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Friday, September 26, 2008

Managers and Writers - Group Hug

I talk to managers fairly frequently, in my ongoing networking and effort to connect writers to rep. And I obviously talk to writers about their scripts, concerns, careers and would-be careers just about every day. And when I put the two side-by-side, some interesting gaps in communication arise.

This is what I hear from writers:

Why is it SO hard to get a manager?

Why have I not heard back about my query and it's been two weeks?

My query got accepted, I sent the script and I never heard back.

My query got accepted, I sent the script, I got an email or call saying it's good but not for them; should I be excited that they took the time to call or bummed because it was a pass? The manager said to send them another one of my scripts in the future. Do they mean it?

Why does my manager not communicate with me more often?

My manager was SO excited about my script, he/she took it out but now he/she isn't really calling me back.

My manager took my script out and says he/she got positive responses, but we need to "package" the script and lately, my manager hasn't been calling me back.

My manager works for ME, right? So why isn't he/she more responsive to my calls and emails?

My manager seems a little mysterious about the actual plan for me and my script(s).

I just got my first manager. My whole life is about to change. I am already looking at new cars.

This is what I hear from managers:


I'm looking for a commercial, salable script with a HOOK

I'm looking for a script that is castable and unique and exciting

I have a number of clients who are working writers and taking care of them and their careers takes up most of my time

I get hundreds of emails on a daily basis

I'm always looking for something new but time management is a challenge

I spent a fair bit of time networking with buyers and agents for current and future clients

If I get excited about a script and take it out and don't get a fairly immediate positive reaction, to be honest, my ardor for the script cools a bit. What seemed like a sure thing just got harder and more complicated.

I wish my clients would trust that I'm doing my thing and not be too needy with emails and phone calls

My game plan changes unexpectedly sometimes; I get pulled in another direction for another, more "hot" client and that's not something I can necessarily control

I'm not interested in repping a client with ONE good script; I will look like an idiot if this writer has written a fluke script. I need to know a writer has legs.

If a script doesn't get an immediate positive response, I have to put my attention toward those clients who are generating heat; I can't make a living on writers who don't sell.

I like to develop writers with potential but there's only so many hours in a day and selling clients have to come first.

Developing a writer is very, very time-consuming. It's taking a risk. I'd rather work with writers who are self-directed, empowered and who are creative machines.

So going back to what I hear from writers:

Why is it SO hard to get a manager?
Because it's really hard to make a living as a manager. So managers are extremely selective. They can only deal with so many clients and those clients have to generate salable work. Managers cannot afford to take a risk on a script or a writer that does not smell like MONEY.

Why have I not heard back about my query and it's been two weeks?
Because the manager is inundated with other stuff and because the manager probably saw your query and didn't have an immediate positive reaction.

My query got accepted, I sent the script and I never heard back.
Because the manager is inundated with other stuff and/or the script didn't live up to the promise of the query. If it's been more than a month, chances are, the manager moved on and has long since forgotten about you.

My query got accepted, I sent the script, I got an email or call saying it's good but not for them; should I be excited that they took the time to call or bummed because it was a pass? The manager said to send them another one of my scripts in the future. Do they mean it?
You should be excited that the manager requested the script based on the query and that the manager liked something about your writing. If this manager liked you enough to call or contact you, that's quite a compliment. Keep querying other managers; you may have better luck next time.

If the manager said to hit them up with another script in the future because they liked your writing, they do mean it. But only mildly so. This is often used as a pleasant brush-off. But I would stay in touch and query your next script once it's ready because you never know; maybe this next script WILL rock the manager's world. In a lottery-like business, even if the manager was making a polite gesture only, why not take a chance on that?

Why does my manager not communicate with me more often?
Because he/she is busy. And possibly because he/she is not feeling the electric-love-excitement about your script anymore. The red-hot crush is waning. As in the dating world, if you call MORE to find out what's going on, the ardor will cool faster and faster.

My manager was SO excited about my script, he/she took it out but now he/she isn't really calling me back.
Because the script went out and the manager didn't get an excited response and now his or her attention has been taken up by another, more promising script and writer.

My manager took my script out and says he/she got positive responses, but we need to "package" the script and lately, my manager hasn't been calling me back.
Because when buyers say the writing is good but they'd need to package it to get it off the ground, that's not exactly the response the manager would have hoped for. He or she may be strategizing some packaging reads through relationships with talent or directors but this script sale just got more challenging. This is a true test of the manager's passion and faith for the project; if he or she is SURE this script is going to make a great movie, he or she will put a lot of effort in at this juncture. But if there's any doubt...the ardor will cool. Quickly.

My manager works for ME, right? So why isn't he/she more responsive to my calls and emails?
Well, not exactly. Think of this as a partnership. It's a symbiotic relationship; your manager is your champion until or unless you aren't going to be an earner. It's hard to say, definitively, whether your script is or is not going to be received well on the market. If you think the market and what sells is confusing, try being a manager. They have a stronger sense but imagine that your mortgage payment is riding on your judgment.

Your manager cannot make a living unless clients are selling projects and getting assignments. Think about that: no income coming in - unless there is a deal that goes through. So it's time versus money versus faith. How much time would YOU put into a writer who is not generating income? Will the writer generate income in six months? A year? How long are you willing to work for free?

My manager seems a little mysterious about the actual plan for me and my script(s).
Because the manager is busy with several clients. Because the plan may shift from day to day or week to week. Because the manager is using a finely calibrated sense of judgment and experience and has to follow up on strong leads and relationships first and then go to softer relationships second. But they never really know where that opening will be found. Asking your manager for a clear sense of the plan is great but once the plan starts shifting and responding to the realities of the market, bugging your manager is a little like being the kid in the backseat, constantly bugging mom or dad, upfront, driving the car, trying to navigate a complicated freeway interchange. Are we there yet? Are we going to take that offramp? Look at THAT shiny building! I gotta pee! And the manager is the parent, upfront, trying to focus on getting from point A to point B and grows increasingly distracted and annoyed by the backseat passenger.

I just got my first manager. My whole life is about to change. I am already looking at new cars.
Be excited. Be motivated. Use this feeling to keep writing and to feel validated. But also be realistic. This may change everything - and it may end in a few short months with a frustrated fizzle. Don't put the cart ahead of the horse. Take this in stride. A whole lot of mysterious things have to align - primarily quick and strong reactions by buyers to your work - in order for this to change your life. See this as the first major step forward in terms of validation but never rest on the laurels of this accomplishment. The overwhelming odds say that your life will not change completely and immediately but you have definitely proven that your script has passed a minimal litmus test in Hollywood - it got someone other than your granny excited. Be circumspect about this new development. Tread the fine line between going NUTS with the coolness of this but also knowing that this is absolutely not license to slow down generating great ideas and great scripts and that yes, this could also end at any moment. If this answer seems a bit contradictory - it is. Hollywood is contradictory. It just is. This is what makes it among the most confusing, frustrating businesses in the world. A writer isn't sure how to feel from one day to the next. The only advice I can give you is to feel excited about your love of writing. That's the only thing that will carry you through.

Being aware of the realities of getting and keeping representation is key for an aspiring writer. The main thing you can do is to see how it feels to be repped by whomever has chosen to enter into that relationship with you. Does your manager make you feel like an annoying hanger-on? Or does he or she make you feel respected and heard? Do you have chemistry? Are you simpatico?

At the end of the day, aspiring writers are the only ones really in charge of themselves. Knowing the realities of the life and times of a manager is a huge advantage. Managers love a writer who can go with the flow and who use the down time to keep generating great scripts. If you spent the same time writing that you are tempted to spend calling and whining, imagine the work you'd get done. And there are writers - your competition - who are doing exactly that.

Managers love clients who aren't needy and whiny. So given that ideal, that you are not needy or whiny, how does your manager make you feel? Valued and heard? Or as if you are an annoying pain in the rear? Writers lucky enough to get rep may go through many managers over time. It's a close relationship but from a manager's point of view, only as close as you are productive, unique and successful. It's not personal. They don't call it show friends.

If you don't hear back from a manager you queried - keep querying others. If this is a pattern, take stock of your queries and of your material. Maybe it's not as unique and salable as you thought. In fact, odds are, I'm sorry to say, that it is definitely not as salable as you thought. How do I know this? How do I know anything I write about on the Rouge Wave? From painful and bitter experience.

If you don't hear back from a manager who is repping you, don't waste a lot of energy moaning about that and wondering why. Empower yourself by taking stock of your inventory and continuing to grow it. Once you have not just one not just two but several scripts that are really strong, managers will clamor to rep you because you are a meal ticket. It's pretty Darwinian at the end of the day.

Definitely avoid managers who:

Charge you any kind of fee. Ever. For copying - for anything. This is a huge red flag.

Do not do business in Los Angeles or New York. They simply cannot be tuned in or plugged in from afar.

Do not judge a manager who:

Has not had a client who made a sale yet - how long as the manager been in business? Sometimes a very new manager with great connections is twice as hungry as one who has been doing this for awhile. A new writer and a new rep could be a match made in heaven.


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7 comments:

Kirkland said...

Funny this subject should come up. Just this morning I was having breakfast with another writer. She's been around a long time, has written on a several long-running hit shows (the names of which should I mention them you'd know who she was immediately, yeah, she's that famous), has directed, has even written a few books and two plays. Her husband is a director-producer, who has just ventured into a niche market for film.

Anyway...

She's bitching about her agent/manager never calling her back, that just recently he had emailed her about a project, said I'll get back to you on Monday, the went to Maui for a month and never emailed, called, or even bothered to tell her. he just left her hanging.

I'm currently between agent/managers, but I understand the frustration (it got so bad I killed the last guy who represented me).

And that's the thing, everyone in this business is dependent on someone else. No matter how much you want something to get done, to get an answer, whatever happens usually depends on waiting and waiting and waiting...

You have to wait, that's just the way it is, in the mean time though, just plug away. Create as many opportunities as you can for yourself, meet and network. Clog up the pathways with you name, your work. Be on everyone's lips and in their thoughts. That way you'll be the one in demand and your agent/manager will be calling you to see what they can do for you and not the other way around.

Don't wait, make it happen. But at the same time learn to be patient, because everything in this town depends on other influences. That's just the way it is.

Dave Shepherd said...

Here's a question --

For the record, I don't actually need to know the answer right now, but I figure it's one of those things that's better to know than to not know... so:

How does one go about firing an agent/manager? Do you do it over the phone, at their office, over lunch? What would you say?

Ideally I'd never need to know, but it's a question I haven't seen asked or answered.

Julie Gray said...

Hi Dave - well, it's about what feels right to you. It depends on how long you've been repped and why you're ending the relationship. As with anything in life, it's best not to leave things on a sour note. Chances are if you are feeling displeased with your rep, your rep has been feeling the same way. If you have a casual arrangement, i.e., the usual handshake arrangement, I think a phone call is fine. If you have a relatively amicable and warm relationship, parting ways over lunch might be more conducive. It doesn't have to be a big deal, just a friendly parting of the ways. I would ask your manager, however, for a list of where your script or scripts have been read so you have an idea of the degree to which your material has been seen and read.

Kirkland said...

Here's a really good rule of thumb: treat your agent/manager the same way you'd like to be treated. If you want to be treated as a human being with dignity and respect, then behave the same way in your professional relationships. If you you'd like to shit on and be treated disrespectfully then act accordingly.

But I'll be really frank here, even if people dump on you, it's still a good idea to treat people with respect and dignity no matter what. My motto is always act professional, even if you think people in the business don't know you personally, somebody they know might. It's just as easy to be polite and respectful as it is to be rude and impolite. But it's always better to be the former.

Karma, y'know?

Julie Gray said...

Couldn't agree with you more re karma, Kirkland. Also, this town is very tight knit in some ways. Everybody knows everybody. If you need to part ways with your rep, do it in a totally professional way and for the LOVE OF GOD do not trash talk your old rep to anyone else. Just smile mysteriously and say it wasn't a fit.

Anonymous said...

Just wait 'til you have a chance to sit across him/her, look that person straight in the eyes, then point your finger at him/her, "Manager, you're fired!"

Anonymous said...

This is a great post. I love this, people should also check out screenwritincompass.com they have great answers to many questions i've wanted to know as an aspiring writer!