Retreat is not a four letter word
by Eddie Gamarra
We’ve read articles about the big agencies gathering their troops to mingle in exotic locales. We’ve been dazzled by the roster of famous speakers on the one hand and chuckled at the mandatory “classes” for assistants on the other. We’ve even exchanged whispered rumors about the Dionysian debauchery that sometimes rarely almost certainly never happens after hours.
While most of us are just plain thrilled that our suited brothers and sisters get to wine and dine, many of us just want them to “get us a fucking job” (thanks Gavin Polone). One has to wonder, what do these retreats do to make the agents better agents? How do they train agents to be more adroit at said job getting? What benefit are these retreats to the clients?
If you follow our stories, you know that I work with many clients from the world of publishing.
I recently attended a book agency retreat and it got me thinking about how we in Hollywood can learn from our peers in publishing.
A number of the literary agencies with whom I work have been hosting client retreats for years and years. Barry Goldblatt’s eponymous shingle is one. Another is Erin Murphy’s equally eponymous company, which I had the honor of being a guest speaker at in mid-June.
The sessions throughout the five days addressed the unique needs for writers who have never published, who have published a first book, and those who had published more than one title, because there are indeed very different experiences, needs, demands at each stage. Writers, myself included, read 150 words from their pieces – easier perhaps for the picture book writers than those who write sprawling epic YA fantasies. They discussed the business of publishing. They queried their agents about how the agents’ do their job. There was a shocking and refreshing transparency in the practice of agenting throughout the retreat.
I had a chance to explain to the clients what I do for their agency. Topics included (but were not limited to): How books are matched up with producers and work their way through the studio system. What “packaging” means to producers (it means something very different to publishers). How Hollywood is not nearly as mysterious as it seems to be and yet how it is wildly illogical and hence eternally confusing at the same time. How important casting is and why the reliance on stars is anathema to middle grade fiction becoming movies. What I shared with them may have informed them on an intellectual level, but seemed to resonate with them as storytellers. I was shocked to learn how many authors are using Save the Cat to help them write their novels as they find classic Hollywood three act story structure to be a compelling model for a medium that often refuses to get to the inciting incident before page 190.
I was pleased to see how many authors, unlike screenwriters, seem to have a primal need to commune with other writers. I don’t mean gathering at the same coffee shop and type side by side like little children who parallel play. And I don’t mean sitting in an auditorium and listening to a speech or Q&A from a single writer. No, I mean, they want to get together and talk shop. They want to exchange ideas about craft, and art, and careers, and exotic words, and editors, and families, and all the things that really matter. They want to learn from each other and swap best practices and challenge each other and help each other out.
I have seen this time and time again through organizations like the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators, an organization built for people who are new to writing just as it is built for writers who may have published a book or two. It’s an organization I’ve participated with the group both as a faculty member and as a struggling writer myself. Be it a regional event or one of its national conferences, the SCBWI brings together a diverse and encouraging group of folks with common goals: to tell stories, to make stories better, to make a living as a writer, to grow as a professional. While the conferences include opportunities to pitch, I have never felt like the experience was futile or even a bit sleazy, as I have felt at screenwriting “pitch fests.” The vibe in the children’s publishing world is mellower, communal, and supportive, at least as evidenced by the Erin Murphy Literary retreat and the SCBWI.
This particular retreat proved, to me at least, that a client centric approach is extraordinarily worthwhile. That is not to say that the kind of retreats held by CAA, WME, et al are useless, but I do have to wonder what the Hollywood lifestyle would feel like if the big agencies held retreats for their clients instead of themselves.Tags: Barry Goldblatt Literary, Book publishing, Eddie Gamarra, Entertainment industry, Erin Murphy Literary Agency, Hollywood, Hollywood agency retreat, Selling books for fiilm and TV, Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators, Storytelling