The Bricks of Breaking In: Krista Carpenter on finding representation
April 14, 2022
Seeking representation can feel like a mystery for writers. How do you know when you’re ready for a rep? How do you connect?
Manager Krista Carpenter understands the winding journey so many creatives take through the entertainment industry. She initially came to Los Angeles to be an actor and started out working as a swimming instructor while trying to get auditions, then became an assistant, a development executive, as well as worked to advance film and television initiatives as the Director of Development and Development Manager for ScreenWest, the state film commission of Western Australia. She now brings all these experiences into her role as a manager at Fictional Entity, a boutique management company she co-founded with Chris Deckard.
When it comes to finding representation, Carpenter provides one of her biggest pieces of advice: “There is no one pathway. I encourage writers to embrace their own individual experiences. Do not compare yourself to others and their timeline, their trajectory, their experience. That’s really important to embrace, and not feel insecure, because perhaps you haven’t followed the exact steps that you saw somebody else do that worked.”
While there is no one way to get repped, there are things you can do to get yourself ready for when the opportunity arrives. Do the work. Get your samples together and have more than one script polished and ready to share. Carpenter recommends writers workshop their scripts with their fellow writers to help get their writing as strong as possible.
Once you’re ready, how does that connection happen? For Carpenter and Fictional Entity, “It’s been primarily about a professional or friendly referral. Somebody we know that says, you’ve got to read this person, they’re amazing.”
She further details, “To me it all falls under the umbrella of what I view to be the most important strategy in the industry, which is building legitimate, sincere personal relationships.”
Carpenter views building relationships within entertainment like planting seeds, “You never know which ones are going to grow, but those that you maintain are more likely to be fruitful. If you meet somebody at a networking event, follow up with them and maybe set a coffee meeting or a Zoom, and then you never know where that’s going to lead.”
Just like the way in which agents and managers value referrals when looking at prospective clients, writers can do the same within their own circles. Carpenter suggests writers “ask their writer colleagues and friends about their reps and who they like.”
She expands to say, “You can tell from the writers that are working with those reps what they like about them, if they’re looking for new clients, if the writer’s willing to make an introduction for their friend. When networking with people that are not writers, ask them what reps they like working with, who they respect.”
There are key elements to making yourself valuable as a potential client. Have at least one script that reps could start submitting and sharing with people right away. For a writer’s sample, Carpenter believes, “It’s also useful if that piece of work is not just a strong script structurally, but that you feel it can really stand out amongst all the other scripts that are going to be read in the same space.”
In addition to a unique perspective and work that communicates your voice as a writer, be open about any successes or distinct experiences you have that can aid an agent or manager to best represent you. This can be a valuable assist when launching a writer. Carpenter explains, “It’s helpful if a writer has some sort of accolade or acknowledgment that we can use as a tool to help pitch them. It’s about what we are able to then turn around and do to help open doors.”
Even if your work is solid, it still might not be the right fit. Carpenter relates, “It’s important that the representation feels they can be very useful to a writer and their career. We may love a piece of material and love an artist, but just not feel that we’re the best match at that particular time for whatever reason.”
So when meeting with a potential rep, Carpenter advises, “It’s not just us interviewing the writer, it’s the writer interviewing us, and we want to go into relationships where the writer also feels very comfortable with us on their team.”
Each party comes to a representation relationship with things they can expect from the other. What should a manager be expecting from a writer?
Communication is huge right from the start. Let your goals, both long and short-term be known. Do you want to direct? Do you love writing horror features and half-hour TV comedies? Who have you worked with in the past? Who are your fans? What kind of stories do you want to tell and what shows would you love to work on? Let all that be known.
According to Carpenter, “We like to see that a writer is going to be willing to take feedback, and hopefully constructive criticism, and be willing to do that with us and then eventually with executives that we’re going to put them in a room with.”
Writers should also have an ongoing slate of projects, as Carpenter states, “It’s great if you have a slate of ideas at varying stages. I don’t think it’s a great idea to put all your eggs in one basket.”
Additionally, Carpenter explains, “While we’re handling doing everything we can on our end to submit scripts, short films, headshots, reels, etc., we want the writer to be actively broadening their network of contacts and maintaining the relationships they already have. A really great client is constantly looking out for opportunities that they can take advantage of on their end.”
As for what writers should expect from their reps, Carpenter shares, “They can expect consultation and advice. You should expect to be able to go to them and talk through what the next best step is. Whether it’s deciding on what project you’re going to write or what job you would prefer to take or if you’ve gone through a major disappointment and something didn’t go your way, you can expect a manager to talk you through it and also strategize on how to move forward.”
Development is another area where managers play an important role with their clients. This starts as early as giving feedback on loglines and possible projects on a writer's slate and extends through to the completed project. Carpenter explains, “We do a lot of script development with clients that want it. We will sometimes give multiple rounds of notes on a project before we take it to market, and it’s usually based on our experience either working in development or getting real-time feedback from the market.”
It’s this part of the collaboration process that excites Carpenter as she adds, “We have these moments of riffing back-and-forth where I may pitch a bad idea, but then the client is inspired and comes up with a better version of it and then we cheer because we’re so excited and I feel like we found the right moment for the script. I love those moments.”
Carpenter recognizes how hard it is to break in. She doesn’t believe writers starting out need to stick to only one type of writing, like just film or TV, just comedy or horror. When it comes to concentrating on what to write, she counsels writers to be strategic in how they approach meetings and present themselves. She elaborates, “I want to be encouraging of artists’ overall goals, but also encourage them to be smart about it and not just say I can write and do everything and not meet their goals because of that.”
“Writers should look at their careers like a small business, hopefully growing into a big business," she continues. "But it’s how are you initially going to present yourself to the marketplace in a way that people immediately know what your brand is and get excited about it and want to buy it.”
Much of what happens in this industry a person can’t control, but there are some things that you can control and oftentimes growth comes down to attitude and drive. Carpenter reminds writers, “The writers that I see succeeding in the long term are those that are able to have a strategy, but able and willing to ride the wave that inevitability sends you in different directions, be able to course-correct, and be flexible and just work with the current situation.”
In her years of working with writers at all levels of experience, she’s observed two core components to building and maintaining a career. “Writers that I have seen succeed in the long term, and those that I’ve seen really succeed even in the short term, are those that are very prolific and proactive.”
Writers who acknowledge challenges and don’t let that stop them, and instead figure out how to move through it, over it, or around it in some way, are the best able to get positive progress in their careers.
She’s witnessed firsthand how creatives have been able to take on obstacles and find a way through. Carpenter recalls, “I’ve seen multi-hyphenates that are writer-actors identify the fact that the industry was slowing down and not picking up new content and decided they were going to produce their first feature and hustle and work so hard relentlessly and get it done and sell their first feature during the pandemic.”
Carpenter offers this final tip to writers, “The newer writers that see the most traction and have a more seamless pathway forward are those that are constantly writing.”
Written by: Kelly Jo BrickKelly Jo Brick is a TV drama and documentary writer. A Sundance Fellow and alum of Women In Film’s Writer/Showrunner Mentoring Circle, Kelly Jo is also the Vice Chair of the WGAW Genre Committee. She wrote the Telly Award-winning film PAUSE and the Frank Lloyd Wright documentary, The Jewel In The Woods. Follow her on Twitter @KellyJoBrick.