From the Desk of Richard Walter: A Final Solution to the Agent Problem

Writers love to gripe and kvetch about the army of deplorables in the movie business who discount, dismay, and disrespect us.

No parties catch more heat than agents.

I’ve argued in my books and lectures that it’s easy to find an agent. What’s hard is having material worthy of showing to an agent.

So many writers have horror stories regarding mistreatment by their representatives.

Here’s mine.

When my former USC film school classmate George Lucas approached me in April of 1970 asking me to write the first draft of American Graffiti, I tried to talk him out of that project and into my own, a ten- or twelve-page treatment, that is to say an elaborate outline, of my own coming-of-age story, Barry and the Persuasions. I have mentioned elsewhere that he stuck to his guns insisting the project be his …Graffiti. I take a sort of dark pride in having attempted to talk a master like George out of what has been now for decades a classic of world cinema.

Some years later during a lengthy Writers Guild strike, a period during which time one could not market screenplays to studios, networks, or production companies, I used the Barry… treatment as an elaborate outline for a novel.

Miraculously, upon finishing it I found an agent who promptly sold it to a major New York publisher.

The book was due to be released in August of 1976. Movie-biz savvy friends told me that the time to market the film rights was not upon the book’s release but prior to that time.

My agent was with the Evarts Ziegler Agency. Zig, as he was affectionately called, was one of the most prominent independent lit agents in Hollywood. At that particular time among his clients were William Goldman during his Butch and Sundance period and Robert Town during his Chinatown days.

Zig assigned me to a woman in the office whom I’ll call here Naomi Harter.

I knew that she had resisted Zig’s asking her to rep me, and instantaneously put me not on hold but ‘Ignore.’

I relayed to her the info my pals had given me, that the time to market Barry… to Hollywood was now.

“How can I market a book,” she asked me, “that I haven’t read?”

With all the politeness I was able to muster, I suggested that she read the book.

Weeks went by without her doing so.

In the interim, a woman I knew at a prominent independent film company called King’s Road, said that her boss, Stephen Friedman (now long deceased) was seeking a project exactly like Barry and the Persuasions. The company’s offices were located at the end of the Sunset Strip near Doheny Boulevard in the very same building as the Ziegler agency.

I communicated as much to ‘Naomi,’ who said she had still not read the book and could not make any submissions until she had done so.

After yet another week I bit the bullet and delivered the novel myself to Friedman‘s offices.

Another week went by.

Of a Friday evening my wife and I were just getting ready to depart our Echo Park bungalow for a dinner party with pals when the phone rang.

It was the agent.

“Hi,” she said, uncharacteristically upbeat, pleasantly perky. “How are you doing?”

“Just fine, thanks,” I stammered. “You?”

“Great!” she said.

There was an awkward silence.

“I only called,” she said, “to see how you’re doing. We haven’t spoken in a while.”

“That’s lovely,” I said. “Thanks so much.”

There seemed to be something off about this phone chat.

“By the way,” she said suddenly, as if it were an afterthought, “I read Barry and the Persuasions. It’s really good. I liked it very, very much.”

“Wow, thanks,” I said.

My heart soared. To own a writer, you have merely to praise his stuff.

“Oh,” she added, “by the way, we have an offer for Barry… from Steve Freidman at King’s Road.”


Richard Walter is a screenwriter, author of best selling fiction and nonfiction, celebrated storytelling educator, associate dean, entertainment industry expert and longtime professor and chairman of the graduate screenwriting program at the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television. In September 2017, Richard Walter will offer an exclusive online 6-week course. Here is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to train with the world’s most accomplished screenwriting educator. And, he’ll read your script if you complete it within 1 month of the class! Reserve your seat at: http://richardwalter.com/workshop/. To join Richard Walter’s email newsletter list email him at rwalter@tft.ucla.edu.

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