No Package, No Deal

So… DEADLINE Hollywood just ran a jaw-dropper of an article titled

WGA Data: 87% Of All Scripted TV Shows Are Packaged

…With 79% of those packages coming from CAA and WME.


What does this mean? A) Only 13% of pilots that sell are off the script alone. In every other case, there is a package — often a producer, showrunner and a piece of talent. And B,) if you are not repped by WME or CAA, you may be SOL.

This is both shocking and oddly unsurprising at the same time. The fact that the remaining agencies, including big guns like UTA, have to basically fight over the scraps, is astonishing. But it also explains why many agents (not employed by WME and CAA) sometimes seem reticent to send out a pilot. in fact, we’ve seen a bit of a renewed focus on feature specs lately despite the massive TV/streaming boom.

Practically speaking it, means if you get signed by XYZ Agency (and yay for you,) your agent may well not send out your pilot right away. You will likely enter Packaging Land, a  sometimes truly horrible place. Packaging Land is a place you really don’t want to go, because it means the following: probably no one is going to send out your pilot for a year.

Because, see, you have to wait to hear back from all the rather busy people your agent will now send your script to. Back in the ’90s when I was at William Morris, I was “lucky” enough to have a couple of scripts shopped around for packaging. A couple of times, it worked out, and we were able to get folks like Cary Elwes and Dolph Lundgren attached on a couple of my projects. On another one however, an action movie, they aimed high, and submitted to the agency’s big action stars — folks like Mel Gibson.

And after all those people passed, the agent lost enthusiasm for the project and the script never went out.

See, a package is really only powerful if the people attached have some heat. So if your agent attaches Shecky Binglehoffer, who played one of the background kids on 13 REASONS WHY, and gets the showrunner of “The Love Boat” season 4, you have an uncompelling package. So your agent is going to want to aim high. Sure, Shonda Rhimes and Vince Gilligan are just waiting around to read your script… but that’s probably whom your agent will submit to. (Note: those big actors and showrunners won’t even read your pilot unless you’ve got heat. The task of reading all the less-important submissions falls to their assistant or an intern in their production office, who often farm them out to companies like us!)

All of which is to say, these statistics are not really great news.

But let’s keep a little perspective. The chances of emerging writers actually selling a pilot are slim to none, and Slim rode outta town a few days ago. So really the whole point of writing anything — a feature or a pilot — is to act as a calling card. A feature always has a chance at selling; a pilot, of getting you meetings and getting you staffed, or possibly some assignment work. But you can’t really be hoping to sell a pilot until you’re a known quantity in the biz and have some credits anyway.

So at the end of the day, I wouldn’t worry too much about this stuff. Oh, and if you think this means you shouldn’t sign with any other agency and instead hold out for CAA or WME, God no! As I always tell our clients, it’s far better to have a smaller agent or manager who actually works for you than it is to just be a name on a list at one of the big 3-letter agencies, where every agent has 80 or more clients, and they love you for exactly as long as you are making them money.

Jim C.


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