HOLLYWOOD HELL: How Not to Fire Your Rep

Originally published in Script magazine January/February 2010

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Brad was a literary manager at a small boutique firm. For three years, Brad diligently and passionately managed our writing career—a writing career which, perhaps not coincidentally, had remained utterly nonexistent for the same three years. Yep, the time had come to finally let Brad go.

How Not to Fire Your Rep

It’s never an easy decision, firing your representation,but sometimes it’s a necessary evil. My writing partner Wade and I talked for hours about how we would break the bad news to Brad. He was an incredibly nice guy, but we were desperate to exchange “incredibly nice” for “incredibly effective.” Or even “moderately effective,” for that matter.

Of course, in this business, no one ever really says the words “You’re fired!” other than, maybe, Donald Trump. Instead, people try to lessen the sting of rejection with watered down phrases, like “We’re going in a different direction” or “We’ve decided to go with somebody else” or “I’m thinking about becoming a school teacher.”

After much debate, we decided to employ the classic line: “Sorry, Brad, but our road together has come to an end.” It seemed genuine but firm, thoughtful but unwavering. And the message was clear: We’re going separate ways. With the decision made, I dialed Brad’s office number and we waited for him to pick up. Sadly, this wasn’t the first time we fired our representation.

1. Eliot

Our first real manager in Los Angeles was Eliot. We were young and eager, and while we could only understand about one-fifth of what Eliot said (thanks to an unfortunate lisp), he seemed passionate about us as writers.

Much like a bad relationship, though, we stuck with Eliot long after we knew in our hearts he was no good for us. Sure, Eliot meant well, but he was never able to get a single thing moving. To this day I believe Eliot was as  shocked as we were to learn how ineffectual his company letterhead was.

Despite Eliot’s crippling case of industry impotence, he was a solid conversation starter at parties. While hobnobbing, we could at least complain about Eliot. It was a great way to easily point out that a) we were writers, b) we were writers that had representation, and c) we were writers that had representation who were now looking for new representation.

As time passed, however, the novelty of bitching about Eliot at Hollywood shindigs tapered off , and several of the red flags that had been steadily waving in our business relationship could no longer be ignored. For instance, Eliot once called my work hoping to chat.

“Allen Ginsberg, please,” Eliot said.

“I’m sorry, there’s no one here by that name,”

I replied, half-teasing, half-annoyed.

“What? Of course, there is. Allen works there.”

We argued about this fact for several minutes.  I held my literalist ground: Allen Ginsberg was dead and therefore could not be employed anywhere, let alone at a small Argentinian-funded production company in West Hollywood. Eventually, Eliot hung up, frustrated, having no clue that he had been chatting with his client the entire time. I phoned Wade immediately to ask if it was a bad sign when, after a year and a half, our manager didn’t seem to know my name or recognize my voice.

Several weeks later, Eliot brought us in to discuss our latest script. Wade and I have always tried to presume all notes are somehow constructive, but listening to Eliot tell us the biggest problem with our high-concept romantic comedy was that our twist wasn’t  “generic to the story” nearly drove me into an apoplectic rage. “You need the comedy to be generic,” he explained. “Th e twist should be generic, so that the entire script will work on a  generic level.” We will have to assume that he  meant “organic.”

On a dark day in March, Wade and I finally muscled up the courage to inform Eliot that we would be breaking up. It was a risky move because we were dumping him with no replacement in line. Usually in this business, people bounce from one rep to another, and the relationships (much like college relationships) overlap a little. We made the difficult decision that being alone would benefit us more than sticking it out with Eliot.

He would be the first, but not the last, rep we would send packing.

2. Becca

Becca was our first real agent. She worked at one of the upper-level agencies in town and, like many agents in the industry, only signed us because we were already working. We’d been writing MTV reality shows for several years and making a good living. Enter Becca, eager to wine us, dine us, and pocket 10 percent. Like an episode of Entourage, Becca promised us the world: fame, riches and power beyond our wildest imaginations. Of course, all  we wanted was another job. That, it turns out, wasn’t something she could provide.

We were repped by Becca for over a year, during which time she managed to systematically demolish our working relationship with the MTV producers. Within 12 months, we went from their go-to field writers on any given project to utterly unemployable at the network.

One afternoon, an exec producer of a show we’d worked on e-mailed me about our lovely agent, Becca: “In your best interest, you should be careful who you choose to represent you. I’ve been sharing my disappointment around town.” Wait, weren’t agents supposed to get us work? Connect us with producers? Somehow  Becca had disconnected us… From everybody. We were worse off than when we signed with her. She had to go.

I reached Becca on the phone but instead of ripping her head off , I decided to go with a version of the truth: We wanted out of reality television. We couldn’t waste any more time writing sexual innuendos for idiotic frat boys and Hooters waitresses. We were writers and we wanted to write.

HOLLYWOOD HELL: How Not to Fire Your Rep by Aaron Ginsburg | Script Magazine #scriptchatIncredibly, Becca said she understood. By the end of the conversation, she was even offering to call up other agencies on our behalf. It was flattering, but I quickly and politely refused. One thing was certain, the best business decision I could make was to never allow Becca to speak on our behalf again.

3. Peter

Peter doesn’t really count. I tried to fire him, but I was just too late. He was our agent at a different upper-level agency. He signed us after we won an award and then he promptly dropped off the map. After 11 agonizingly slow months with Peter, we realized he not only hadn’t booked us a single job, we hadn’t had a single meeting. Not exactly what we had in mind when we signed with the guy. So we decided to cut Peter loose.

However, when I called up the agency and asked for Peter’s extension, the assistant sheepishly asked if I’d heard the news. I hadn’t. The assistant then confessed that Peter didn’t work there anymore. Apparently Pete had left the agency to start his own business. Guess he forgot to tell his clients.

4. Anna

5. Wendi

6. Greg

Anna, Wendi, and Greg repped us at various times in our career and, needless to say, don’t rep us now. But I’ll save their stories for another time. They all fit into this tale because they helped hone our ability to efficiently and effectively fire someone like cold-blooded assassins.

Which brings us back to …

7. Brad

“This is Brad.” His voice was chipper; the guy clearly had no idea the other shoe was about to drop. Wade and I looked at each other, nervously. We knew we were making the right decision, but that didn’t mean we were taking any pleasure in the act itself. Thankfully, we’d rehearsed our speech. All Wade had to do was explain, “Sorry, Brad, but our road together has come to an end. ”That’s it. Then I would swoop in and clarify how it wasn’t personal, how we really enjoyed working with him, but that it was simply time for us to move on. No sweat.

“What’s up, guys?” Brad asked, all smiles.

“Sorry, Brad. It’s the end of the road for you!” Wade blurted. It sounded pretty much like a death threat and I instantly buried my head in my hands.

“What?!” Brad yelped, as if we’d slapped him right in the face.

Wade had turned beet red and went utterly silent.

Panicking, I jumped in hoping to smooth things over: “No, no, Wade didn’t mean that.

That’s not at all what we’re trying to say!”

Brad was relieved, “Phew. Scared me, you guys. So what did you mean?”

“What we meant was… Well… ” I looked at Wade, then back to the phone. Crap. So much for finesse.

“You’re fired.”

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