Y’all remember Mr. Rogers? Loveable old man in a red sweater? Sang songs about friendship and sharing and stuff? Taught us to be kind and all that? Yeah, Mr. Rogers was the shit. I loved that show growing up.
Anyway, moving on …
I want us all to be like good ol' Freddy Rog for a second and use our imaginations. Let’s take a trip deep into our mind’s eye.
Somehow, I don’t think this will be hard for all you writers out there …
Picture this: that screenplay you’ve been toiling over—the one you’ve spent weeks and weeks and weeks rewriting—gets some legit heat. You come home from work one day and see an email in your inbox. An email that ends in @CAA, @ICM (RIP), or @Gersh.
That’s right folks.
An agent read your writing and wants to sign you. This is the moment every young scribe dreams of.
You try to hide your excitement as you set up a formal meeting with their assistant. Rush out to Nordstrom Rack to buy a new blazer for the occasion. You Google Map the ever-loving fuck out of the address because you will not be that writer who shows up late to a signing meeting. You get there an hour early but wait in your car so as to not come off weird.
And it happens. That moment. THE moment. The meeting goes great. The agent utters the words, “let’s move forward.” You get signed. You’re officially a represented writer. Congratulations! Your mother will be so proud. Your dad might even take back a few of those things he said about you needing to become an accountant.
And then, like clockwork, the adrenaline subsides and the existential dread sets in. You’ve just signed your entire career over to a complete stranger. Whether you succeed or not in your chosen field is completely up to someone who you’ve known for about sixty minutes. What have you just done? How do you know if you made the right decision??
“WHAT DO AGENTS AND MANAGERS EVEN DO, ANYWAY?!?!” you scream!
Calm down. Here, breathe into this paper bag for a minute. It’s going to be all right. There’s nothing to be afraid of. Sit right there as I pull on my red sweater, take off my outside shoes, sing you a pretty little melody, and explain everything with my soothing Mr. Rogers voice.
Before we talk about what agents and managers do, let’s answer a different question:
Why do agents even exist?
Because when you really boil it down, they’re not really necessary to the process, are they?
No offense to my rep friends out there, but when you strip away all the glitz and the glamour, they’re all just middlemen, right? They’re salespeople. They act as the conduit between a writer and a studio. They’re the ones who facilitate the transaction between the buyer (i.e. Paramount or Disney) and the seller (the person who wrote the script).
But why do we even need someone like that? Why can’t a writer just directly take their material and submit it straight to the buyer? While this might seem like a more efficient way to do things, that thought process ignores the reality of what it’s like to work as a producer or executive in Tinseltown.
I’ve said it before, but I’m happy to repeat it: the people who make Hollywood run are, as a whole, horrendously overworked and constantly tired. While I’m sure there’s someone who will @ me about how they have excellent work/life balance, this cannot be claimed by 99.99999% of people toiling in this industry.
With this in mind, imagine that you’re a studio executive, and your boss had a fabulous dream the other night for an animated kids comedy. All of a sudden it becomes a huge priority, and he wants you to find a writer for it ASAP. How are you going to get this task done? You’re not seriously planning on calling every writer in your contact list, are you? A third of them won’t have an animated kids sample to read, and another third will be booked out two years on other projects. That final third will be writers lying about having a workable sample and rushing to write one in a weekend cause they need work that badly. It’s a clusterf*ck!
This is why Amazon was invented, right? So you could go to a single source for information, rather than calling 1000 stores to see if they had what you need. Well, agencies sort of act like Amazon. No, they don’t have access to EVERY writer on the planet. But what’s easier? Calling a hundred writers individually? Or calling one agent to send you a list of all the writers his firm reps that are a) fit the sort of project you’re looking to fill, and b) are available. That last one is critical, because in-demand creatives are, I kid you not, booked out years in advance.
The same works in the inverse as well. If you’re a writer looking to get hired, you need to know people. The people who work for the companies that have movies that need to be written. And these people are hard to get to. Why? Because they’re really, really busy! They’ve got dozens of projects to oversee, families to raise, and they don’t have time for bullshit! And especially not for writers with no talent but who really want to write a movie.
Which is why you want an agent or a manager on your side. Their whole job is to know people. To hear about these open assignments. To find work for their clients. And you might be thinking, “Well, why do I need someone to do that? I can meet people!” But this belies the reality of Hollywood. Execs don’t have the time to meet with a thousand unknown writers, vet their work, and see if they are available every time there’s an open job. They’d rather meet someone who reps a hundred writers and can tell them who they should look at. It’s as simple as that.
Also, the writing community is not always known for having excellent social skills, either. So, there’s that, too …
Look, the above is a massive oversimplification of networking in Hollywood. Because as a freelance writer, you do want to have personal connections with executives and producers. And they want to have personal connections with talented scribes. But that is an entirely different article.
Let’s get back to my original point: what do good agents and managers actually do? The answer? Make phone calls. Tons and tons of phone calls. Seriously, more phone calls than you can possibly imagine. It’s not uncommon for people in this position to have two, three, or even four phone lines ringing at the same time. I know because I assisted two literary agents for several years. I was the one fielding those calls.
Yes, Hollywood has heard of Outlook. People use email all the time. But that doesn’t change the fact that so much of entertainment is relationship based. It’s all about who you know. And you can’t usually build great relationships over email. Plus, there are plenty of instances where things happen fast in this business. And calling someone up and getting a return a few hours later is often faster than letting an email sit in an inbox for days on end. It’s just how it goes.
A good representative will be the one making proactive phone calls. The ones where they call people up just to check on their open assignments. Or they hear about a job through a friend and will make the effort to go and pitch their roster. This also includes setting up tons of meals (mostly lunches, but sometimes breakfasts and after-work drinks, too) to again, make as many connections as possible and hear about the most jobs.
The bad agents will, in my experience, wait for calls to come to them. They won’t go looking for work but will field queries if someone else is explicitly interested in their client already. To agents especially, clients of this nature are treasured gold. “Incoming-call business,” as it’s known, is a sweet deal. You don’t have to do the work of pitching someone a dozen times to get one bite (which may or may not pan out), you just sit back and let the calls come to you.
For some clients, this makes perfect sense. I mean really, does anyone think Brad Pitt’s agent needs to call people and say, “Hey, my guy would be great for this role!” No. People at that level are sought after commodities that any film would love to have. But does that make the same sense for you, anonymous scribe with no credits reading this? Nada. You NEED a representative who is going to go out there and make calls on your behalf.
This is why I personally (again, this is just my belief) like to put my faith in young, hungry agents and managers. People who are just starting out in this business don’t have an established client base. They have a dream and the desire to make it and will often go out and make hundreds of calls and forge those connections that more senior reps won’t always make. When you’re 50 years old, already have a million dollars in the bank, and a family waiting at home, there’s not the same pressure to succeed as you have when you’re 20 and literally need every client on your roster working in order to get paid.
Then there’s the whole issue of notes: there’s still an element of creativity in this field, right? Ehhhhh, maybe. Depends on who your reps are. Managers are most known to handle the creative side of the art, while agents are almost always sellers. They’re mostly known for stepping in when it’s time to get a sale. The agents I worked for definitely developed. We did rounds of notes on client material on numerous occasions. But that’s not the norm. Most agents leave the creative dealings to the managers. And vice versa.
Most managers will spend their time doing 10 rounds of notes on a script and leave the negotiating to a writer’s agents. They’ll still meet people obviously, and put clients up for jobs, but when it comes time to bargain for money, this is an agent’s world.
If you’ve got any more questions about this topic, don’t you worry. Because I'll be back when the day is new. And I'll have more ideas for you. And you'll have things you'll want to talk about.
I will too.
*Feature image by Fran_kie (Adobe)