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Lost Contact

Dear Tombudsman:

I read with interest your response [BSW, 6/26/03] about recontacting an enthusiastic prospective agent four years later. I am a fledgling screenwriter and an experienced, award-winning novelist (New York Times Most Notable Book of the Year), twice published by a major publishing house. Five years ago, the famous head of a well-known record label was interested in my musically oriented novels and enthusiastically tried to contact me through my former agent, without success. Now I'd like to send him my screen treatment.

What is the most effective way to contact him? Shall I send him an updated bio along with a remember-me type note, and how do I ask his help in shepherding my screenplay? I don't want to be too specific and accidentally rule out creative inroads I may not realize he has to offer. I'm very interested in any inroads or inside-track advice he has to offer me. He owes me nothing, yet I do believe that he will help me professionally if I approach him in a respectfully encouraging way. His headquarters are in New York, although he is in Los Angeles frequently. I plan to contact him, but I want to contact him well, with my best foot forward.


via the Internet

Dear C.C.:

I've pretty much figured out who you are, and one wouldn't expect a well-known author would have these kinds of difficulties in reaching or being reached by another established entity in the entertainment field. Had you gone off to Siberia for a few years? You mentioned something about a former agent. If he dropped the ball in getting you a potential deal with the company just because he couldn't get the parties in touch with each other, I can see why he is an ex-agent. And where was your publisher during all of this? Oh well, I guess it can happen to anyone, but that was then and this is now.

No matter our level of success, I think we can all be considered guilty of over-thinking things once in a while, and that could well be the case here. Whether a new actor concerned about the perils of a picture drop-off or a seasoned writer contemplating a leap into a new medium, eventually we have to put the thoughts aside and jump in. You've certainly earned the right--through the pedigree of your work plus the fact that the music bigwig you are hoping to connect with was once interested in seeking you out--to not be too subtle in your quest to re-establish a business relationship with this individual. So don't think about it much more, just jump into action.

There are a million ways you could make the next move. You've suggested several good ones, but I'm going to offer one more. A signed copy of your latest book along with a short hello letter to the gentleman should do the trick. I think four years isn't so long ago that you need to send a bio. The book, though, is a touchstone, a gift to the man, and a professional reminder of what you do, all in one. Further, it shows you are taking responsibility for making this happen. The last time around, he made an effort to get you, with no success. This time you have to show him you are serious about the potential of working together, and making the first effort yourself shows your seriousness.

If you aren't comfortable going that route, there are a hundred agents in and around Los Angeles who would gladly re-open that door for you. But I think for this first call, before any business transpires, you must make the initial attempt on your own.

In your letter to him you could request a meeting, but a more informal approach might suffice; invite the gentleman to lunch on his next trip to Los Angeles or, if you happen to be heading to New York for other business, suggest hooking up for breakfast there. If you sent him a letter only to re-introduce yourself, I'm sure he'd eventually call you in for a meeting, but why not go the extra distance and initiate the meeting yourself? Like I say to everyone, the worst someone can ever say is no. I highly doubt that'll happen to you. As it stands right now, you aren't working with the guy, so it can only get better. Mention in your letter that you are now venturing into the world of screenwriting and that you hope to chat with him about your treatment, among other things.

In the meantime make sure your treatment is registered with the Writers Guild of America before you show it to anyone. That way, when you meet the man, you can show it to him comfortably, even if there isn't an agent on your team by that point. By the way, if you do have an agent now, you could be getting yourself into a potentially sticky situation if you have him or her set this up for you, since one of your intentions is to ask the music man to help you find more "conducive representation." I wouldn't approach it in that way even in thought. But if you are currently repped by an agency that doesn't seem to be doing things for you, it's all the more reason to make this first contact on your own.

Even if the man has no interest in your work or isn't currently acquiring scripts, he may indeed be able to open another door for you or at the very least give you some sound advice on the exciting and excruciating world of getting a movie made from a script. Maybe your dream will come true and he'll partner with you on helping to get the film made. If that happens, great, but make sure any agent he hooks you up with isn't his agent, too. Business is business after all.

I'd give this same advice to the formerly sought-after actor who had almost worked with a director, to the producer who came close to a deal with an investor, to a peach picker who fell just shy of getting the farmer to hire him last season. If you've made a contact in the past, and there's legitimate mutual benefit for both parties, you've got to try to make that job happen. Do it with class, style, and respect, and you've done well, whatever the result.

Left or right foot first, C.C., it doesn't really matter as long as you start moving forward soon.

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