a script so they can discover him.

Bottom line: What gets read and discovered at an agency is almost always the product of several employees at that agency recommending, highly, a script that’s been floating around the office, and which has received glowing in-house coverage.  The more people who recommend it, who’ve been “infected” by the script, the better chance your script has of getting read, or at least your coverage.

So will your friend’s friend’s junior agent pick up that in-house, agency script coverage and read it?  The answer is:  Only if your friend’s friend recommends it personally, and most importantly, emphatically.

But even if you make it that far, if that agency script coverage doesn’t have an amazing hook in the logline section (AKA a marketable, original concept which you can describe in 30 words or less), no agent worth her salt will waste their time finish reading the coverage, let alone reading your entire script.

It’s a tough world.  But take hope.  Because I believe it was a literary agent who came up with this Zen-like assurance to aspiring screenwriters everywhere:  “Cream rises.”

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