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Does your agent get a commission when you found the deal?

A lot of the questions I get from fellow screenwriters are through Twitter.  If you don’t already use Twitter you should seriously think about joining.  It’s free and easy.  It’s a very simple way to network with likeminded people and doesn’t take a lot of time (if you use it correctly).  I typically log in to my account once or twice per day and respond to tweets people have sent me and then I look around for other interesting people to follow and network with.  I usually spend less than 15 minutes per day doing this.  I have Tweetie the Twitter iPhone app so I can check Twitter whenever I have a spare moment so the time I spend on Twitter is often time that would be wasted anyway.

If you are on Twitter you can follow me at http://twitter.com/ashleymeyers

Here’s a question I got via Twitter a couple of days ago:

“If I find a production company willing to option my script and I have an agent, does the agent still take a commission for the find, or subsequent deal?”

As a rule, yes, your agent is going to take his 10% commission on scripts that you sell even if he wasn’t involved in the script submission.

Once you find a producer to option/purchase your script there’s going to be some negotiations and legal wrangling that takes place that you should NOT do EVEN if you’re an entertainment attorney.

This is where your agent should earn her money.  If she’s a good agent she might be able to negotiate a fee that is more than 10% higher than what you would have gotten yourself, so you’re probably not going to lose any money by bringing your agent into the equation.

In addition when the wrangling starts you don’t want to be the “bad” guy – that’s what your agent is for.  Potentially you’re going to have to work with the producer for many months so you want to keep your relationship with the producer on good terms.  Let your agent fight with the producer over contract issues while you concentrate on the creative decisions that need to be made.

There are a lot of complexities to a screenplay option agreement and you should probably not try and work them out yourself.  Your agent should be an expert in this area and there should be a lawyer who works for her firm to look over client’s contracts.  This legal guidance is worth the 10%.  Any real agency or manager is going to absorb these legal costs when negotiating your deal.  If you try and hire a good entertainment attorney she’s going to charge you at least $300 / hour and probably more so you might end up losing more than 10% of your deal in legal fees.

I suppose you could negotiate with your agent when you sign with them that you don’t want to pay them commission on deals you find for yourself.  But if you’re going to do that why have an agent at all?  Many beginning writer’s have a misconception that getting an agent is the end-all be-all and that your agent will be able to find work for you as soon as you sign with them.  That’s not what’s going to happen.  As a beginning writer you’re still going to have to do a lot of the leg work in sending your scripts out until you get established.

If you haven’t already done so you might want to read my post How do you get an agent for your screenplay? (And why you don’t need one!).