Breaking down gatekeeper blockades

Hi Dave – No, I’m not a comic. However, I’m a WGA screenwriter with a total focus on comedy screenplays. Can you tell me how to contact comedians’ agents without running into blockades? I mean the blockades typically set up by the gatekeepers of those agents. Best – HK

Hey HK – The bigger the comedian (think celebrity) the bigger the agency blockade will be. When you make a call without prior personal contact or a great reference, plan some extra time for holding, transfers and a final request to leave a voice message and “Someone will get back with you.”

Does anyone really know who that someone is? I doubt it because they rarely call back without the prior contact or reference. And unless you left a voice message with a great pitch (offer) that includes the opportunity for a lot of potential $$$’s (yeah, I’m jaded) you’ll spend a long time sitting by the phone waiting for that return call.

ScreenplayHK and I traded a couple emails and I remembered a past FAQ And Answer article about dealing with gatekeepers (the person who answers phone calls and forms a human blockade to keep you from speaking directly to an agent or celebrity). I found it’s still posted for August 5, 2013. You can read it by going to the Categories link on the right side of this page and finding gatekeeper.

Except the suggestions in that article are different from the answers you’re looking for with this question since the August 5th article concerned humorous speakers and comedians getting past gatekeepers to book paying gigs. You’re looking to find comedians and agents that would be interested in your screenplay.

But the theory is the same. You have to be SEEN and involved in the SCENE.

I know through experience from working at the LA and NYC Improv clubs (talent coordinator) that a lot of valuable entertainment industry contacts are made by networking. It’s being part of the scene.

Not only did I get to work with many great comedians, but I also met a lot of agents, managers, producers and writers just by being in the clubs during shows. They’d come in to watch the comics, and then socialize (network) in the restaurant or bar areas after the show. Sometimes they were there because the comedians they already represented were performing, or they were looking for new talent.

And believe me, a good agent or manager is always on the lookout for new talent. Some of them may claim to have a full roster and not accepting new clients, but if a performer simply blows them away and the agent or manager sees a good career opportunity for both of them, it’s their job to pursue it. That’s good business sense.

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Now, to get back to today’s question…

I’ve also seen this with producers and writers looking to interest comedians and agents in a particular project. For instance, when I worked in LA I remember getting a LOT of calls from television and film people looking for comics that fit a specific type. The casting call could be for male or female, tall or small, fat or thin, black or white – or for whatever the TV or film part called for. They wanted to know if any comedians fitting the desired type would be performing that night or if we could put together a live showcase (audition) during a future show.

That’s why you can sometimes go to a comedy club in LA or NYC and see a number of comedians in a row who are similar in type and only do a few minutes (3-5 minutes is norm) of material. They’re showcasing (auditioning) for someone in the audience.

Let's do lunch!

Let’s do lunch!

After the showcase you can usually find just about everyone – comics, agents, managers, business execs, etc.. – networking (schmoozing, laughing, pitching, etc…) in the club’s restaurant or bar. Business cards are exchanged and meetings are scheduled based on what happened during the showcase.

The ones selected for these meetings and potential projects should have no problem getting past any gatekeepers. They’ve made a personal contact. That beats the heck out of cold-calling and sitting on hold for a few hours listening to musak.

My point is that the comedians were SEEN because they’ve worked hard at becoming part of the SCENE. They were known by the club booker as someone who fits what the writer, producer or casting person is looking for. That’s why the comics were called in for the showcase. It’s rare (in fact I’ve never seen it happen) that a booker will call in a comedian he’s never seen perform and knows nothing about for an important industry showcase.

It’s the same when you’re looking to hire talent or get them interested in a project such as a screenplay. Quite a few newcomers (amateurs) with stars in their eyes (looking for overnight success) will jump at almost any chance to “Be in a movie!?”

But the professional working comics who’ve been around for awhile will not be so naïve. They understand it’s a business (at least they should). They might listen to a pitch if it’s from a reliable or known source (friends in the biz are always throwing ideas at each other) but if they’re really interested and have they type of decent credits you’d want for a legit movie, they’ll probably have an agent you’ll end up pitching to before any deals are made.

So basically in your case, I’d forget about battling the gatekeepers by cold-calling and scope out the comedians in person who you think would be right for your screenplay. Become a part of the SCENE by going to the clubs and checking out their live performances. You might even discover a comic you’ve never heard of and further discover he’d be perfect for your film.

Pu-u-leeezzz look at my script!

Pu-u-leeezzz!!!

Warning:

Don’t be too aggressive (as a talent booker, that’s what turned me off the most). But take an opportunity to network after the show. Be professional and don’t come off like a stalker (you know what I mean) when you tell the comic and/or his agent about your project.

If the comedian is interested he can get you past any agency gatekeeper with one phone call requesting his agent talk with you. If you meet the agent and he thinks the script is right for his comedian client, he’ll have his gatekeeper set up a meeting.

Sound too simple? It’s really not and I shouldn’t make it sound that way because there are a LOT of people in the entertainment industry who practice the art of schmoozing. I assume that’s where the phrase, “Let’s do lunch” came from . But remember one thing:

No one would be doing it if it didn’t work.

If you’re already a known name screenwriter with big numbers ($$$’s), then gatekeepers are no problem – you’ll get through. For everyone else (assuming talent and experience are already a “given”) it’s all about networking and contacts. Be part of the SCENE and there’s always a chance you’ll not only be SEEN but also HEARD.

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Dave Schwensen is the author of How To Be A Working Comic: An Insider’s Business Guide To A Career In Stand-Up Comedy, Comedy FAQs And Answers: How The Stand-Up Biz Really Works, and Comedy Workshop: Creating & Writing Comedy Material for Comedians & Humorous Speakers.

For information about these books, upcoming comedy workshops at the Chicago (beginning February 1, 2014 – visit this LINK) and Cleveland Improv Comedy Clubs, and private coaching for comedians and speakers by phone or via Skype visit www.TheComedyBook.com

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One Response to “Breaking down gatekeeper blockades”

  1. Meta Brown Says:

    Dave, what’s the motivation for a talent booker to organize these showcases? What is the benefit to the booker and the club?

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