It’s so important not to waste time with someone who doesn’t have your best interests in mind for your career. I’d rather not have any representation than someone who I think is working for me every day and eventually I find out is not. Time burns so quickly in Hollywood and aspiring screenwriters get so excited with any rep shows them any interest in their work. Agents or managers show their real interest by their concrete actions and game plans. Are they reading your material and getting back to you in a timely manner? Giving you great notes and suggestions? Making plans for the long haul and following up on leads and contacts? Setting up meetings? Sending out your material to producers and executives who need to get to know you and your work?
I once found a manager on the internet. Yes, any story that starts out like this probably ends in tragedy. Again, this was when I started out in the business and was happy for anyone to read my stuff. Well, this cautionary tale ended with an important life lesson—always trust your instincts. This manager and I played E-mail tag and I sent over a few scripts and he wanted to meet. We had breakfast (he paid) and he laid out a game plan to get me working. I liked that he was thinking of the bigger picture and wanted to hit the ground running. I was already working on stuff, but as always, needed to meet a larger circle of producers who might offer more writing assignments.
Our working relationship appeared as if it was going well until the communication began to slow on his end. Never a good sign. I was living up to the bargain on my end, working on pitches, executing his notes on my existing scripts, but I could sense that something wasn’t quite right. He had one lead on a producer that never ended up with a meeting and that was pretty much it for him. It was foreshadowing where our working relationship was going—nowhere. It fizzled out and he stopped returning calls and E-mails. It was then I learned that he was actually my neighbor who lives not more than one-hundred yards from me. He was done, baby done.
Time passed and I was at a local coffee-house, enjoying a coffee and reading the newspaper when I recognize this very same “manager.” No surprise, because I would see him around the neighborhood every once in a while but he never did recognize me, as if I wasn’t even worthy of remembering. That’s okay, my anonymity allowed me to eavesdrop on him and listen while he told the very same spiel to two young and eager looking writers. I just listened, feeling very much undercover, as he didn’t know who I was, and I felt like leaning over and warning these guys of my experience with this bottom feeder. Who knows, would they suffer the same fate? Or maybe these were the guys who he would catapult into super stardom. Bottom line, like any relationship, if it’s not working after many attempts, get out. Your time is precious too and better to spend it working and not spinning your wheels with a rep who promises the world and delivers nothing. You’ve worked too damn hard to entrust your journey to an amateur.
Years ago when I had a writing partner, we once snagged an agent at a mid-level agency with the help of our then manager. This agent was young and a real firecracker. He was the guy who could get our career jump started in a big way. He loved to sell specs and our new comedy spec and went out wide on a Wednesday — forty companies, do or die. Friday came, end of business day and no bidding war. Not a good sign. That was a horrible weekend to slog through. Monday came along with the responses, overall good feedback, but no sale. A few of the producers even sent it to the studio level for consideration, but no takers. We did get a handful of meetings and everyone told us they “wanted to keep us on their radar.” A catch phrase in Hollywood for “my development exec will keep in touch if he keeps his job.”
We were thankful for the experience and spent the next few months writing another spec and ready to do the same song and dance routine again. Okay, that first script with him didn’t sell and was now burned out. It had been around town and was now a writing sample or a door stop. Now granted, this agent only sold spec scripts, and he told us when we first met him that he would not send us out for writing assignments. He only sold specs for “big money.” We loved it because we only wrote specs, so this what the perfect agent, right? Looking back, a spec sale is like winning the Super Lotto and we were gambling with our scripts every time we went out.
The agent then asked if we had anything else and we delivered up another comedy spec. He went out to ten companies, not forty, and it was a half-assed send out to companies that didn’t really make this type of movie. Again, no sale but a few meetings. He just burned up two of our specs that didn’t sell and now we had no more specs in our arsenal. Sending out a spec is always like rolling the dice, you’re taking a huge gamble that it will not sell. Specs take time and effort and sacrifice while you work your crappy job to pay the bills as you write your precious spec.
Our then manger called another summit meeting with the agent who asked us, “What else do you have?” After he just burned through two of our specs. My writing partner at the time pulled an old pitch out of his ass, much to my surprise, dusted it off at the meeting and pitched it like we were in the process of writing it. The agent’s eyes popped open, he responded to the material and told us to write that movie! We spent the next few months writing THAT movie—and when we finished, our manager sent the agent the script. It took him three weeks to read it and he get back to our manager with this response: “it’s not for me.”
Did you just hear the dial tone? He’s done. Three strikes and we’re out. “Not for him?” This was an idea that he championed… loved… told us to write and now it’s not for him? Easy to say “go write it.” Harder to like it and send it out. Welcome to the world of representation. It’s easier to get a rep if you already have heat or a project that already has interest. It’s harder for them to roll up their sleeves and get on with the difficult job of breaking a new and unproven screenwriter in Hollywood.
You quickly learn —no one truly cares like you do about your career. They read five pages and if it doesn’t happen, they’re done. The only person who really does care about your career is you because you live it and sacrifice for it every day. If you remember this fact you won’t be surprised when those people who you think have your best interests in mind—really do not. If you write something that someone believes they can sell, they will become interested. If you write something that has a lot of interest before you find representation—they will flock to it like a moth to a flame.
I was courting a manager once and every time I would send over something, he never “loved it.” He would never tell me to go away, because of the outside chance I just might come up with something one day that he liked. So, I helped a mutual friend with a sitcom idea and he got a known actress/singer interested, suddenly this manager took us both out to dinner and “loved it.” He was super interested. He actually gave us notes and told us he would go into meetings with us and shepherd the project—only because there was interest. He didn’t have to work hard and find that interest—we came to him with the interest already built-in. So much less work for him. But as you’ll quickly find out, interest changes like the wind and one minute a project is hot and the next it’s not.
Just be careful who you bring into your inner circle to shepherd your career moves. Just as agents and managers have to be picky with the clients they choose to rep, you should also be picky with who you entrust to further your career. Be realistic with your expectations, but always keep your radar up for that gut feeling when you suspect your rep may not be living up to their end of the bargain. Be aware of passing time and how much or how little forward movement has happened with this new addition to your team.
Sure, it’s great to have a rep, but you need someone who is not just along for the ride and has you doing most of the work. You are responsible for creating new and solid material and you should never stray from that discipline even if you don’t secure representation. My old writing partner and I used to say, “Just because there is a signature on a contract doesn’t mean someone will work that much harder.” It means if things are not working out, you both have about six months to legally end the relationship. Remember, you can never get back wasted time because you thought your rep was pushing you as a writer and your projects, but in reality you stalled and missed so many important opportunities as a result.
Keep screenwriting and keep the faith.
Did you just complete your latest magnum opus? Time for in-depth professional script consultation/editing? Check out my services by clicking on the blue icon below for the link to my website. You never get a second chance to make a first great impression with your script. Make the time to get it right before you unleash it upon Hollywood.
“Act without expectation.” —Lao Tzu
“Work inspires inspiration. Keep working. If you succeed, keep working. If you fail, keep working. If you’re interested, keep working. If you’re bored, keep working.”—Michael Crichton