AGENTS CHARGING COSTS
I signed with a mid-size agency a few months ago, and have spent about a month and a half getting our script ready to go out. The script will go out wide next week. Now, here’s my question. The agent is WGA-sig., which is good, and I read over the contracts, etc. etc. Well today in the mail I get an invoice from the agency for $150 for 45 copies. OKAY, everything I’ve heard, and read about only paying an agent the 10% just got weird. So, what the hell, it certainly DID NOT say anything about this in the contract. And, it was my understanding that if an agency did this it was a BS scam. But this agent has reputable sales, 10 just last year. So, what am I supposed to make of this? Is it normal for your agency to charge you for copies? Do you pay for copies? Should I worry here?
First and foremost, congratulations on having a reputable agent put your script out. If you have not had a spec go out wide yet, hold on to your shorts. It is a very exciting, very emotional process. As important as whether you sell the spec is the follow-up you do. If your script is well received and your agent is doing his or her job, you will have an opportunity to meet lots of executives. These are your fans – they are the people that can give you future writing assignments. Get to know them, make them your friends. You can spend the next ten years pitching to them as they move up the ladder.
As for your question, I have never been asked to pay costs in advance. However, while WGA signatory agencies are absolutely prohibited from charging reading fees, they are not prohibited from charging for certain costs, such as photocopies. (I have not actually read the WGA agency agreement in some years and do not remember exactly what is allowed, but the agreement is available from the WGAw for four dollars. You can also ask the WGAw about this by calling the agency department at (323) 782-4502. That same department will also confirm whether an agency is actually a WGA signatory.)
If you entered into a written contract with the agency, the contract should discuss costs. You mentioned you saw nothing about that in your agreement. Take another look specifically for that. If it really does not cover costs at all, you should have a discussion with your agent. It is not cool that your agent was unclear about this before you signed the agreement.
I have heard of the practice more in the literary (book) agent world than in the screenplay world. In my opinion, it is a bad practice since many emerging writers have little money. Costs of circulating your script can mount up fast. If you are unable to pay these bills, hopefully your agent will work something out with you.
The bottom line, however, is that if you believe in this agent, if the agency is charging actual costs and not a premium on its costs (doing the math, it sounds like they charged you less than 3 cents a page, a pretty fair copying charge), if you believe the script is actually ready for the spec market, if you have an understanding of how much putting your spec out will cost you and if you can either pay the costs or work out something with your agent, go for the ride. Getting a spec out with a legitimate agent can be a very important step in your career. You’ve probably spent as much on much worse investments. If the agent is not satisfying you, you can move on later.
NOTE: When you ask a question, please leave your first name and location, just so I can personalize the response.