Sunday, February 16, 2014

Agents and Managers - Can’t Live Without Them, Can’t Kill ‘Em

This week’s discussion is on the necessity and worth of agents and managers.  The questions I will try to answer are what is the difference between agents and manager and why do they take so much of my money?  Why you should fire your agent?  Do you really, really need an agent to succeed in Hollywood?

First off, let me just write that you do not need an agent to sell a script in Hollywood.  I have sold two scripts without an agent.  Believe me you can succeed in Hollywood without an agent.  As you end up negotiating everything yourself, it makes for a sporty environment.  However, the more success you have the more folks, like agents, will come out of the woodwork.

But that begs the question, what does the agent do for you the writer?  He (or she) gets you the meeting.  You are relying on their contacts in the industry to line up meetings so that you can, hopefully successfully, pitch your ideas.  This means that an agent works for you, not the other way about.

So, you ask, how does this all work?  First, you go to the WGA site and take a look at their list of signatory agents (  Getting a guild signatory agent ensures that there are recourses to follow should there be a disputes.  A guild signatory agent gets 10% of the negotiated fee.  All California state licensed agents get 10% of the fee, but being signed to the guild guarantees that.  If you hire a manager, these folks can get 15% of the fee.  So, if you have an agent and a manager you could be out 25% of the fee before you ever see a penny.

Just remember, an agent (or a manager) works for you not the other way around.  A normal contract between you and an agent is for a period between 90 and 180 days.  If an agent tries to get you to sign a one year or even life - time contract, walk away fast.  The agent is supposed to get you the meetings.  If that person is not getting you the meetings, or is not returning your phone calls, or is not negotiating for you fire them.  Also, you have the right to see who they have been sending your story to.  If the agent refuses to tell you who they have sent the script to, or gives you a song and dance about all the production companies they have sent the script to, or can’t tell you who they have spoken to about the script fire them.

However, you must hold up your end of the bargain.  If your agent sets up a meeting, Go.  Be presentable.  Do your best pitch.  Whatever happens, your agent going to hear about the exchange between you and the production company.

Just remember, your agent is not your parent.  It's not the agent's job to encourage, support or validate your creative ambitions.  Your agent is in business to make money.  This is not a crime against humanity, an affront to the arts, or a personal repudiation of your aesthetic dreams.  It is a fact.  Your agent may indeed admire your talent, and share with you lofty creative and financial goals, he or she is not inclined or obligated to care about them as much as you do.  In fact, No One cares about your career as much as you do.  Your artistic aspirations, income, reputation in the field, and level of personal and professional satisfaction rests entirely on your shoulders.

13.  Taste

Taste is defined (at least in Wikipedia) as an aesthetic, sociological, economic and anthropological concept that refers to cultural patterns of choice and preference.  To which you might reasonable ask, ‘so what?’  Judgments about what is ‘tasteful’ vary from person to person.  Certainly within the motion picture and television communities the issue of taste varies not only from writer to but from production company to production company.  And, you include all the outside influences such as “Ain’t It Cool News” and “Big Hollywood.”  This issue of what is good taste or bad taste is not really the purpose of this discussion.

The purpose of this discussion of how you as a writer must write honestly about a subject that intrigues you.  In the course of this writing, you must make esthetic choices about the form and design of your story.  Remembering that taste is about drawing distinctions between things such as styles and manners and remembering that you are writing a an unsolicited script for a mass market, your ability to write an understanding of the events of our story that is expressed in actions between people helps the audience perceive the many social phenomena that you have described that otherwise would been inconceivable.  That is an intellectual way is writing that you have to write what you think is right for the story while considering that you are trying to sell that script to production companies that have to worry about how many butts they can put in seats.

Do not be driven by a cynical position that since the majority of the movie goers are males between 15 and 35 and all they want to see is violence, authority defied, and nudity, therefore all my writing will be centered on that fact.  The formula is never that simple.  Also do not fall into the trap of bad taste for the sake of bad taste.  While bad taste is generally defined as any object or idea that does not fall within the normal social standards of the time or area and the implication of this definition varies from society to society and from time to time, the writing of scatological material just so that you serve the focus group in the first sentence is “kitschy” or lacking in technical awareness of your craft.  The other side of this coin is that some production companies do deliberately create and sell movies ordinarily regarded as vulgar, relying on the scatological themes to maintain a sort-of Emperor's New Clothes effect amongst viewers.  Your choice.  Your career.

Why are you reading this?  Go write!

John still practices screenwriting in King County, WA along with a small rat dog, a mortgage, and a great view of the valley.

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