United Talent Agency is unquestionably one of the largest and most influential talent agencies in the world of entertainment and media. They represent a huge range of creative talent, from actors to directors, writers to fine artists, all of whom are at the top of their game. Some of the NZ names they represent are Karl Urban, Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie. So when it comes to Film Financing and Film packaging, they already have an extensive in-house pool of people that they can start pre-arranging negotiation deals to present to venture funders or investors. UTA also reps fellow BSS2017 presenters Luke Davies and David Michod.
The job itself is pretty demanding. There are thousands of short films being produced and just as many feature scripts written every year, all of which are crying out for exposure. The reps at UTA number in the hundreds, representing every current and emerging area of entertainment and media, and because of this reason, they work in teams for coverage as well as for the exchange of ideas and brainstorming when they are figuring out the best way to package a deal together. Their methods are as varied as their clients. Some reps like to focus on the A-list celebrities, while some prefer to focus on new and emerging talent.
UTA rep Bec Smith started out as a producer and film journalist in Australia, and joined the company when she was the Head of Development for Working Title Films. Her career started with the agency to sign up and represent writers and directors on this side of the world. Along the way, she gained a great deal of knowledge about film finance, travelled to major film festivals, meet people who might be interested in investing in film, and worked out their perimeters for investment.
So how do you get noticed by a big agency like UTA? Smith’s advice is to make great work and get it into major film festivals – the agents will be there on the lookout for new and raw talent and are known to sign people on the short films they have seen. Its a very competitive environment and because of that, more and more people are getting signed up because of their short films.
Like most agencies, UTA will not consider creators who email their work through. They get inundated with a lot of correspondence, and the agency also has a policy that they won’t accept unsolicited correspondence. The best way forward for those aiming to get representation is to go through an agent who already has a relationship with the agency.
When she gets a script, Bec mentions that she has an incoming grid of what scripts came in from who, which client it came in for, and the date that it came in. “I try to get back in a timely fashion but it’s really hard. I get as many as 8 scripts a day and its not humanly possible to read everything that gets sent to me.”
Because New Zealand is considered an international realm, talent agencies have agents working in their independent film finance groups who are more internationally minded. Smith is looking for scripts from writers with a potential director in mind, but who are open to suggestions. She is also looking for great material that can offer agency represented directors opportunities to further their careers.
If a producer does decide to bring their project to an agency, they should be prepared for the work to be shared. “Once they get their hand on a piece of good material, they will run around town and try to package it, finance it. But at the same time, you need agencies to help, so if they are running at you, with a lot of passion and energy saying that they love your script, I say go for it.”
What does it mean to be a filmmaker from New Zealand? Currently everyone in the world is in love with New Zealand, especially after seeing the talent of Flight of the Conchords, and Taika Waititi’s current success with Thor: Ragnarok. Hollywood doesn’t care where you come from – a lot of the newer directors don’t speak perfect English. At present, studios are very interested in film makers with original and an interesting point of view, something that has not been seen before. So this is an area where coming from a dot in the middle of the ocean could actually help you get a foot in the door of a hugely competitive industry.