"The universe is made of stories, not of atoms."
—Muriel Rukeyser

Guest Post: Former Lit Agent Nancy Nigrosh Helps Writers Crack the Code to Success

This fall, former talent and literary agent Nancy Nigrosh will be offering her very popular course, Cracking the Code: How to Become a Professional Screenwriter in Hollywood, in which she aims to help aspiring screenwriters unlock the secrets to success. Nancy has represented Academy Award caliber talents like Kathryn Bigelow, Stuart Beattie, and Barry Morrow, to name a few.  Read below for some quick tips Nancy was kind enough to share with the Writers’ Program about her upcoming course!  

Writers’ Program: Could you tell our readers briefly about yourself and your background in entertainment?
Nancy Nigrosh: My background is unusual for an agent since I went to film school (NYU and UCLA) where I studied screenwriting, film history, global cinema and learned all aspects of film production.  I worked as a film editor and was also a freelance script analyst. Since I was a motion picture lit agent, my background made sense. Talent agents usually come from the casting world or they started out as actors while below-the-line agents usually come from the production side.

Wp’: Do you think people have a misperception regarding the role of talent agents?

NN: Not only is a misperception common, it’s virtually a universal stereotype. If you ask anyone what an agent does, they will most likely answer that they set up meetings, make calls, and make deals. That addresses only a tiny fraction of what an agent actually does.

Wp’: Your course is primarily about helping writers find their “writer identity.” How is this different from finding one’s “voice”?

NN:  The writer’s “voice” is what’s on the page. There are some great classes at the Writers’ Program to help address how a writer can discover his or her voice and get it on the page. “Writer identity” is the writer’s human persona — what’s not on the page. This is the aspect of a writing career that isn’t just a critical factor to agents but also to buyers.

Wp’: Your course also builds on top of this basic principle by guiding writers to develop a “genre identity.” Why is that so important to unsigned/unproduced writers?

NN: Genre identity is important to every writer — an established one or someone new, since genre is the writer’s “address” from a buyer’s point of view. You need to know the address before you can send a check, right?

Wp’: In your course, you talk a lot about writers learning about coded behavior (hence the course title). Not only how to tailor their own behavior to best suit their goals but also interpret the behavior of industry professionals. How relevant is this to someone just looking to sell a script?

NN: Try selling a script solely based on “what’s on the page” and let me know how that goes for you. If your sale (or two) doesn’t result in a writing career, you won’t be selling any more scripts. Think of it as an athlete who scored some points but lost focus on how the game is played — meaning the player’s behavior undid his ability to score. Actually, I can give you many, many examples of a “script sale” (a term that can be infinitely variable) that didn’t result in the writer having a writing career. Since I started teaching at Extension, many successful writers who have active careers told me they wish they had taken a class like this years ago because they would have better understood the entertainment business and would have handled some of their professional situations differently.

For a full bio on Nancy Nigrosh, please visit her website here.

Nancy is teaching Cracking the Code: How to Become a Professional Screenwriter in Hollywood this spring, starting October 5.  Enroll online or by calling (310) 825-9971.

Jeff Bonnett is the Program Assistant for Screenwriting (Onsite & Online).  Contact him at jbonnett@uclaextension.edu or (310) 206-1542.

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