The Business of Screenwriting: Working with the right manager or agent

June 9, 2022
6 min read time

I’m a professional screenwriter who has been working in the film and television industry for fourteen years. Since I first broke into the business I’ve been repped by five managers and three agencies. Surprisingly this isn’t uncommon in the entertainment industry, and I have many screenwriting friends who have likewise been repped by numerous managers and/or agents in a relatively short time frame. I say relative because, in this business, things usually move fast (or they don’t move at all).

Musical Chairs 

Hollywood runs on heat and trends and is always looking for the next new thing. As a result, a couple of years is like an eternity in this business. For example, if a writer, director, actor, or even a producer hasn’t been associated with any projects at all for a couple of years, a collective question will arise: “Are they still relevant?” Because of this, it’s necessary to reboot and reinvent oneself every couple of years.

I’m not the only screenwriter who has likened changing reps to playing “musical chairs” and although loyalty shouldn’t be outrightly dismissed, it’s a business and you have to make a living. If your reps aren’t getting you any work after a certain period of time, you’re more or less forced to try your luck elsewhere. From my personal experience, reps are always most proactive when you’re a new client, and oftentimes it’s during this honeymoon period they get one of your scripts optioned or sold. Ideally, your rep is your business partner and would be matching your efforts to get any given project off the ground.

I got lucky right out of the gate. My first agent (who also became my first manager) was not only A-list, he broke me into the industry, got me steady work for five years, and even got me repped by a larger agency than before. This is not a typical scenario. Most writers won’t get the right manager or agent right away. Remember, it takes time to really get to know a person; how any given individual thinks and how they react to challenges. You can't see all of that within one or two meetings.

 

Don't know what you've got until it's gone

In retrospect, I was too hard on my first manager. After several of my projects failed to get greenlit and my heat faded, I had grown frustrated and overly critical of him. He was focusing more and more on producing, which was my primary complaint, but this is now commonplace in the industry as most managers also produce. However, back then this wasn’t always the case. I was young and thought I knew everything.

This led to me parting ways with my first manager and going with a very large management company, where I almost immediately realized the mistake I made. My first manager was far more involved than I had realized: Whenever I called, he’d promptly get back to me and he was often generating potential new projects for me; he was always hustling on my behalf.

This wasn’t the case with this larger management company. As the saying goes: “You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.” But by this point, I had severed ties with my first manager and second agency, so I had to give this larger management company a chance. After a year of endlessly developing scripts that went nowhere and sparse communication, however, I parted ways with them. Suddenly I was totally on my own: No agent and no manager. I was starting all over again from scratch.

 

Screenwriter dues

Again, my situation was not typical by any means, but I was paying my dues in a way that I hadn’t already done the first time around. I had to write a new spec script that would attract a management company and hopefully they would shepherd me to a new agency. Initially, I wrote a script similar to the style of the script that was my calling card years prior. It was well-written and imaginative, but I was ignoring the marketplace trends and not adapting to them. I still had a bit of arrogance to shake off.

Growing desperate to be repped by anyone, I jumped at the first manager who wanted to represent me. This is a mistake that many writers make. This new manager was recommended to me by a friend who was repped by him. My friend had some recent sales under his belt and I got along with the manager, so he seemed like the guy for the job.

My third manager, however, loved to be eccentric and overly critical without being constructive. He’d always be able to say what I shouldn’t be writing or what he didn’t like, but he never pointed me in the right direction. After a few months, it was clear that he wasn’t a good fit and we parted ways. Now I was on the hunt for my fourth manager!

Fortunately, I was able to get repped by a larger management company again. They did offer constructive criticism and were able to get my feature specs and television pilots circulated. I had lots of general meetings, but nothing led to a sale or writing job. They also weren’t able to get me repped by an agency. My day-to-day manager was a nice guy and very attentive, but I felt he lacked the toughness and hustle I wanted and felt I needed from a manager.

 

One final gamble

After a year of diminishing results, I had to admit that once again I had gone with the wrong management. This was a tough decision to make because not only did I personally like this manager, I didn’t want to get a reputation for being difficult or “fire happy”. But my career was not going anywhere. I had no choice but to part ways with this management company and so I did with much apprehension.

Was I pushing my luck? Would anyone want to rep me again?

This led me to my fifth and current manager. I’ve been with him now for several years and my career is finally back on track. He helped me to get repped by an agency again, sell a script, get a writing job, and I have a few other scripts optioned by A-list producers with A-list talent attached. I’ve been very happy with my current manager and he’s definitely the best fit for me since my original one broke me into the business years ago.

I attribute getting it right this time around to daring to part ways with managers that weren’t working for me and not allowing fear to dictate the choices I make. The three managers I went through while I was finding my way had been successful with other clients. None of them are “bad managers.” They were simply a bad fit for me. I needed a manager with a bit more toughness and who was more proactive when it came to generating projects for me. The spec scripts we’ve gotten optioned and sold were discussed early on between us and he helped me get the scripts in shape with constructive notes and a keen awareness of the present-day marketplace. I’m also far less arrogant than I was when I was younger; I’m receptive to advice and guidance these days and have become highly adaptable as a writer. I’m grateful to still be working in the business and doing what I love to do most: Write. 

 

Parting thoughts

Sometimes I regret the years I spent playing musical chairs with managers who weren’t the right fit, but that was a learning experience I had to go through. I know many friends who are still repped by people who might be well-meaning but haven’t done anything to further their careers. I often tell them to take the plunge, part ways with their manager, and look for new representation. If you settle out of fear, you’ll never reach your career goals.

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