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Working with an agent

Posted on December 05, 2018

Erin Lau is a Native Hawaiian Producer/Director now residing in Los Angeles.  She has been on PIC's radar ever since she was in high school video production classes at Kamehameha Schools - Kapalama Campus under the tutelage of instructor Leah Kihara. During the summer of 2010 PIC sent a 17-year-old Erin to L.A. for the FOX American Indian Summer Institute (AISI) held at Loyola Marymount University. After high school, she earned a Bachelor’s degree in Creative Media at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa from the Academy for Creative Media.  Erin has just received her Master's Degree in Filmmaking from Chapman University and is now represented by an Agent with United Talent Agency. She shares her experience on signing with her agent. Read on below.

If you’re not familiar with agents and managers, the best way someone broke it down for me is managers provide more personal attention and guidance, helping you to stay on track with your long-term, big-picture goals. Managers also can produce projects. Agents focus more on finding you work and negotiating contracts. The fees for each are slightly different, but both utilize their networks to get your name out as much as possible and to find you jobs. Unfortunately, I can’t speak too much about the experience of having a manager, but from what I have learned from colleagues is that they are very involved and help guide you along your career. People are normally contacted by a manager first. In my case, I found my agent first. I have only been a client for a few months now, and I’m still navigating my way through it, but I’ll share the knowledge I have attained so far on this journey in hopes it will help you with your own.


In June of this year, I received an email from a film competition that a United Talent Agency (UTA) agent had seen my film The Moon and The Night and wanted to talk with me. Unsure of what to do, I reached out to a few mentors and friends to ask for advice. This would be my first real interaction with an agent. I was a complete newbie, fresh out of grad school. Before my first meeting with my agent, I spent hours thinking over everything about myself I could imagine being asked in this industry. How did I get here? What’s my story? What movies and TV shows am I watching? What about books? What sort of projects am I attracted to and why? Why do I love being a director? Who are my favorite directors and writers? Again, why? What are my goals? In 10 years? 20 years? How do I plan to get there? I reflected on all these things and fleshed them out on paper. I strongly recommend reflecting on these questions. Not only because it will be important for you to know when you meet with potential representation and executives, but because you need to know the answers for yourself – to carve a clearer path toward your ultimate goals and dreams.


The two main things my agent has been doing with me so far is sending me scripts for projects he thinks I may be a good fit for that have open directing assignments. And second, sending my work and bio out to his or her network. Typically if a production company or studio takes an interest, your agent and a creative executive from the company will set up a “general meeting.” These meetings are sort of like meet-and-greets. They are not for any specific film or job, but simply an opportunity for the executive to get to know you in case you have something that sparks his or her interest. If you made a strong and positive impression, it is also possible that they will keep you in mind for future projects that may be a perfect fit. I usually look at generals as a chance to make new friends who may one day be able to help me with my growth, versus just as a job opportunity.  

Before the general meeting, make sure to reflect on the questions I listed earlier. Executives are almost always going to ask about your taste and what you’re watching or reading. It’s essential to research the company and to make sure you have seen some of the films or shows they have created. However, I believe the most important thing is to connect with the executive him or herself. As a friend shared with me before my first general, the best meetings are the ones where you don’t really discuss anything important at all. Instead, you bond over favorite movies, restaurants, books, and other shared interests. There will be executives you connect with and others you don’t. Don’t stress over it.


The executives will also normally ask you what you are working on currently. If something catches their attention, he or she may ask to see it. It’s good to ask them what types of content they are interested in making; then you can gauge what to pitch them versus unloading a dozen ideas on them. I also would advise not putting too much pressure on yourself. I overwhelmed myself the first time thinking I needed to have as many strong, fleshed out ideas as fast as possible for my meeting. Even if you just have a few premises that excite you and you want to develop, that’s great. If you have a couple finished features or pilots you want to pitch, then that’s great as well.  

One thing to keep in mind is that you don’t need an agent or manager to get a general meeting with a company. In general, you don’t need representation to find success. Having an extra person in your corner is always helpful and getting representation can be very exciting, but I recommend against chasing agents and managers. When the time is right, they will find you. Let it happen organically. My mentors advised my peers and I to let reps come to you first. You want to have a manager and agent who is excited about you and will want to work hard for you. You don’t want to be a forgotten name on a roster. Therefore, the best thing I can offer for now is just to keep making stuff and trying to get it out into the public as much as possible, through film festivals, the web, and friends sharing it with other friends.    


If a manager or agent does reach out to you, be picky. You should not just go with any rep that shows interest. You also need to ask yourself: Does this person get me? Do they understand my style and tastes? Do they get excited hearing the sort of things I want to make? Do I feel good about this? You want to find someone who is a good fit for you and wants to support the type of work you want to create. Otherwise, you may end up farther from your goals or making little to no progress at all.


On the other side of the coin, having representation also doesn’t guarantee you work. They can get you meetings, but it is on you to seal the deal. Your agent is just another person on your team trying to help get your name out there. You still need to be out making good content and new contacts, deepening the person you are and developing new ideas to pitch your agent. Your hustle can’t stop.


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