What are the different types of agents within a talent agency?

Within a talent agency, you typically have different types of agents…not all of them are referred to as “talent agents”.

Literary agents work with writers and directors. Motion picture lit agents represent writers/directors who work in feature film and TV lit agents represent writers/directors who work in…you guessed it…TV.

Talent agents represent with actors & actresses.

Book agents represent authors.

Public appearance agents represent comedians and public speakers

Commercial agents represent actors and actresses but are only concerned with booking them jobs in TV commercials and other forms of advertising.

Voice-over agents represent voice-over actors.

A lot of the time, client will have agents from all divisions as a part of their team. For example most TV writers also work in the feature film work and vice versa.

What is a Treatment?

More often than not you’ll hear writers, studio execs and producers throw around the term “treatment”. SEND ME THE TREATMENT! I’LL WRITE YOU A TREAMTENT etc. This is because a treatment is one of the most versatile tools in the business. More on this in a bit…but first off, what is a treatment?

There is no precise definition of what a treatment is. Every treatment is written in a different format or a different style based on what it is used for. Generally speaking, a treatment is a document that summarizes a particular project. It could be for a narrative film, a scripted television show, a reality show, a documentary, YOU NAME IT. The content of a treatment varies along with the length. I’ve seen treatments ranging from 1-20 pages long. At the very least, a treatment should have an overview which describes what the project is about. If it’s a scripted film, explain what the story is. If it’s a reality show, explain the overall premise. If it’s a scripted TV show, explain what the series will look like. You should also include descriptions of the main characters and for TV shows, always include several story ideas. If it’s a reality series, be sure to include the format of the show.

A treatment can be used for many purposes. The most common use is a sales tool. Often times a buyer won’t have time to read an entire script, or is too busy to schedule a pitch meeting. An easy solution is to send a treatment. This will give the buyer a sense of the material in a short period of time. It’s almost like a written pitch. Often times writers will write the treatment first to help them in their writing process and understand what their story structure will be.

Producers will often write their own treatments and use it as a tool to communicate with writers. For example, if a producer comes up with an original idea that he/she needs to hire a writer for, one of the best way to communicate his/her vision is write a treatment and have the writer work off of it.

 

Testing, Testing, and more Testing.

TESTING is one of the most over-looked, but under rated tasks that is executed by a director or producer. Testing is done in pre-production and it’s exactly what it sounds like. The purpose is to gather your creative team with your talent and test how the different visual creative elements look on camera. This includes costumes, make-up, hair, production design and even rehearsal. This process is absolutely essential and beneficial for a number of reasons.

1. Gives your creative team an opportunity to make sure their vision looks the way they want it to look on camera. Often times creative problems will arise and you don’t want to be sorting out these sort of issues during production. This is fairly obvious.

2. Allows your actor(s) to interact with the artists and build a good rapport with them before production. This is extremely important as you do not unseen personality clashes to occur during production.

3. Allows your director to make sure his creative team is on the same page as him/her.

3. Be sure to take pictures of hair, make-up and costumes especially after the actor and director has approved of them. As a producer, this protects you if creative disputes arise during production. For example, if you’re on set ready to shoot, and the director is happy with an actor’s make-up but the actor is not, you can use the previously taken photo, which was approved by the unhappy actor, to help you deal with the actor.

Make sure you give yourself plenty of time – at least one month – before shooting starts in order to allow your creative team to test with the talent.

What is “Capability”?

Capability is the a term used in movie-marketing. This describes a film’s ability – as an idea alone – to generate interest within it’s target audience. In other words, if someone were to give you the logline or the overall concept of the film, would you be interested in seeing it without knowing what it looked like or who it starred? Most high-concept movies have high capability. A comedy about a lawyer who gets placed with a curse that prevents him from lying has high capability. A remake of Superman has high capability.

TV Hierarchy Of The Writing Staff

For scripted television shows, the writing staff is paramount, and often large in size. They can range in sizes from four writers, all the way to twenty writers. Comedy shows, and talk shows often have more writers than dramas.

Showrunner: On the TV credits, the showrunner will receive an executive producer (EP) credit. Often times, he/she will be the last EP mentioned. In TV world, the showrunner is king; unlike the film world where the director is king.

Executive Producer –  These are usually upper level senior writers with lots of writing experience. The help the showrunner in running the writer’s room, and developing the series.

Supervising Producer

Producer

Co-Producer

Story Editor – This title often given to the senior staff writer.

Staff Writer – Once the story is broken and laid out by the writers room and approved by the showrunner, often times the staff writer will be assigned to type up the first draft of the script.

Writers’ Assistant – This person does not take part in the story creating process. Their job, for the most part, is be present in the writers’ room and take notes while the writers are developing story.

Writers’ PA – Much like a production assistant, this person is in charge of small accounting issues, getting lunches and coffees for the writers.

What is a “Beat”?

“Beat” is a term used a lot when developing or explaining a story. Beats are extremely important in communicating the direction of a story and to keep a story moving. It is a piece of information that can be conveyed in a quick moment, a sequence, or in an entire scene that moves the story forward. Often times when writers are trying to figure out their story, they will use what’s called a beat sheet. A beat can often be described in one sentence. For example, “The big bad wolf blows the straw house down.” This helps the writer determine what’s important in the story and what moments are needed in order to compel and audience.

 

Microbudget Films, Contained Thrillers, Found-Footage Horrors

I recently met with Steven Schneider; the producer of “Paranormal Activity”. After 10 minutes of engaged conversation, about a dozen light bulbs went on in my head. I’m hoping after reading this post, a few light bulbs of your own will turn on.

First, a little bit of background. Steven is a huge fan of horror movies. He’s watched them all, studied them, and has even written books on them. With Paranormal, Steven did not act as a producer in a traditional manner. He had a development deal with Paramount and Oren Peli, the writer and director, had given him the film to act as a director’s reel. In other words, the film had already been made, and Steven was not involved in the development or the production of it. Steven said that it was so scary that he had difficulties sleeping at night. That was enough for him to want to attach himself to the project.  Not once did he felt critical of the production quality. To make a long story short, Steven and his colleagues sold it to Paramount and it became the most profitable movie in world grossing over $300 million worldwide. I will save the details of this story for another posting.

The point of the article is this: The ability to make high quality content has never been easier. You have access to amazing affordable cameras. You can edit digitally in your own home off your lap top. You can distribute your film online with a click of a couple buttons. This all presents the industry, especially young filmmakers, with an opportunity to make  microbudget films (films under $1 million) and present a finished product to buyers, which is much more appealing than undeveloped projects.

Currently, it has never been harder to get a movie made and distributed. The biggest, and sometimes the only hurdle in the past has always been the cost. Nowadays, this is no longer an excuse. If you have the right story, you can essentially film a movie for less than 5 figures. So the challenge now becomes finding the right story. Oren told a story that had two main characters, and two supporting characters with two scenes each – four actors total. He shot the film in his own house – one location. He shot it using essentially no camera movement. Oren also edited Paranormal Activity on his laptop in his home office. With this in mind, I challenge you to set aside your traditional feature passion project for now, and develop a contained story that has no more than 5 actors, and takes place in no more than 2 locations. You can choose whatever genre you like, however, I strongly recommend horror because the audience is easy to reach, loyal, and don’t care about A-list actors. Also, with most successful horror films, the emphasis is place first on concept (it’s ability to scare), then on story. In all the rest of the genres, story is typically paramount. But, if you can crack this formula and be successful with other genres…PLEASE be my guest. If not, stick to the contained thrillers. Try and think of a high concept. Typically, the lower the budget, the higher the concept needs to be in order to gain attention from buyers. Having restrictions on locations and talent actually forces you to be more creative. I strongly encourage it, if anything, for the sake of the exercise.

To get you in the right mind-set, let’s look at some notable contained, high concept movies. First you have your “found-footage” horrors like The Blair Witch Project, and Paranormal Activity. Both movies shot for under 6 figures, both extremely successful in the box office. Another notable film that I personally love is “The Disappearance of Alice Creed”. This critically acclaimed film told a kidnapping story with three actors in essentially one location. In, “Phone Booth”, the lead actor spends the entire time in a phone booth. I think you get the idea.

If you have a great story, or an amazing concept, people will look at it. I am a firm believer of that. Having that story already produced only decreases the barriers to these people which is exactly what happened to Oren Peli. He created a unique, outstanding film, and found the right passionate person to champion his project. So go and develop your contained story, and then MAKE IT!!!