A writer’s portfolio is a collection of samples that feature their best work. It’s what agents and managers will use to decide whether they want to represent you and it’s what they’ll use to pitch you to showrunners and producers.
Every agent and manager will have different preferences, but we’ve gathered some of the consistent feedback about what you should put in your portfolio.
Before you even begin to submit to agents or managers, you’ve got to put in the work as a writer.
If you’ve written an amazing script, you will inevitably be asked, “What else do you have?” You’re going to want to be able to answer that question confidently with some more scripts that mirror your amazing script with a connective thread.
When you’re first starting out, you may want to try drama and horror and comedy — but ultimately you should aim for getting great at something. “Writers are ‘ready’ for representation when they are starting to gain momentum as writers,” Louisa Minghella, an agent in the Blake Friedmann Literary Agency, told me. It might sound like a Catch-22, but the truth is that screenwriting is a competitive industry, so writers should build their skills and writing portfolio while developing their personal style before seeking a professional partnership.
“I don’t mind if someone sends an hour or a half-hour script, but it should always capture what their voice is and what they’re interested in. I don’t want someone to give me a comedy script if they’re predominantly a drama writer! It’s all about it being appropriate to you,” Louisa observed.
“It’s very important to have multiple samples. When I read people, I would like to have more than one thing to read,” recommends Literary Manager Ashley Calloway, a Los Angeles native who works at Issa Rae’s ColorCreative Management.
Louisa echoed this notion. She likes to see a treatment and a sample script from potential television writers. For feature writers, Louisa prefers a sample script as well. Most literary agents will ask for more if they like what they see, so writers should always lead with their best samples — but they should have more ready to go when requested!
“If you’re writing for TV, have a minimum of two samples. If one of those samples is a pilot, make sure you have a series bible or badass lookbook for it,” stated Jermaine Johnson, a Literary Manager at Zero Gravity Management. He also mentioned that he’d like to see a feature sample in addition to television scripts due to the heavy saturation of the TV environment.
“For everyone trying to get into TV, have a feature sample too. TV is hard to get into right now. The content needs to be really good or it needs talent attached. But people are looking for features, so you can take that sample into the marketplace right now.”
For feature writers, Jermaine wants to see two or three scripts. “And one should be incredible.” He recommends that writers have a few great ideas ready to pitch in meetings, too.
“Short films aren’t enough for me, either on the directing or writing side. I think they can show the potential of someone, but if you want to be a professional writer, you need to prove that you can write professional scripts,” he said.
“[Getting representation] happens when it’s supposed to happen,” observed Insecure writer and co-executive producer Amy Aniobi. Agents and managers can be significant career changers — but they have to be the right fit and you have to be ready and marketable for them.
You are still responsible for the work. Agents receive 10% of your paycheck because they do 10% of the work. You need to be doing the other 90%.
“Do the work. Do the work. Do the work. And then reps will start calling you,” says Amy. You’ll hear this echoed from everyone in this industry. Once you’ve written something, write something else. Keep improving your work until you have a handful of the best possible screenplays you can write.
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Shannon Corbeil is a writer, actor, and filmmaker in Los Angeles with recent appearances on SEAL Team and The Rookie. An Air Force veteran, her articles have been published in Business Insider, We Are The Mighty, and Military.com. She has written and produced hundreds of digital videos with millions of views. You can read more about her on her website or come play on Instagram and Twitter!