Writers on the Verge: Your Screenwriting Agent or Manager is NOT Your Friend

Lee Jessup is a seasoned career coach for screenwriters, with an exclusive focus on guiding and supporting screenwriters as they parlay their screenwriting prowess into a focused and dynamic screenwriting career. Follow Lee on Twitter @leezjessup

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At a recent morning meeting with a prominent literary manager, I was on the receiving end of a frustrated rant.  The manager – who shall remain nameless if only to protect his clueless writing client – went on and on and on (and on some more) about that particular day’s source of frustration: The writer delivering poorly conceived work to a producer because “he wasn’t feeling up to it,” which led to the writer – admittedly – phoning it in. “He wasn’t feeling up to it?” complained my manager friend, “I don’t get to not feel up to it! I have to do my job for him, day after day, get him out on meetings, get him notes… Do you know what any one of my clients would say if they called to see if I sent their latest script out or followed up on work and I told them that I didn’t do it, or did a half-assed job doing it because I wasn’t feeling up to it???”

screenwriting agentSadly, this is not the first time I’ve heard a screenwriting agent or a manager rant of this particular flavor. All too often, writers mistake the rep/writer relationship for an all-too-friendly one, and reveal information that should not be shared. One of my writers once told his agent that he missed a writing assignment deadline because the project was too hard, so played hooky and went wine tasting instead. Another once said that he failed to properly prep for a meeting because he was feeling lazy and couldn’t get properly excited about it.

Even though this is an industry that encourages highly social behaviors, the bottom line is that your manager or agent is NOT your friend. Sure, it all has the appearance of friendship. And how could it not? This is an industry where people work 60 to 80-hour weeks on a regular basis; on many occasions the only people they see in a remotely social setting (see: breakfast, lunch, coffee, dinner, drinks) are their clients and colleagues. They may even choose to reveal way too much information once they’ve had more than one drink. But ultimately, that shouldn’t inform your behavior, or the choices you make in making your relationship with them.

Treat your agent or manager like a client. Always conduct yourself professionally. Never tell them that you weren’t feeling creative, that the muse hadn’t arrived, that you are debating quitting and walking away altogether. Even though it may not feel this way, the reality is that you are always competing: Competing with other clients to remain front-of-mind, competing with emerging writers hot for representation for your place on your rep’s list. Never drink too much in their company; sure, you can let loose, but you never want to say something you won’t remember in the morning. Never appear unavailable by returning their calls with an email, or calling after hours when you assume they will not be in the office.

As far as your reps are concerned, you should be the one who is always on it. Always delivering. The person they can comfortably send into an industry shindig. Sure, if you stick with them long enough they may just hear about your marital problems, even help you break a story or find your second creative wind. But until you start making big bucks for them, and making it consistently, manage them as you would a client you have to always keep happy. Otherwise, just a few misconstrued words on a bad day can deem you a challenging, over-privileged client, and the rep will become increasingly uninterested.

This doesn’t mean you’re not entitled to your own vents: Everyone needs a safe place where they can just be lazy, or altogether complain. Sometimes things are not happening in the pace that you’ve been promised or come to expect. Or work that you’ve been super jazzed about is not stimulating any sort of strong reaction. Sometimes, a script you send to your manager that you know would blow people’s minds away only ends up getting sent to five companies; others, you nail meeting after meeting and receive great feedback, but that feedback never materializes into a staff writing position or other paying work. This will happen. It’s part of the way this system works. So find a support group, a writer’s group, even a loose group of writer friends who will provide an outlet for your frustrations again and again. This way, you will always have a safe, understanding place where you can vent and deal with the difficulties that come with this profession, while continuing to manage your representation like a client, and reinforcing a strong impression of your resilience, professionalism and work ethic.

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