- Job title:
- Film | TV
Nick is an agent for screenwriters, playwrights, film and television directors, as well as acquiring literary material for the screen.
How did you become an agent?
I started off working in journalism and publishing - I won the Vogue young writer of the year award, wrote for the books pages of GQ and spent some time working for the publishing house Methuen.
But I'd always been drawn to the idea of being an agent. My grandmother had been a literary agent and represented an eclectic list of writers from Samuel Beckett to Enid Blyton. I'd witnessed her working at it and knew that I wanted to work with writers and their material. Secondly, I had an interest in the commercial side of the writing business - for a time I flirted with the idea of being a lawyer, but that was too much of the business side for me.
I joined the agency AP Watt as an assistant in 1989. I had a great mentor there, Rod Hall, who taught me the art of building up a list of writers to represent.
I started reading new plays and scripts and visiting film schools - building up a list of young theatre and screenwriters. Early clients included Jez Butterworth (Birthday Girl) and Hossein Amini (Jude, Wings Of A Dove) and a lot of Irish writers that I cultivated, including Mark O'Rowe (Intermission), Johnny Ferugson (Gangster No. 1), Conor McPherson (The Weir, I Went Down) and Enda Walsh (Disco Pigs). I also started representing authors when they were doing film deals. I was involved, for example, on the deal that saw The Horse Whisperer rights acquired for film and do film deals for authors like Philip Kerr.
I came to Curtis Brown in 1997, charged with running the film and TV department . Three years ago, I was part of a team that engineered a buyout of the agency.
What does an agent do?
Agenting involves taking on writers and directors, normally when they are quite young. The best relationships are when you start early.
I think agenting involves four broad things.
Firstly, there is a big emotional side to it. You're the person in the corner supporting a young writer and nurturing them. If you are a young writer and you know you have someone batting for you, it's a huge help. You are their advocate, which is the most important thing for them. It's quite an intense relationship - you try and depersonalise it, but you never manage to. It's a very different relationship than somebody might have with an estate agent.
Secondly, you have to know what is going on across the film, TV and theatre industries. You have to be able to give your writers a commercial route map, so it's about tracking and understanding what is going on in those industries at every point. You have to have your eyes and ears to the ground and help the writers navigate through the worlds of film, theatre or TV.
Thirdly, it's about coverage - knowing what is on at the theatre, on TV, in cinemas. It's not just about reading your own writers' work to offer them advice and guidance. You have to help them to succeed in terms of what else is going on in the market. And then you have to be a tough negotiator and sort out contracts. People always think that this is the most important thing, but if you get the first three things right then getting the money part right isn't hard.
The deals I do range from negotiations with US studios, so you have to understand the world of film, to theatre which has a certain way of working, to book options. All the time you're trying to work out how the writer can best participate in the success of their work. We charge our clients on commission: 10% on the screenwriting side and 15% for book options.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to become an agent?
The only way to work out what you like is to read and watch - to do what the Americans call 'coverage'. That means knowing what is on at the theatre, reading books and keeping an eye on young film-makers and short films. People come and see me to talk about jobs, but it's amazing how few cover what is going on.
Try and start at a junior level working as an assistant at an agency or a publishers. Then do anything you can that gets you into contact with material and writers.