Friday, February 21, 2014

Rep Relationships: outsourced post #1

A while back, Paul asked a question that I and other repped writers get a lot. My experience is limited, and the truth is that every writer’s relationship with his or her rep is a different animal, so I decided that instead of answering the question myself, I’d farm it out to several writers I know and ask if they had any advice for Paul. I got some great responses. I intended to put them together much sooner, but I got a little side tracked on account of writing a new screenplay.

So here is Paul’s original question:
Is it true that managers and agents will only do something for you twice---after you give them the first spec they like and if that doesn't sell then if you are generating income for them----otherwise they won't do anything for you because they have 35 plus other clients (managers) or (70-80 for agents)... Would a new writer get lost in the shuffle at a big management company like Anonymous Content or Benderspink if they aren't hot right away...or is it better to go with a medium manager who's a hot spec seller.... How do you figure out which managers will take time to develop material and build a new client's career from ones that are strictly going for the one off quick deal?

Writers tend to be verbose (and then apologize for being verbose) so I’ve got a lot of words. I decided to split the responses into three posts.
Today's responses come from two writers: Writer #1 is a writer who’s been in the game for a long time and makes a living at this, and the second is a writer who’s just beginning her promising career.

Writer #1:
I have a manager and an agent. I’ve had both almost since the beginning and while the agents have changed many, many times, the manager has stayed the same since he became my manager.

The relationship with an agent or manager is going to depend entirely on the personality of the rep. I’ve had agents who are all business and distant whom I talked to once every two weeks (they never take your call—always call you back end of day between 6:00 and 7:00), and agents who take my call right away and whom I spoke to a couple times a week. But in either case, no agent is going to spend the time with you that a manager will. No agent is going to take a half hour on the phone to hear your list of ten things you want to accomplish. Or let you run a dozen ideas by them. They’re just too busy. So a manager will always have more time for you, and you should develop much more of a friendship with a manager. Or at least close to one.

Also, agents must be managed. Not necessarily by your manager, but by someone. That is, you can’t be negative all the time, complain about shit, and not deliver new material. At least not if you’re not A-list. Once you start making serious money, the relationship flips and they start managing you, but even a mid-six figure writer can be more trouble than they’re worth, so tread lightly. Thus, a conversation with one’s agent must always be short, positive, and focused. It’s a highly artificial relationship. You can’t call them up to talk about your depression. You can’t talk about six different things. And you can’t talk for forty minutes.

It’s a continuum, naturally. An agent at WME is going to tend to be less hands on than one at APA, but that’s not necessarily so. Again, it depends on the agent’s style. But it’s a mistake to think your agent is your friend. You’re in a business relationship and they will cut you if you don’t generate income but do generate headaches.

And to answer the question posed directly, there are no hard rules for who might drop you or after how many failures. Some agents may be in a volume business and cut clients all the time who don’t earn. Others, believe it or not, actually believe in their clients’ writing and will stay the course for years without income from you. But only if you’re pleasant, hard working, and keep delivering quality material. With the way the spec market is these days, it’s hard to expect a new writer to actually sell anything. But what about the follow up general meetings? Is he willing to collaborate on new ideas? Is he good in a room? Is the feedback good? These are reasons to keep a client who isn’t earning. Conversely, pain in the asses with multiple mental issues who write one spec a year are going to get cut.

Writer #2:
The story and idea of reps is a lot more complicated and harder that it seems sometimes. I know a lot more writers who are unhappy with their reps than ones who are completely happy. I also know a few that are happy with their manager but not agent, and vice versa, it happens a lot. Maybe many writers won't admit to their rep troubles because it's kind of like a marriage. You are all smiles even when things are rocky, and when things are bad you aren't running around telling all your friends that it's terrible and sucks -- you just keep smiling sometimes so nobody knows what you're dealing with but deep down you know it shouldn't be this way, or there is better out there.

As for me, I firmly believe you HAVE to find someone you click with and is passionate about you and your work. Here's the thing you should know when you get signed -- you constantly have to prove yourself -- I don't think that changes for those even making money. You are only as good as your material and if you're not producing the goods then you aren't doing your job as a writer, and reps can't do anything for you. They only make 10-15% because they should only be doing 10-15% of the workload -- that's where my first manager came in...

Let me give you an idea of my specific situation so you can maybe relate to a portion or maybe all of it. When I signed with my first manager at a very very reputable management company, I was the ripe old age of 21... Insane, right? I was so green and thought I had it made on those one or two scripts. But here's the reality of what I did in two years: I didn't write a lot, the ideas I sent weren't good, I emailed a lot about nothing, and spent my time dreaming of dollars that would never come... Don't be that person. That is when you see managers not sending out your stuff, not emailing on your every whim, or calling you weekly. You have to remember it's their reputation on the line in a town where opinion is everything. Why would they send out something subpar? They shouldn't have to. I interned at a production company for a summer and it opened my eyes to the other side from submissions, phone calls to talk clients up, coverage, etc. A rep can certainly be "that" guy or girl who sends over junk all the time. The execs begin to take them less seriously as opposed to those they know ONLY send amazing samples... Anyways, that's another lesson, but ultimately it wasn't a fit anyways with that manager, but I certainly learned what not to do the next time around.

I firmly believe it's the agent, not the agency -- find someone who gets you. Sure the big three agencies have a lot of resources, big teams, big actors, but if you can't get an agent working for you there then it's just a name to throw around and it's all for nothing.

Long story short, I was largely ignored for my two and a half year stint with [my rep]. Sure when I emailed or called, I'd get responses, but I wanted to know if my stuff was being sent out, was it read, what did that person think? I will say I got a fair amount of attention my last few months with him, but I had to be vetted by other people in the industry or his other big clients before he would put in some time due to his other 100 clients -- and truth be told, I felt extremely under serviced. I didn't know at the time if I was being a whiny girl or if it was justified. I look back now and think it was justified, but I saw so many writer friends go through the same thing, the same frustrations, the same shit. It was either their reps don't respond, their reps don't read in a timely manner, their reps are cold on their material, their reps are giving bad advice, their reps ignore them, the list goes on -- frankly it sucks ass sometimes.

So as you can see it's tough to blanket every situation. I've seen writers screw up a good thing with good reps whether they don't write anything worth a damn, they don't write at all, they pester their reps, etc. I've seen great writers with the wrong reps. They could easily be going on tons of meetings, maybe getting jobs, but their rep is so high profile, has too many clients, doesn't care, or are too busy servicing their big money makers. Then I've seen writers go through reps like toilet paper... whose fault it is doesn't really matter, it's like dating, if it's not meant to be, it's not meant to be. Staying in it just for the sake of having a rep isn't what someone should be doing. When I left my manager I had no new material so the next year I sat down and wrote... and in that year I wrote something that would get me my next set of managers….

 I didn't want to leave a rep again because it's like breaking up, it's not fun. So I had my bullshit meter on super sensitive when I went on these meetings. I didn't want smoke blown up my ass, I didn't want the dog and pony show, I wanted to have someone I believed could love me as a writer. So when managers started talking about "this pilot" and how great it was and what they could do, I started to fade because I am more than this one thing I wrote that you loved, I have so much more to say about so many things that you don't even know about yet. But when I met with my current managers (which at the time there were four of them, that was a big change on its own going from one to four), I immediately noticed they didn't lead with fireworks. They hardly even talked about my pilot. Instead we talked about our backgrounds, life, dogs, cars, everything under the sun -- that told me right there they were interested in me as a person and as a writer... I was sold. I signed with them March 2012 so it's still relatively new, but it's been great.