YOUR TV GUIDE to Finding the RIGHT Representation for You

Tawnya Bhattacharya is currently a writer/producer on Freeform’s Famous in Love, and formerly wrote on NBC’s The Night Shift, TNT’s Perception, The Client List at Lifetime and on USA’s Fairly Legal, with her writing partner, Ali Laventhol. Repped by ICM Partners and Heroes and Villains Entertainment, the duo are former NBC Writers on the Verge fellows. Bhattacharya was also a FOX Writer’s Intensive fellow. A writing instructor for 10 years, Bhattacharya launched Script Anatomy in 2010, a unique TV writing curriculum designed to give emerging professionals practical development, writing and rewriting tools to help advance their craft. Script Anatomy clients have been staffed, sold shows, and won numerous awards and TV writing fellowships. Follow Script Anatomy on Facebook or Twitter: @ScriptAnatomy

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Match Play Task Blank Puzzle Hole Fit Missing

“He just doesn’t get who I am and what I’m about.”

“She wants me to be someone I’m not.”

“He wants me to try this new thing I really don’t feel comfortable with.”

“It’s been two weeks and she hasn’t returned my call.”

No, these are not all quotes from match.com endeavors gone horribly wrong — they are all things we’ve heard writers say about their representation when it wasn’t working. It’s the beginning of February, and for baby writers, a far more important search than a Valentine has begun: the process of finding the right agent or manager. It’s kind of fitting we are covering representation in our February column, too, because, much like real relationships, the right agent or manager can turn your career from night to day — but the wrong one can make your future look bleak, uncertain, scary, and full of self-loathing in the process.

To a newer writer, representation can seem like the be-all end-all. It’s true that without at least a manager, if not an agent as well these days, it’s almost impossible to be a real contender for staffing. A manager or agent can submit you to production companies for staffing and development opportunities as well as send you on general meetings to meet execs around town. So it does sure seem like an agent or manager is the golden ticket to a future in this business, right?

Wrong.

The right agent or manager can do a lot for you, sure. But you are still very much in the drivers’ seat of your career. We’ve seen a lot of writers sign with the first manager who takes a meeting with them. And, just like marrying the first person you ever slept with, sometimes that can have an idyllic, perfect ending — but most of the time it’s not exactly smooth sailing.

In this article, we’ll talk about how to find the right rep for you, not just a rep, and how to be able to discern what exactly that is.


Script EXTRA: Your Screenwriting Agent or Manager is NOT Your Friend 


AGENT VS. MANAGER
If you’re seeking representation for the first time, your first meeting will most likely be with a manager. The biggest on-paper difference between managers and agents is that agents can legally broker deals and managers cannot; however, as the lines of the TV industry have grown more and more blurry, it’s not uncommon for a manager to be able to staff you without an agent coming on board. Also, more often than not, an agent won’t want to meet with you until a commission for them is pretty much a lock — this can happen if you sell a pilot, staff on a show, get a high-level support staff position on a show, or get into a network or studio writing program.

Agents are, first and foremost, salespeople. They are very rarely involved in the creative process and, with up to 100 clients to worry about, they usually don’t have time to hold your hand or give you career advice. Managers, on the other hand, do — they keep their client lists much smaller. Most managers want to be involved in your creative/development process in some capacity, whether it be weighing in on what to write next or giving notes on an outline before you go to draft. They help you build your portfolio in the professional and creative sense. Agents come in when it’s time to get business done.

BOUTIQUE VS. BIG COMPANY
A debate you’ll hear a lot is whether to go with a big, brand-name agency or management company over a small boutique company. Both have big pros and cons, but our answer to that question is it depends on the individual rep. To quickly break down the pros and cons, however:

BOUTIQUE
Pros: These companies are smaller, which means their client lists are smaller, which can often result in more individual attention per client. A boutique agency or management company is also less likely to have other clients who are at your level and write the same thing you do.

Cons: Boutique setups, for the most part, don’t have a whole lot of reach. Sometimes if your reps don’t already have the contacts to make your dream job happen, it can be difficult if not impossible for them to get you read.

BIG COMPANY
Pros: These companies have a lot of irons in the fire and usually have access to a multitude of packaging opportunities. Lots of times big management companies like Circle of Confusion and Management 360 will also double as production companies, meaning they can sign onto your pilot as producers and take it out to studios and networks to sell.

Cons: It’s easy to get lost at a big company as a lower-level writer, especially if you don’t have a really singular and special relationship with your reps there. Many people start boutique but switch to a bigger company down the road because it can be easier to get attention there if you have more traction and credits. And while the idea of a manager also producing your pilot might sound great, it can also have its drawbacks, starting with a potentially hellish notes process. Other studios or networks might be hesitant to get on board because they’d prefer to bring on a different production company who they’ve worked with before. And if your priority is staffing, going the development route can sometimes make that harder, not easier, in the long run — especially because it all comes down to the dollar bill, and a manager stands to make a way bigger commission off a pilot sale than a staff writer’s salary.


Script EXTRA: Tips on How to Manage Literary Agents


At the end of the day, while it’s certainly important to consider these pros and cons, we are not claiming them to be universal by any means. We believe first and foremost that it’s not about the letters on the door it’s about the person. So don’t be swayed by the marble and steel and the fancy artwork. The choice, ultimately, is yours to make, so trust your gut, listen, stay open, and be honest.

So say you’ve finally gotten that phone call or email about an agent or manager who wants to read you. You’ll need to have at least two strong samples ready to go for when this happens. The amount of samples reps want to read depends largely on the individual, but a good rule of thumb is you want at least one bulletproof spec script and original pilot ready to go. If your script isn’t ready, do not send it. There’s no second chance to make a first impression, which is why it’s imperative in this town to never send your work out too early. If you’re not part of a good writers group, get a writer friend you trust to look over your script one final time and make any tweaks necessary before sending it over. Then you find out you’ve made it to the next step: the manager (it will most likely be a manager, most writers get a manager first) wants to meet! Suddenly you find yourself sketching your outfit for the Emmys on a Post-It at work. It’s all happening! They like you, they really like you! But hold your horses tighter than PETA did after David Milch’s Luck, because now your important work begins.

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Before you go into your meeting, you have to do some heavy research. First, if you have friends who are repped who you trust, quietly put feelers out about this manager to see what the word on the street is. Every manager is different. You could be meeting at a big company like Circle of Confusion, for instance, and maybe you have a friend who’s repped at Circle and tearing up the trades, but you find out someone is with the same manager at Circle who’s trying to sign you and they haven’t worked in 2 years and are taking meetings on web series. Red flag. It’s important to put feelers out and talk to anyone you can. Some reps (usually managers) may even offer to introduce you to some of their other clients while you’re making your final decision. If that’s something that interests you, go for it.

Finally, you’ll want to look up the manager and his/her company on IMDbPro and skim their client lists, looking for these things in particular:

-Showrunner/upper level clients that work in your genre — these clients would be most likely to sell a pilot that will be picked up to series, and if you share management, it would definitely increase your chances of getting read for staffing on that show.

-Agents who share a lot of clients with this manager — this is like an agent you’ll be sent out to when the time comes. Managers and agents who work well together like to keep as many clients in common as possible.

Finally, if this isn’t something you’ve done already, make a list of 3-5 currently airing shows you’d like to write on. This is an important list to have anyway, you’ll be answering it in general meetings and fellowship interviews as well. Above all, BE HONEST. If there’s a show you’d love to write on but don’t have a portfolio sample for, this is valuable info for a prospective agent or manager to know — they’ll have an idea of what they’ll be developing with you.

So now that you’ve done some homework, you’re ready to go into the meeting. Every writer remembers their first agent or manager meeting. It feels insanely good for a writer to be swooned over, showered with praise, and courted, usually in a very fancy office. BUT, just like when you’re out on a great date, you can’t lose your cool and stray from your original plan or you might really regret it the next morning. So don’t get too charmed by the fancy water bottles and red carpet treatment, because you have some to-dos to remember in your meeting too:

1. Get your brand across

If you’re at an in-person meeting with this manager, they want to rep you. The in-person meeting is about figuring out if you’re the right fit for one another to make the big bucks. So for you, it’s important to be very clear about who you are as a writer. Remember that list of your top 3-5 current shows? Here’s your first chance to practice using it. You have to be upfront and honest about this in your meeting because if you want to write on shows like Crazy Ex-Girlfriend but all the contacts this manager has are over at Marvel, this might not be the right fit. Sure, any manager or agent will say they’ll just make calls and build the relationships their client wants or needs to get staffed — but do you really want to wait around for your manager to befriend the people who can help you get your dream job, or do you want a manager who knows them already? This is why it’s important to be as upfront and direct in your meeting as possible about what you like to write and what kind of jobs you’d want.


Script EXTRA: Developing Your Screenwriting Brand


2. Ask questions.

It’s really easy, especially if you’re someone who’s maybe worked as an assistant in these situations and is used to pampering potential clients, not being pampered yourself, to get overwhelmed by the pomp and circumstance. So if that happens to you, know that it’s normal, but also try to prepare a mental list, or even a physical one on a notecard, with these questions on it:

What upper-level/showrunner clients do you have?

It’s good to ask this even if you have read the IMDbPro already, because sometimes managers have clients on their roster that aren’t listed on that page or deals that haven’t been announced yet.

What would your strategy be for staffing me?

It’s important to know they have a concrete short-term plan, one that (hopefully) aligns with yours. You’ll need to build a larger strategy together and pool your contact bases as well, but it’s important that your manager start sending you out on meetings while that happens.

How do you handle notes and feedback? How fast do you turn notes around?

This is where you’ll find out how the manager likes to work with their clients and it’s another important opportunity to see whether this is the right fit. If this manager wants to be really hands-on in the development process, but you have a really great writers group and need a manager more for consultation on business matters and setting up meetings, that’s an important red flag that this might not be the right fit for you.

How many clients at my level do you have? What do they write?

This is incredibly important. Managers usually have less clients than agents do because they’re more hands on and involved — if we met with a manager who had any more than 30 clients, it would give us pause about signing with them — but it’s paramount to know specifically about the clients that manager has at your level. You probably won’t ever be somebody’s only baby writer (unless you’re at a very small boutique house), but you definitely want to make sure that this manager won’t be sending you out for staffing along with 4 or 5 other clients at your exact level with similar samples. Getting a staff writer job is already tough enough with the stiff competition out there; you don’t need that to start on your manager’s desk.

What are examples of some meetings you’d send me on if we started working together?

Agents and managers can get very fussy about being asked upfront who they know, so a little diplomacy is always nice, but you want to ask this question (if the manager doesn’t offer up this information beforehand) to get an idea of how well they understand you as a writer. If the manager gets you and has the contacts to get you work, s/he should start dropping this info casually in conversation already, but if you want to write on Fargo and ask this question and they say “Well, I’m good friends with the people running the room on Girlfriend’s Guide to Divorce,” that’s an indication that either a) they fundamentally don’t get you as a writer, or b) they will try to make you write samples you don’t want to be writing just because that’s all their contacts will read.

Finally — and this is the big, really hard one — do not sign in the room. We’ll say it again a little louder for the cheap seats in the back:

3. DO NOT SIGN IN THE ROOM.

Unless it becomes glaringly obvious from your meeting that you and this manager are wrong for each other in all the wrong ways, s/he will probably make a move to close the deal in the room and say some version of “Well, I’d really love to work with you/have you as a client, what do you say?” Even if you are positive this is the right person for you — even if you are a single-cam comedy writer and this person has a framed photo of them with their favorite client and former college roommate Sharon Horgan staring at you on their desk — don’t sign in the room. Say you have one or two more meetings, even if that’s not true, and you’ll let them know by the end of the week. If the meeting’s on Friday, say you have one more meeting on Monday and you’ll let them know Tuesday morning and, if you really have ants in your pants by Monday after lunch, you can call and make it official then.

Tawnya Bhattacharya gives insights on how to ask the right questions at agent and manager meetings to make sure you find the right representation for your career. #scriptchat #screenwriting

So you’ve signed with a manager, told them your four or five dream jobs, sent them your best pilots, now your work is done, right? Now you get to watch Netflix and make index cards for your Brit Marling-style cable miniseries while they go get you a job, right? Hell no! When you sign with any new representation, they’ll want a list of the following:

-Pieces in your portfolio (that you would like circulated) with loglines.

-List of everyone you know in the industry, with especially big fans/advocates notated.

-Bio (usually no more than 250/350 words)

-During pilot/pickup season, a list of all pilots that just got picked up in your genre that you’d like a job on with any relevant personal information that your manager can use to help pitch you.

This is exactly as much work as it sounds like. And it doesn’t stop there. One of our favorite things to remind writers about representation is this: they only take a 10% commission off of your earnings, which means you’re always doing 90% of the work. Your reps can only be as productive as you are. If it takes you two years to crank out a new pilot, their resources will be spread thinner for you than for their clients who hand them two or three new samples per year. The more material you give them, the more it expands their reach and keeps you fresh in their minds.


Script EXTRA: Your Writing Routine – Make an Action Plan Now!


One last important piece of advice before you go a-courting: you cannot make connections that aren’t really there just to make your choice of agent or manager make sense. This is a common mistake for newer writers who are desperate to get on the playing field during staffing season — but again, just like in relationships, this strategy does not endure and will certainly end in disaster.

For example, are you a single-cam comedy writer going into your first manager meeting with someone whose credits are primarily in features, except for a couple of clients he’s gotten on CSI? Without going too far out on a limb here, it’s pretty safe to say that this probably is not the manager for you. BUT you probably got the meeting through a friend, co-worker, or teacher, because cold-queries do not work (or at least we’ve never heard a success story), so you have to take the meeting anyway out of respect for whoever set it up. So do take the meeting, but don’t comb through their feature credits afterwards, find one movie they did in the mid-90s where Mindy Kaling had a two-line part and go “WAIT BUT HE KNOWS MINDY KALING!” as a justification for signing. Don’t do that. You’re not helping yourself or the manager. It’s hard to remember this when you’re taking meetings with reps, but you are the commodity here. You have the talent that they want to market. If your script is good enough to get you a meeting with one manager, it’s probably good enough to get you a meeting with others. Trust your instinct, know what you want, and don’t settle for less than you deserve.

We polled some working writers in the Script Anatomy community for their insight on representation. Here’s what they have to say about their process of finding the right rep for them:

How long have you been with your rep?

2.5 years.

How many samples did s/he read before signing you?

Two, and I shortly delivered two more.

How did you know s/he was “The One?”

Our meeting flew by as we talked and talked.  I’ve had reps I was afraid of, and that didn’t work for me.  My agent is a badass, but she also always makes me feel like I deserve to be there.   ~ LILY BLAU, repped by CAA and has projects in development with StyleHaul and Pioneer Pictures.

How long have you been with your rep?

I’ve been with my manager, Daniel Vang at GoodFear, since July 2014, so about two-and-a-half years. I secured representation with UTA’s Amanda Burnett and Lily Safran six months ago as a result of Daniel’s connections.

How many samples did s/he read before signing you?

I placed as a top-five Finalist in Bluecat’s 2014 Feature competition, beating out four-thousand other applicants. Daniel read the Feature that placed, but also asked to read any pilots I had. I gave him an original pilot and, based off that pilot, he signed me (to which was then Benderspink, but now is GoodFear).

How did you know s/he was “The One?”

I knew Daniel had a great reputation by the articles I read when I did my research on him. However, I really knew he was the one when we started working together. The notes that he gave me on the next pilot I wrote were really great, and I could tell he had a great sense of story and that we both have similar taste. The pilot turned out great and I’ve been getting great reactions from it, so I know our synergy works.  ~ KATELAND BROWN, repped by GoodFear and UTA, who’s currently the staff writer on Freeform’s Famous in Love.

How long have you been with your rep?

I’ve been at Untitled Entertainment with Jen Au for about a year.

How many samples did s/he read before signing you?

She read two samples, a pilot and a feature.

How did you know s/he was “The One?”

My pilot was featured on the Staffing Survey in 2015, so I had met with a few managers and agents but had yet to make a connection. The Disney Fellowship helped shepherd me through more meetings when I was accepted into the program and they set me up with Jen.  I knew Jen was the right person for me as soon as I met her.  I really responded to her analysis of my samples and how she was both nurturing and accepting of what I wanted to do, but also had her own road map. But most importantly, she had a great energy that really worked for me. And she has been a fantastic collaborator since. ~ MIGUEL IAN RAYA, alumni of the Disney | ABC Writing Program, repped by Untitled Entertainment, currently staff writer, “Stuck in the Middle” on Disney Channel.

The most important thing at the end of the day is having a manager or agent who’s passionate about you, your talent, and your vision, and is good at articulating what that is. Think about your favorite show vs. a show you didn’t particularly like. When you tell a friend about both, you’re more passionate about your favorite show, and it shows. You want a manager who makes you feel like your pilot is their new favorite show. And you have to trust that your instinct is good enough that when you find the right agent or manager for you, you’ll know.

More articles by Tawnya Bhattacharya

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