The bleeding edge of screenwriting and media convergence

February 1997

by Terry Borst & Deborah Todd

filed 20 December 96 Copyright ©1996 alt.screenwriters

Terry: Since negotiating new media deals is as difficult as waltzing your way through a landmine field in Bosnia, we’d better find out if we can get an agent to do the dirty work.

Deborah: I’ve got good news and bad news on that front. The good news is there are a handful of savvy agents who really “get” the concepts of interactivity and new media: who are excited about the fact that, as agent Harvey Harrison puts it, “People are working to get a symphony out of a harmonica, and by the way, we’re doing it!”

Terry: But this has gotta be a short list of agents, right? Let’s face it: most agents build their rolodex as they’re starting out. From that point on, they work the rolodex they’ve got. A few names get added, a few get tossed. Suddenly you’ve got an entirely new market, and it takes a lot of work to get up to speed in it.

Deborah: The truth is, many agents are just learning how to operate a fax machine! Trying to figure out CD-ROMs or The Web is asking way too much.

Terry: So the new media market is not on their radar screens.

Deborah: Despite that, many agents claim to be able to represent you in the interactive field. But here’s my benchmark: ask them for their email address. If they hem and haw even a little, run like hell.

Terry: Well, you claim there are new media-savvy agents…but you mentioned “bad news”…

Deborah: Simple. Most of them find homes with the three or four biggest agencies in town–

Terry: Agencies with deep pockets who can afford to take a few chances–

Deborah: Right. But if you’re pretty new to the screenwriting business, if you’ve been working in TV or documentaries or animation, those doors may not be open.

Terry: I think there’s a real danger with having an “interactive” agent anyway — regardless of what size the agency is. The writer risks getting ghettoized when he’s represented by “The Interactive Guy.” The Interactive Guy has an office in the mailroom, or is the agency president’s son, or is actually the PC support person with delusions of grandeur. The rest of the agency doesn’t take The Interactive Guy seriously. You think you’re being represented by an agency with clout, but in reality nobody knows you exist.

Deborah: A completely separate dilemma is that outside of Hollywood, you still meet resistance when using an agent to put deals together. This isn’t as much of a problem as it once was. And if you subscribe to the theory that the major players in new media are ultimately going to be a few of the big Hollywood studios, then it won’t be a problem at all in the future.

Terry: My attitude is CD-ROM and Web developers have to grow up. Every project has the potential now to spiral in dozens of directions, and I need assistance in structuring my participation. Deal with it.

Deborah: But agencies aren’t going to get rich overnight representing the interactive writer. Consequently, many writer/designers are forming companies — bringing in other elements like line producing, art design, etc. — so they can be packaged more effectively. However, if the last thing you want to do is own a company, the alternative is representing yourself. Granted, marketing has traditionally not been the writer’s forte, but if you’re afraid to get out there, then you’re not going to succeed anyway, especially in the interactive community. One caveat: you’d better get a kick-ass lawyer to handle the contracts.

Terry: And for those sifting through interactive agents now, what’s the checklist?

Deborah: Ask the pointed questions. Do they currently have interactive clients? Who are those clients and what have they done? How do they handle original concepts that have the potential for spin-offs in television and film, with multi- licensing opportunities?

Terry: Who are some of the publishers and developers they’ve made deals with? What kinds of deals have they structured? Are advance-against-royalty payments the norm? What kind of royalties are they getting? Or do most of their deals fall under the writer-for-hire category?

Deborah: Couldn’t be simpler, right?

Written by tborst

December 20, 1996 at 4:04 am

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