|See, the rabbits are the managers in this scenario.|
Let's talk about managers some more. Just managers today, not agents, since for most screenwriters, this is the first stop.
In the beginning, you're just so excited that someone wants to read your script, you don't care who it is. And if someone wants to rep you - hot damn, now you're off to the races!
But it doesn't really happen that way. Having a rep can open all kinds of doors, but it is not a guarantee of success. And sometimes the rep you pick ends up not being the right one. That's okay. There are so many in this town that if one doesn't work, you try another. The comparison to a romantic relationship is absolutely apt. You go in hoping to make it work, but sometimes you have to know when to walk away.
I had a manager who was on her own, between firms. You'd think she had a ton of time to devote to me if she was basically her own boutique with few clients, but that wasn't the case. She was busy trying to find a new place to settle, and I was left wondering what to do.
I had a manager who was part of one of the biggest firms in town, and he was always attentive. He called me regularly, put me in rooms, returned my phone calls and emails right away. I feel fortunate to have worked with him. So the size of the company doesn't matter. Only the person matters.
And sometimes, even the best person doesn't work out. It's like a guy you know is really great and nice and wants to marry you, but you're just not feeling it. You have to walk away.
Many new writers get conflicting information on this, so I'm going to clear it up right now: You must leave your current manager before finding another. Yes, it sucks. Too bad. Agents might be different, but no manager worth her salt will poach another's clientele. And that means you have to be confident that you'll land another before you leave the one you have. That's the part that's scary.
I'm in that process now - seeking new management. Now that I'm a little more experienced and have more confidence in the scripts I'm carrying around, I've gotten very picky about who I want to work with.
Managers are as individual as writers, and they all have different styles of operating, so you have to figure out which one works for you. This is what I do:
I watch TrackingB and The Tracking Board, both Internet script tracking sites. What's the difference between them? TrackingB is less flashy and more devoted to straight reporting of information. You can check out archived posts for free and decide if you like the format, and it boasts a widely respected contest whose goal is to get you repped. Disclaimer - I was a finalist in TrackingB's contest in 2011. Meanwhile, Tracking Board has a lot more going on than just script tracking, with the Hit List and a forum and its own contest. They just put out a comprehensive book looking at the past year's spec market.
Anyhow, I check the boards and the annual Black List (the list, not the site) and The Hit List, and if I see a great logline, I'll check out the manager associated with the writer of the project. I look for other projects that manager has gone out with. I check his IMDB Pro page to see who else they represent. I go to Done Deal Pro and search his name in the forums to see what others have said about him. I go to Deadline and check on what kind of news he's made. If I recognize a client's name, I'll contact the client and ask about what the manager is like to work with.
I do all this before I even ask them to read a script.
There are things to be aware of as you search. Tracking Board frequently reports options as sales, so often a manager looks like he's sold a ton of projects, when in fact, he's negotiated options galore and not so many outright purchases. There's nothing particularly wrong with that, but beware that sometimes the managers with the most glamorous looking record are not as amazing as they seem. You also frequently see managers who go out with a lot of specs that never sell. In that case, could be those managers believe in using specs as writing samples and concentrate on getting their clients assignment work rather than a splashy spec sale, or it could be they just throw everything at the wall. Deadline is helpful in figuring out which managers are more interested in looking for material to produce. But these are things you need to be aware of when you decide which kind of manager you want.
Then there's the level of participation you want from a manager. Some are completely hands on. They want to go over your ideas with you, give you notes, consult with you before all major decisions. With some - you hand them a finished script and they decide what to do with it. There are many in between. You decide what you want your working relationship to look like and then find someone who matches up.
In the end, it all boils down to trust. You trust this person to handle your career, and in return, she trusts you to write good work. You'll disagree sometimes, but as long as you trust each other, that's okay. If you're honest and open to ideas but not a pushover, you'll be fine. And if there comes a time when you no longer feel you can trust this person, move on. If you feel you are being neglected, move on. A successful screenwriter once told me "A manager who never calls is not your manager." Remember that. Don't cling to hope like a neglected wife; Just pack your bags and go.
For more on this topic, I recommend you read Craig Mazin's recent post on the subject over on Done Deal Pro.