This is the second part of a blog entry, where I'll reveal how I ended up working for the agents who rep some of the most acclaimed talent in the country including: actors Daniel Craig, Thandie Newton, directors Matthew Vaughan and Danny Boyle, and my most favourite cinematographer of all, Roger Deakins.
If you haven't read the first part: "How I got Miramax Studios to consider my screenplay as a newbie, unagented screenwriter" you can read that here.
So where were we? My script had been turned down by the VP of Development at Miramax Studios, but remarkably, after I had thanked him for his notes which I then incorporated into a second draft, he agreed to read my screenplay again.
I've since learned that this never happens. Unless someone is already developing your screenplay with you, or has a pre-existing interest in your project, most producers and execs will not read a second draft of the screenplay, so this was a big deal.
While I waited for him to get back to me, I tried to find whatever work I could in the film and television industry, however I knew no one and the student debt and daily overheads were mounting up. I went through the job listings in all the usual places - newspapers and specialist film sites but jobs were few and far between and inevitably, whenever I applied for one, I was severely under-qualified.
So how was I going to get my foot on the ladder?
As I was pondering this, I had been putting myself through my own film school by reading whatever I could find on the internet; lots of interviews from successful screenwriters and one thing became very clear - they all had powerful agents.
One day, I had a brainwave: what if I worked for some of these successful agents, wouldn't I then learn what they looked for in a client, what they did for them, and what screenplays were being lauded, as well as developing contacts of my own?
I very quickly found however that these agencies don't usually advertise lower level jobs. I was already temping as a secretary/PA so I simply called up the biggest agency in London, the then ICM (but now Independent Talent Group) and asked for the office manager. I was put through and within seconds, was told which temp agency they used.
I hung up the phone, amazed at how simple that was! By the next day, I was on my way into London to sign up to the temp agency. I went through a few basic admin tests including a typing test for my "words per min", and one to check proficiency in Word and Excel. I let them know how keen I was to work for ICM and within a week, I found myself temping there! No joke, that is how fast it was. No job interview (apart from the initial one at the temp agency), no applications, no worry or stress. Boom! I had made it inside!
My job was to cover an assistant who was off for a week so that's how I found myself in Harriet Robinson's office which shared office space with Duncan Heath, the chairman of ICM and one of the most powerful agents in London. The job was fast-paced, and many of the agent's, testy. They rolled in a high stakes, VIP world and couldn't tolerate anyone who wasn't confident, calm and sharp. I was warned constantly that the first few weeks were the hardest and if I lasted more than a month, then that was better than 95% of the staff hired.
Surprisingly, I found I did fine there but I won't lie: if you have a sensitive disposition, this is probably not the office job for you. Never have I heard so many uses of the C*%t word. It was like air to some of them. You probably should give it a miss too if you're allergic to dogs as there were at least six or seven running loose in the office (most of them belonging to Duncan).
The ICM offices looked exactly like this. Honest.
I ended up working there for a year as a floater temp; whenever one of the assistants was away or sick, I would be called in to cover. In total, I covered eight different agent's offices, from talent to writing and directing. Agents I assisted included the aforementioned Harriet, Mike McCoy, Hugo Young, Cathy King and Sue Rodgers.
How does all this tie into last week's blog you ask? Well, I had been telling any of the agents who would listen that I was a writer. I didn't force the issue, or make them feel uncomfortable about my presence there - I just gently let them know that I was writing. Nobody was interested. Absolutely NO ONE. When I started telling Duncan, he raised a hand in my face to stop me talking and said: "Darling, everybody is an actor or writer. Tell it to someone who cares."
Now, you may think he was super rude, but Duncan's the kind of man who says what he thinks and doesn't give a crap. It's actually what I like about him. I just shrugged, and carried on with my day.
A few weeks later, while I was working in Harriet's office one of Duncan's four assistants called out that he had to return a phone call to who else, but the VP of Dev for Miramax - Mr Smith let's call him - himself.
Unable to help myself, I chimed up that I knew him. Duncan didn't believe me at first, until I told him that I had met with him in New York. I cheekily asked if when he called him back, he could ask how Mr Smith was doing with my script Contingency as I was still waiting to hear what he thought of my second draft. See what I did there? Second draft...
Duncan said nothing, went into his office and called Mr Smith back. Five minutes later, he stormed out of his office and summoned me inside for an instant meeting.
I sat there in his office, among his six or seven dogs and we talked... for an hour. I watched his four assistants outside have a literal meltdown due to this unscheduled meeting. Ultimately, he told me I should call him when I was successful. I replied that I wouldn't have to as he would be the one calling me, but, as always, I said this with a grin. He said my attitude would get me far.
After this, I was never hired by ICM again - probably as they realized it wasn't safe to have a real wannabe writer running around in there. I did learn quite a bit and got to fangirl all over Roger Deakins when he came in to meet with his agent one day. He was lovely. He gave me a hug and said I'd made his career as he had never been fangirled over before!
Still from The Assassination of Jesse James by the coward Robert Ford, gorgeous cinematography by Roger Deakins.
Roger, if you ever read this, please can we work together :).
In the end, Mr Smith passed on my script too. He was very nice about it, but though he appreciated and thought I did good work on the second draft, it wasn't right for their slate.
Using this temp route, I eventually found work in various other film/television establishments including: Channel 4, Five, Turner Broadcasting, Sony, and another large talent agency, PDF. So if you're needing your first industry break, and have basic office skills, don't overlook the temp agencies - they can be a goldmine.
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