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Mind Your Business: Are Agents Perfect Match Makers?

Are agents perfect matchmakers? Mark Simon makes a date with that question in this month's "Mind Your Business."

Mark Simon.

You've created the best idea for a TV show since Scooby-Doo and you're trying to get pitch meetings. You're wondering where to go, who to pitch to. You want that perfect relationship to foster your baby. Sound familiar?

The good news is that you have a few options on how to find your perfect partner in a production deal marriage.

You can call your uncle to set you up. You know, the one who runs a giant studio with plenty of cash to throw around. What? You don't have that uncle? Too bad. I was planning to ask you to introduce me to him.

Another option is to pick up the phone and call someone at a network and pitch to them. Sound far-fetched? Not at all.

We have a client who recently called the head of VH-1, got him on the phone and told him they had a perfect show for his network. He transferred our client to his head of development and they set up a pitch meeting. Our client was able to do this in less than 10 minutes without any industry experience or contacts. I wish dating was that easy when I was single.

Of course you can always go to a matchmaker, an agent. Agents can be great matchmakers in more than one way. They can introduce you to execs whose studio families have tons of money. They can also set up double dates, by packaging other suitors with your project. Our project, Jail House Rocks, may be great on its own, but it's gold when packaged with Paris Hilton.

Don't make the mistake of thinking that you're personally done making new contacts as soon as you have your own agent. The most successful creators are masters of their own destiny and are always out there meeting new people and are always pushing their projects.

One of my matchmakers, an agent at Gersh, did a spectacular job at setting up great pitch meetings at the networks. He set up one meeting for me at Fox with their TV movie division. I've never had to do less work to get a meeting. He even came with me to the pitch because he had a personal relationship with the Fox exec and he wanted to experience one of my pitches firsthand. Everything worked great and I was offered a deal. What a fantastic experience.

I wish it always worked that well.

I've had other matchmakers that didn't do anything but take 10% of deals that I had set up and negotiated on my own. Not such a good experience.

Experience and referrals are about the only way to know whether any specific agent will be helpful. However, the more contacts you make and the more interest you generate in your own ideas, the more likely an agent will be willing and able to act as your matchmaker.

Before I had any success in selling shows, I found it difficult to get an agent. The secret to getting an agent is to not need one. Few agents will represent someone without a track record. It's their business to make money and they make more money selling experience and success to the studios. You need to do whatever it takes to get interest in your ideas. Then you can get an agent. To completely misquote a great movie, "If you sell it, agents will come."

I had pitched one of my animated series, Timmy's Lessons In Nature, to a number of studios and networks. We got two contract offers on it. One from Alliance Atlantis in Canada and another from Dargaud-Marina in France. It took exactly two phone calls to get an agent once I had been offered contracts on my project. The first call was to a friend who had been an agent to get a referral. The other was to the agent who agreed on the call to represent me.

Why did he take me on so quickly? Because all he had to do was negotiate the details of the contract. I had already done the hard work of getting the meetings, pitching and selling.

Do you need an agent? I wanted an agent to negotiate the terms of the contract for me, but I've done most deals without an agent. An agent can (notice I said "can" and not "will") get you pitch meetings, but you may push harder and faster on your own.

Many of the networks and studios state that they will only accept pitches through an agent. While that's not true, it does cut down on the number of unseasoned people who continue pushing to get that pitch meeting. I have never not gotten a pitch meeting I wanted.

Many of you will prefer to enter the production dating pool without an agent (or won't have the choice, but we'll give you the benefit of the doubt). Don't worry. You can still get pitch meetings. In fact there are still three good ways to get those meetings.

Entertainment attorneys can quickly get you through any door blocked by the "need an agent" protective guardian. The networks are usually protecting themselves from people who are green and more likely to try and sue if they see a show similar to theirs on a network soon after they pitch. The studios are confident that agents and entertainment attorneys have screened and prepped their clients.

What are the differences between entertainment attorneys and agents? You pay an attorney up front for their services, even if they don't close a deal, it's a one-time pay. Agents get 10% of your income, but they only get paid if they close the deal.

You can get pitch meetings on your own. It just takes persistence and learning the tricks to getting through the gatekeepers and how to set up pitch meetings.

You can go to conferences. Because they are expensive and the general public doesn't know about them, you are considered somewhat of a player just for being there. Conferences are like speed dating. You get just a few minutes with lots of suitors to see who you click with. There are fewer gatekeepers and setting up pitch meetings is much easier.

Mark and Jeanne Simon with their Executive TV Pitch Program. Courtesy of Mark Simon.

Relationships with studios and execs, unlike marriage, are meant to end. You always want to be meeting new people because, at some point, you will be swimming in the pitch meeting dating pool again.

Don't stress about getting an agent. You can do what you need without one and you should always be looking for your own perfect studio match anyway. When you have enough experience to get repped by an agency, you can then let them handle your pre-nup.

Mark Simon is the co-founder of SellYourTvConceptNow.com, a service helping people to develop, package and pitch their TV concepts. The service offers consulting, pitch and agent contacts, easy-to-follow pitch meeting templates, pitch samples, pitch reviews and more. Simon has worked with and without agents. You can register for his next free teleseminar about finding and working with agents.

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