Name: Jean Kitson
Agency: Kitson Press
What was your first job in the industry, which led directly or indirectly to your current agent role?
By pure luck I got a development assistant job at Bentley Productions just as it was starting to make Midsomer Murders (I’d been out of uni about 6 months). I didn’t actually do much development but did read a lot of scripts, saw how crew and talent deals worked, found out who was who in the business, ran some post-production and also worked in the poshest offices at Pinewood I have yet been in…
There’s no specific agent qualifications, so what would you say best qualifies you to do your job & allows you to do it well?
A good mix of the creative and practical brains. I did an English degree which helps with sensitively reading scripts – not only to see how good they are but also to draw out the potential in them. But I am also precise, organised, good with numbers and have a voluminous memory. You need to like talking to people.
What routine, if any, do you look to start each working day with?
I leap out of bed at 6am, meditate, then do yoga for 30 mins…oh hang on. That’s the fantasy version. In reality I sit in bed with a cup of tea coming to with the kids bouncing on me while I check the company bank account to see what payments have come in.
Lift the lid as best you can, and describe a typical working day?
There really is none, which is what I love. I have several meetings a week, with clients and production companies, and follow up on those. I spend a lot of time on the phone with producers talking about either clients work already with them or what they’re looking for. I talk to clients often, working out what we need to be doing next or discussing current commissions and contracts. I’ll be negotiating or processing contracts every day. The boring bit is chasing up outstanding invoices, which luckily my assistant does, and I try and read at least a couple of submissions a week, although clients’ work takes priority. Staying on top of who is where and maintaining and building my relationships with producers and script editors takes up a lot of my day.
What do you feel a client and agent should expect of each other in the course of a fruitful working relationship day-to-day?
I think in the early days of the relationship you both need to set some boundaries on what you expect. A client should expect a reasonably quick (within 24h) response to emails and queries, and a call back no later than the next day. But unless there is a quickly changing situation, then I cannot see why a writer would need to talk to their agent more than once a week, probably less. I think agents should be upfront about what they are planning to do for their client over the coming month or so, and the client should trust the agent to get on with it. I am lucky to have a very collaborative and trusting relationship with my clients – we exchange news and information regularly and have regular planning sessions where we set ourselves some notional targets, and on the whole we let each other get on with it. The only time I spend long on the phone with my clients is if we’re having a detailed talk about a script (which I prefer to do face to face anyway) or there is a tricky problem to work through.
Is there a typical process that sees a first enquiry turn into a working client relationship?
If I like the sound of the writer and their approach (and usually if they have a bit of experience too) then I will read one or two scripts, and then meet face to face. I’m pretty sure what I’m looking for so ideally I will be ready to offer representation after that meeting. I don’t tend to have a long process of keeping someone on a ‘maybe’ pile – I’ll tend to offer representation if I like the work and the writer’s attitude and approach.
What is the best way to approach you, or any agent, with a view to representation? Is there one part of an approach that makes you think this client is or isn’t for me?
Email approach, with a brief overview of who they are and what they’ve done, and a finished script attached, is the right approach for me. ‘I have written a screenplay, will you read it’ isn’t good enough – I cannot look at scripts from very new writers (there are too many and it is impossible to decide which to read). Writers need to have made some noise and got some traction for themselves before I will read their work. I am also not interested in a synopsis or even a pitch of the story. I think a misconception a lot of writers have when they’re new to the industry is that the project is the most important thing. I represent The Writer, both what they have created so far and want to sell, but also as a writer for hire or for the potential work they will create. Of course, what a writer has written is the manifestation of their talent, skill and voice, but surprisingly, the actual story itself is of relatively little interest – it is how well it is told.
Is there any part of your day-to-day work that manifests itself in evenings & weekends?
Reading, often; if I have business in LA that goes into evenings; occasionally if there’s a crisis I will speak to a client at evenings and weekends, or spend some time on emails. But on the whole I try to maintain proper down time. A rested agent is a better agent!
What one piece of advice would you give to a writer just starting out?
Write LOADS (if you possibly can, if you’re that sort of writer). Not only will you get better faster, and find your voice more quickly, but it will also be good training for the time pressures of professional television writing.
What one piece of advice would you give to your younger self?
Errrr… don’t do karaoke with Sarah Lancashire, she’s better than you? Also, don’t be afraid to take risks – if you’re comfortable you’re doing something wrong.
Favourite film? Strictly Ballroom
Favourite TV program (currently or all-time)? Das Boot (the TV version)
Favourite book? Beloved by Toni Morrison
Favourite director? The Coen Brothers
Favourite writer? Hans Rosenfeldt
Favourite actor (male or female)? Sofia Helin (you can see my current obsession!)