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.



  1. Oh wow, Emily. You actually answered my question. :) I was absolutely riveted by this post... Most blogs just treat this question with some vague answer about you writing a great script and reps will hunt you down in your bedroom and pry that hot script from your hands. Instead, you actually wrote a very well thought out and researched response with many different writers' perspectives. (Clap, Clap, Clap--- a la ending of Jerry Maguire)

    Unlike other businesses, what managers do for clients is very hidden, except for the occasional comment on some board. Even having briefly worked at a few agencies, I can't even tell you what they really actually didn't seem like much.... One of the writers above touched on it, but I guess what I'm curious about is how to figure out the manager is that manager that believes in you as opposed to just wanting to sign the project. Reps are very charming when you first meet them and you're just so wowed by the experience, you aren't really looking at the big picture. Many managers these days are interested in producing so they sometimes sign different projects for the potential to be movies they can have rights to produce at no development cost rather than particularly loving the writer's style. Would a newbie writer get lost with a big hotshot manager at one of the super big firms?..... When you look at their client roster, you see nothing but a-listers... How can you tell a manager is interested in building your career as opposed to being interested in that project you have and kind of just hedging their bets by signing a bunch of projects? The lure of the big manager is also the fact that down the road you might want to take a shot at directing.... and you're not just considering launching the writing career but also the directing career... I don't know if any of the writers responding had the same idea. Would managers be turned off by directing ambitions.... like "Oh, he's one of those." The directing ambition is something you know to keep quiet about until you actually do it...

    I want to also thank the writers that took their time to write these responses. I was going to save the questions for another day, but I guess it's better just to write them down now before I forget.... several jump out as natural sequels to their responses. What are the things you should do that makes you a good client? How fast do you have to write?
    I just thought it was interesting the point the writers made about being good in a room, being collaborative.... if there was any further explanation about that....because that's the part of the story that's very fascinating.... once you get a call back from a prospective rep... what to look for when talking to them? What to ask them? And what to do in the first weeks to 3 years working with them to make sure you're a good client and a writer developing a good reputation....

  2. Writer #212:19 PM

    Hi, I'm Writer #2. I barely touch on this in my response but I met with a few different companies and multiple managers at each -- I felt like there was a lot to look at:

    1) Chemistry -- Don't lie to yourself and pretend the meeting went better than it did. You should know whether you clicked or didn't.

    2) What are they saying? A breakdown of my meetings: one set of managers seemed hesitant to sign someone who wasn't established and appeared to be feeling out my personality and room skills -- I don't want someone who is unsure of me. Another manager answered his phone 5 minutes into his meeting -- um already a red flag. Another manager was more set on me writing a good feature to open doors in TV. And then in general they would all talk about how good/great that one pilot was I wrote and what they could do -- again, I'm more than one piece of material. I will soon write more, what will you do with it then? And a lot of pitching writers is not only their material but who they are. What is their background, what is their story, why are they unique? They have to know that and be interested in that so they can sell you. My current managers we spent majority of the meeting talking about dogs, cars, childhood, etc It just felt right -- they were interested in ME and not just my one pilot.

    *What makes you a good client?*

    Writing a lot and writing well. We are only as good as our product and if we are not producing then we are essentially in a way worthless. If it's not good product then that rep can do nothing with it. Don't be the person who gets precious about one feature/pilot. Don't call your rep every day, three times a day, and if you do have something important to talk about. Your job is to write, not worry about their job and things you cannot control.

    *How fast do you have to write?*

    Everyone writes at a different speed so it's tough to say. My last first drafts of my pilot have been written in less than 10 days -- I know writers who take 6 weeks, it's fine. I just don't like to wait around so if I send in something, I'm already thinking about the next thing because if that one thing doesn't sell or pan out then you're left back at square one and you start all over, months of writing and rewriting to have something to show.

    *When you talk to a prospective rep*

    1) Don't be awkward, this is a red flag you won't be good in a room or will need a lot of work. Trust me, I'm learning how much personality matters -- especially in TV 2) Don't be desperate, they may just want to feel you out and get a sense of your personality, they don't want some needy crazy person 3) Don't be afraid to ask questions about how they do things or if they offer to sign you, what would be their plan, or their expectations of you -- it would be a partnership, you're not inferior to them 4) Be yourself and highlight any strengths you have in your background or anything like that.

    I just started a book out of curiosity and it's pretty enlightening for once you get your first manager or agent and it's called "How to Manager Your Agent" by Chad Gervich. I literally stumbled upon in a podcast the other day not having realized I read his other book about TV -- it's not a how to book of writing or how to get a rep but how to deal with reps and understanding what the do and their expectations of us. I was reading last night and came across one of my reps who is quoted often in the book -- it's good stuff. I'm only 1/3 of the way through but again it's very interesting.

  3. HI Writer #2. :)

    There's nothing better than turning on your laptop, with a cold beverage, and seeing a well-thought answer written to your question. Thanks!

    When you were visiting with the different managers, did you get a sense of the difference between the ones from big management firms vs. medium firms. A big concern for the new writer is whether they would get lost in the shuffle with a big producer who might just be interested in the project, not so much launching a writer's careers. So, even if a manager is a big time manager, but they seem only wanting to hip pocket or work on one project...or feeling you out, is it best to not sign with them and just go for someone else? I also do not know how much hands on development some managers do with clients to develop scripts. Some seem to function more like agents, expecting the script to be ready...while a few take a long time to develop scripts with the writer.

  4. Anonymous12:48 AM

    From Writer #2

    Are you admitting to drinking in the morning or do you turn on your laptop really late in the day?

    You can probably already tell I'm not a comedy writer.

    *Bigger companies vs. smaller companies*

    I never even thought about the size but looking back I ended up going with the largest company in terms of scale -- their literary department though is fairly new if that makes sense. I was prepared to sign with tiny companies if that's what I felt was right. Again, I'm riding the wave of "it's the who not the where" at the moment, others may disagree.

    Yeah you can easily get lost in the shuffle with any manager. But I find that this happens when you're not doing two things: writing a lot, and writing well. If you give them good/great material, it's tough to get ignored. Either that or your rep really is just an idiot I guess.

    *Hip Pocketing*

    I wouldn't go for a hip pocket situation unless you think you have nothing else going but seems like writer's I've read that did this end up hanging on by a thread because they still think they're hip pocketed, therefore they don't seek out other options.

    *Should you just sign with someone if another rep doesn't formally offer or should you go with the first (or only) rep that does*

    I'm on the fence about whether to sign with someone just because someone else didn't pan out or no one else offered... My first manager was the first one that came knocking -- it wasn't a bad thing necessarily. I understand some writers never end up in a situation where they have a choice. You can always leave (provided you're not under contract) so maybe there's nothing to lose with going with someone to see how it pans out. Like going on a date with someone and saying "Hm I like this person, not sure I'll ever marry them but what's it going to hurt to date a little bit?" Then again, I think if I would have tried to get a rep in that time I didn't have a manager, I would have ended up at another wrong place or not with my current managers. I didn't like getting rejected back then but looking back now, I'm glad it worked out that way.

  5. Anonymous12:49 AM

    Sorry it said I exceeded character limit, imagine that.

    *How hands on are managers during development?*

    Every manager is different and have their own ways. I even believe managers work differently with different clients. My last manager was very very hands on and it did not work well for me. I did not like coming up with a bunch of ideas, getting one picked for me, doing outlines/treatments I had to send it or whatever -- not for me. That's why I am certain that even if I wasn't doing stupid things, it wouldn't have worked out. My new managers are very very receptive to my creative process and everything is a suggestion. I send a few ideas and say which ones I like, and they would say "Yeah we like those too, go for it." I feel like they trust me enough to execute something and also support me. Sometimes I don't even send them ideas and I surprise them -- that can be dangerous but luckily it's worked out okay for me. They read multiple drafts, we sit down in person (only because getting 3 people on the phone is insane) and do notes. I love this by the way. I get to see my managers every so often and catch up and listen to them discuss my script. They don't overkill me with notes, or haven't yet. But maybe I've been fortunate not to turn in anything that needs a total overhaul, I don't really know. I do know of one company that does tons of notes. My last manager did tons of notes. I rewrote a feature for like a year once. My feature I just turned in to my feature manager we did one minor rewrite and a polish -- it might be crap but if it was, he lied and said we could send it to my agent lol so we shall see.

    You'll never know all the answers and sometimes you'll learn on the fly. What works for one, doesn't work for another. I still learn what to do and what not to do almost every interaction with my reps -- it's just the nature of the beast.

  6. Great article.... It makes me wonder how any good books have been written and are just laying around without being published. Good luck

  7. Hey writer #2,

    I'm ashamed to admit this, but I don't really drink. That drink you see in my hand at a party---that's just for show. But, I've been enjoying reading your responses and takes on managers... Rarely do bloggers get that specific and honest about the dynamics---it's usually just a bunch of vague mantras about writing the great script (which is like incredibly hard to do!) There was a lot to digest, so these were the thoughts that sprang to mind when I read your answers:

    I don't know if you're just in a very lucky situation, but do most writers get to meet with their managers in person that often? Some seem to have met their managers a total of 2 times...once when signing and then maybe one other courtesy meet.....but mostly just short phone calls and email.

    With your previous manager who was heavy into notes/development, did the manager dictate what you should write? The cold reality is most writers are not at the Mickey Fisher level...they're probably more on the bubble, with maybe a marketable concept and solid execution that the manager might want to produce. So, they might need a lot of development in their scripts to get it to that B plus level.... but on the flip side, your situation sounds ideal where the manager is there to support your idea and not so much operate as a producer getting a free first look deal from their clients by telling you what you should write. I don't know if you've encountered the conflict of interests where a manager operates more like a producer at the expense of their manager role.

    By the way, did you consider the manager's ability to sell/package/have clout versus their ability to develop/enthusiasm/loyalty when you were making the rounds? There are some management companies that are like fully self-sustaining packaging houses that can package their own movies and attach major elements. Probably earlier in the writer's career, it might not be as important but maybe down the road. Versus some managers that seem to have stuck by their clients for a long time, nurturing them from nothing.

  8. Paul, the answer to all of those questions is that each relationship is different, and each rep is not interchangeable. I'm going to post more responses this week and you can really see the varied relationships. The truth is, you choose what kind of relationship you want to have. Do you want a manager who will give you copious notes? Do you want an agent who will package? Do you want someone who will meet with you face to face on a regular basis? Then those are the things you should look for. When you meet potential reps, ask them how they do things. Ask their current clients what it's like to work with them. There is not right way to manage - there is only what works best for you.

  9. I want all of those things. :) Unlike some of the other professions who are reviewed on yelp, a lot of the style of the managers are pretty hidden. And with one particular manager, the relationship didn't go as envisioned....because his/her press seem to detail something different---or maybe, managers do have different relationship depending on how good the writer is or how much money they make them. I think your blog and the helpful responses by people like writer #2 serve as an inspiration to work hard on your writing so you can land that ideal relationship rather than be stuck with one that's less than ideal.

    On a side note, thanks Emily for this blog topic. It was a fascinating read. I think many other readers really enjoyed it as well. I always chuckle when I see the disclaimer in the comment section "Please leave a name, even if it's a fake name. And try not to be an asshole." I think "Ok, I'll try." :)

  10. Anonymous10:25 PM

    Writer #2 again --

    I feel bad clogging up the comments so Paul, if you don't feel weird posting your email on here, I will contact you and answer some more questions.

    But Emily is right, every writer/rep relationship is different. Even people who are with the same reps. I have friends who have the same agent/manager as I do and they're handled slightly differently. I'd be worried about someone who does a blanket approach for all clients. We're all in different places, have different strengths, weaknesses, etc.

  11. Anonymous10:27 PM

    Also here is this site that is doing podcasts with managers. This one is for Ava Jamshidi at Industry but if you go to the main site he just did one with Jake Wagner at Benderspink, and did George Heller at Apostle, and Jewerl Ross a while back. Then you can hear things from their POV

  12. Sure writer #2,

    My email address is Feel free to email me any time. My impression is the star clients are treated like the pretty cheerleader daughter in the family and the ones that aren't making them money are like boarders that better mind their ps and qs. Yeah, I've been listening to those podcasts for the past month--terrific interviews, especially the Jake Wagner one. I just want to make smart informed decisions from today moving forward and resources like this plus generous people like you and Emily really help a lot.


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