The Importance of Authenticity and the Dangers of Script Competitions

Authenticity is a vital part of any artist’s identity and burgeoning style, whether you’re a painter, a singer/songwriter or a screenwriter. As you can imagine we’re inundated with scripts of all types, here at The KI AGENCY and the sheer variety is staggering in terms of quality and subject matter. While we pride ourselves in being able to respond to everybody, one of the most challenging issues is a screenwriter whose work is impressive but has chosen to set their story in an American High School or by a Lake in Vermont, but they’re NOT from there. We totally understand and respect any new writer with Hollywood aspirations but without developing an individual style, you’re just another formulaic writer, akin to a computerised version of a screenwriter.

Everyone from, top studio executives to brand new indie producers, are searching for that certain something that makes a script feel special and ORIGINAL. It doesn’t matter what your background is – some of the UK’s most impressive screenwriters; from Martin McDonagh, Alex Garland, Russel T Davis, Irvine Welsh, Abi Morgan, Sacha Baron Cohen, Lyn Ramsay, Armando Iannucci, Chris Morris, Jack Thorne, etc. – all share a genuine honesty about their stories, so an audience will also “buy” into their words and share their heart-felt convictions, sense of humour and unique take on life.

Which brings me onto the second half of this new blog – SCRIPT COMPETITIONS – just like Film Festivals, of which there are currently more than 365 per year, there are also hundreds of script competitions too. However, which ones are worthwhile entering? Be careful out there – please don’t become a professional “Competition Junkie” and spend all your hard-earned cash. Try to be choosier about which competitions you enter. After much research, I’ve concluded that the safest bet it to apply to genuine FILM FESTIVALS, world-wide who usually all run these types of competitions and or ones attached to legitimate organisations like, BAFTA, BFI, SCREEN SCOTLAND, CREATIVE ENGLAND, etc. As one would expect, the ACADEMY NICHOLL FELLOWSHIP, which is part of the Oscars organisation and the EMMYS run their own prestigious screenplay contests which offer cash prizes but competition is fierce! The Academy competition is only for new feature films and 1st prize is $35,000, whereas the Emmys invite TV scripts only and their 1st prize is a mere $2,500.

Of the many other competitions, the majority being in America, most will charge approximately $50 as an entry fee. Both SHORE SCRIPTS and SCRIPTAPALOOZA have some of the better quality industry judges. SCRIPT LAB, in conjunction to the New York Film Academy is another respected competition, sponsored by FINAL DRAFT (who also have their own separate competition called BIG BREAK). The US film industry’s number one Horror screenplay contest is SCREENCRAFT, whereas, here in the UK, we have the infamous FRIGHTFEST who have also started to run their own script competition. There’s a special screenplay competition for Women over 40, funded by Meryl Streep and run by the New York Women In Film organisation. Whichever competition you decide to enter, please don’t do more than one at a time, be authentic and Good Luck!


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How to Get (and Not Get) an Agent


Firstly, I’ll start with how NOT to get an agent as some of the examples are so awful, that you’d have thought I’d made them up, however, they’re all based on actual incidents, here at The Ki Agency;

1/ Do NOT harass anyone ever, this includes constantly e-mailing, texting or phoning agents to ask them what they thought of their work and when will they be taken on, etc. I would also apply this rule to real life too, so please NEVER harass an agent, manager, director or actor in a public place, lift, bar, etc. to thrust your script upon them, they will hate/pity you and are unlikely to ever read it.

2/ Equally unimpressive is to demand a meeting and/or that we respond immediately…..

3/ Don’t even THINK about re-sending a declined script or book 6 months later, to another agent – we have a database with all our responses to submissions - there is no secret “back door” short cut.

4/ NEVER verbally reprimand someone by shouting on the phone, demanding they read your script – this will never win you an agent, regardless of talent as you are demonstrating what behaviour you think is normal/acceptable. As with any relationship; it’s a two-way street.

5/ Do NOT lie in your cv, this includes claiming to have made Oscar winning or nominated screenplays or films..……do not claim that your work has been shown at various Film Festivals world-wide. Remember how easy it is via the Internet to double check facts and look on imdb.

6/ Don’t send us 10 pages or ask if we want to read the remaining or describe a project, simply send the complete script, BE BRAVE!

7/ Even though you’ve been to lots of different writing courses, it’s probably better to only mention one or two as you just end up looking desperate, addicted or too odd.

8/ Do not list your script or film as winning tons of imaginary prizes, by which I mean paid for screenwriting courses, as this doesn’t count or even film/script competitions that don’t exist!

9/ Do NOT “Hide in History” as I read so many WW1 or Victorian dramas, which are decently written but unlikely to ever be made by a first-timer. A new writer’s work stands a far better chance to be made if it’s modern. Did you know that one hour of contemporary drama costs approximately £750,000 but set in any different period and budgets shoot up to around £3 to £6 million?

10/ On the off-chance that your script is turned down, DO NOT send more projects in – this is know in the business as the “boomerang” response and NOT what anyone wants. Listen to what the agent has said – often there could be really helpful advice about your imperfect script.

11/ Try to resist describing your script as the new BREAKING BAD meets STRANGER THINGS, for example because as brilliant as both these series are; you’re making your project derivative and NOT ORIGINAL – you need to make your project sound as unique and special as possible.

Here are some handy tips in HOW TO WIN THE ATTENTION OF AN AGENT

1/ Write a brilliant, breath-takingly original screenplay, regardless of style, length or genre. Generally speaking, I prefer to read contemporary stories set in the UK or with a British context or protagonist.

2/ Write a sanely worded, well spelt, grammatically correct e-mail, communicating basic facts, contact details and/or creative flourish or links to other work, etc. Be careful with your wording; ie; do not call me Sir (my name is Roz) Be honest about your ambitions and expectations, reference why you’re looking to be represented by this agent, be it some other writer you respect or mutual taste.

3/ Wait – be patient for at least a couple of months or so. Remember that Patience is a Virtue.

4/ Hopefully you WILL find the right agent one day soon, but in the meantime, should an agent say NO, for now, but asks you to stay in touch, for whatever reason, take this advice on the chin – they wouldn’t say this if they didn’t mean it and contact them in 6 months or a year’s time or whenever you have finished a new script or book.

5/ Create an appropriate website which shows off your true talents – you can use photos of yourself and or the projects that you’ve produced. Links to film clips, trailers, etc. are always helpful too. Keep it tight, use some professional quotes, but not too many. Keep away from your private social media details. Have a clear cv somewhere and contact details.

6/ Finally, do remember to KEEP ON WRITING – whatever happens – if you are good, someone, somewhere at some point in your life will recognise this. If you’re creatively stuck, try writing something completely different or in a genre that you’d never liked or contemplated, you could surprise yourself and us!

Good luck and have faith in yourself.


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Looking back, looking forward

The past year has been a good one for Ki, with some significant and exciting commissions for our clients, and the arrival of Roz who’s already done her first deal as an agent.

It’s always hard to announce specific client news, since it’s so far in advance and we have to observe the sensitivities of the publishers and producers involved.  But I think it’s OK to congratulate Emma Adams on her first big TV commission, and announce a new book deal for Mike Carey.  We’ve got reasonable hopes for several films to start shooting this year.  News will be announced on the website and our Facebook page as it happens.

I find retrospectives generally dull, and – despite the global and domestic issues that have been worrying us all – there are reasons to feel cheerful about the coming year.  But, as always, we agents have work to do as well.

In the publishing sector, book sales have gone up by 5% after years of slow but consistent decline.  Areas of particular increase have been hardcovers and audiobooks.

That being said, the polarization of authors’ earnings has got to be redressed. The big names get larger revenues; the mid-career or less populist authors increasingly less. There are three areas I’m especially concerned about:

  1. Deep discounts – for a popular author, you can find that about 20% of their books are sold at the standard rate; and the rest at high discount;
  2. Special sales – large numbers ofcopies sold to places like The Works or The Book People for eye-wateringly low sums;
  3. Ebooks – publishers are resisting a review of the standard royalty, which was set at the emergence of this format years ago.

In TV drama, we’re seeing a boom in the quantity of commissions, as well as the quality.   Besides Netflix and Amazon, other companies like Apple and Google are getting into the act. We’re busy making the most of this increase in opportunity, but here too there’s a caveat: these companies are making their own content in order to gain market share and drive down revenue to the creators, and to avoid having to buy from other producers (who would charge the

m more for their better, premium content).

For the first time recently I had a ‘What is a film?’ conversation with a prominent producer.  What will make people make the trip to a cinema and pay the admission is under intense scrutiny.  That being said, box office takings are up.

I’m hoping, too, that the globalisation of media companies will give us some buffer against the political and economic turbulence we’re seeing right now.

We’ll all see if I’m right about 2019.  Meanwhile, Roz, Ruth and I wish you a very happy, productive and successful year ahead.


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Update from Roz

So, it’s been a whole month for me at the Ki Agency and what a blast I’m having. It’s obviously quite tricky to imagine how an agent actually finds any new writer let alone a decent one. Once again, as previously stated I cannot give too much away as our competitors may be reading this. However, not wishing to deliberately trip over writerly looking suspects in the street, neither do I run around with a large butterfly net or a gleaming sword, hoping to nab or slay an unsuspecting wanna-be writer. I can now proudly boast of signing up two super-talented young graduates; Moira James-Moore and Andrew X. Fleming, whose work is outstanding – I look forward to help shape their future careers in the flourishing UK media arena.
There are of course many other writers whom I have “in my loop”, who are at various stages of script development – some I am helping to improve their already intriguing material and others are only at short script stage, so encouraging them to break out to feature or at least an hour in length. Looking forward to various celluloid goodies at the upcoming London Film Festival where I shall be searching once again for some unsuspecting new writers.
- Roz
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Roz's No. 1 Blog

My very first week of being an agent was even more thrilling than I imagined it would be. Armed with a brand-new pencil case, I felt slightly like an over grown 5 year-old. I was already aware of my wonderful new office building (appropriately an old TV factory) and sampled the tasty coffee in the café downstairs. After impatiently ripping open the wrapping of my shiny new laptop, there was no stopping me and to my amazement there were already half a dozen e-mails awaiting my attention.

I am genuinely impressed by the very high standard of some the scripts I’ve already had the pleasure of reading. There are so many different ways and means of finding new writing talent, but obviously I could never reveal tactics here. Trying to second guess what influential film/TV producers and drama commissioners are looking for is always tough but not impossible. Certain themes just like in fashion are cyclical, so the current demand for genre stories with a twist;  horror, crime, 1980’s set stories, anything female-centric is all fine with me as a female horror fan with a penchant for strong and distinctive individual “voices”.

Originality, in any form is always a sheer delight to encounter and helping that talent to bloom in the market is a challenge, but one that I cherish. Send me a script that surprises me, scares me, moves me, makes me laugh or simply impresses me with its natural story telling abilities and I promise to react positively. Here’s to an exciting future at the Ki Agency.

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