#WomenCallAction: Agent, Where Art Thou?

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Dear Rachel,

I have a Masters degree in directing from a top film school. I’ve directed three shorts that won major awards at important festivals, and am in development with two feature films. But I can’t get an agent or manager interested in representing me. I’ve seen guys with fewer credits than me getting scooped up. What’s up?

Dear Unrepped,

This is a real problem and a disgraceful syndrome. If it makes you feel any better, you’re not alone.

Although there’s a great deal of strong research substantiating abysmal employment statistics regarding women directors at the studios and networks, I don’t believe anyone has yet published data correlating the lack of work with the absence of representation at top literary agencies. I believe there is a direct link and I know of a study that will be released soon.

Cold calling, or calling an agent by oneself – for oneself, is frowned upon in our business. For whatever reason, there’s an unwritten rule that all potential clients must be introduced via intermediaries. Agent assistants are trained to block calls from unknowns, and even if you’re clever enough to dodge the system, the very act of promoting oneself is viewed in a highly negative light. Sadly, much of what we do is not about our work, but based on some perception that others have about us. In a self-defeating cycle, “tooting one’s own horn” fails every time. But being vetted by someone else somehow takes on the power of truth. It’s way too difficult for most folks, even professionals, to truly ascertain what script is good or what filmmaker has talent and so the process of marketing a director and forming their narrative, must be done by someone else in order to make it feel authentic. You can read the trades and know the players, but unless you have an introduction from someone who that agent perceives as someone who matters, it’s highly unlikely your work will be read or that you’ll get a meeting.

I have a dear friend, an uber-talented, female director from Europe who is interested in moving here to work. She has directed five, high-quality features and 2 mini series that she also wrote. She currently has a new feature film that is stunning and will be a huge hit in her country. Yesterday, she met with two female agents at a top agency about possible representation. While the agents were welcoming and complimentary, they were not ready to commit to repping her. They said they needed to see how her film did once it opened – and in terms of directing television, because she didn’t come up in the U.S. and had no contacts of her own, it would be too difficult for them to land her first gig.

I find this infuriating. My friend is clearly a remarkable talent, experienced, accomplished – maybe even brilliant. She has exciting, new work and is a lovely, articulate grown woman who could direct rings around many working directors I know. I could get her a job tomorrow and I’ve never been an agent! The world is upside down and makes NO sense!

In a business that thrives on discovering and nurturing talent one might think that reps would always be on the look-out for new clients, but since the odds are so stacked against women directors, agencies are hesitant to take on female clients. They may not be aware this is happening, but this unconscious bias persists big time. I believe the agencies have been let off the hook in the gender disparity equation for way too long – but I also think they can be the heart of change. If top literary agencies made it a mission to take on women directors and promote them, I firmly believe we would see many more women directing – with very quick results.

As women who’ve suffered institutional discrimination for decades it’s important to recognize that your inability to find an agent may have nothing to do with your lack of talent or tenacity. I urge you not to give up, but question the status quo and demand change in any way you can. Join groups that voice your activism, call out inequity when you see it, and keep doing what you love to do. The industry is changing. The studios, networks – and even the agencies as we know them are morphing as we speak. Just keep telling your stories and nurture your gifts. Someday soon I hope someone will value them.

Good Luck.

#WomenCallAction small

 

 

 

 

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Rachel Feldman

About Rachel Feldman

Rachel Feldman is the 2015 NYWIFT Ravenal Grantee for directors over 40 working on a 2nd feature - for LEDBETTER, an Athena List winner, about the remarkable Fair Pay activist Lilly Ledbetter. Rachel also won the 2015 WGA Drama Queens Award for spec pilot THE UNDERNEATH, optioned by Maria Bello’s Ground Seven Entertainment. She has directed movies and episodic television for ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, FOX, The CW, SYFY, LIFETIME, DISNEY CHANNEL and TEEN NICK and written movies for Lifetime and ABCFamily. An ardent activist for women directors, Feldman was a prime mover in the recent ACLU actions, has chaired the DGA Women’s Steering Committee, and has taught directing and screenwriting in the MFA program at the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts. She received her MFA in Directing from NYU, and her BA in writing from Sarah Lawrence College and Parsons School of Design. Her grad thesis film won Best Short at The New York and Chicago Film Festivals, later sold to HBO, Showtime and PBS. Feldman has received filmmaking grants from The AFI, The Jerome Foundation, Kodak, Technicolor, and Panavision’s “Filmmakers To Watch”.