Let’s assume you get a manager and/or agent to represent you. Then what? What are their responsibilities as a representative? What are yours as a writer?
Who does what in a writer-representative relationship?
Every writer is different. Every rep is different. So obviously, working relationships between writers, manager and agents can vary.
Here is my perspective.
Your responsibility is to write the hell out of your scripts.
Your rep’s responsibility is to sell the hell out of your scripts.
Your rep’s responsibility is to put you up for a writing gig.
Your responsibility is to land the gig.
Your responsibility is to generate possible stories.
Your rep’s responsibility is to provide an honest assessment of your stories.
Your rep’s responsibility is to get you in a room with a producer, studio exec, actor, or director.
Your responsibility is to work the room.
Your responsibility is to focus on your writing
Your rep’s responsibility is to focus on your career.
Your rep’s responsibility is to have inside information with what’s going on in the acquisition and development market.
Your responsibility is to know enough about what’s going on in the marketplace so you don’t waste either of your times.
Your responsibility is to create.
Your rep’s responsibility is to strategize.
Your rep’s responsibility to introduce you to Hollywood players.
Your responsibility to build and sustain relationships with those Hollywood players.
Is there overlap in what you do? Absolutely.
There is no denying you are going to spend a significant portion of your time pondering your career, just as a manager or agent may respond to their own creative instincts (e.g., story ideas of their own they run past you to see if you take a shine to them to pitch or spec).
And no matter how much your reps handle the business side of things, you must understand at least the essentials of how movies are made.
You are not simply a writer, you are a screenwriter. You don’t work in a creative vacuum, you work in Hollywood. Movies may be art, but they are always commerce. You don’t need an MBA, but to the degree you understand the broader context why your rep is advocating this move or that choice, the more easily you will be in sync with them about your career.
A rep is not your friend… although they can be friendly.
A rep is not your partner… although they can be creative.
A manager and/or agent is your advocate.
If you do your job… and they do theirs…
It should be the beginning of a wonderful relationship.
One final thing.
Your rep’s responsibility is to meet you for lunch a couple of times a year to touch base about things.
Your responsibility is to let them pick up the tab.
UPDATE: In comments, John asks a really good question:
A question about overlap on the creative side: how “hands-on” should your literary manager be when it comes to providing notes and feedback on drafts — both early drafts and final polishes?
Is it common and expected that their notes include: line edits and dialogue edits at the word-choice level and on up to “take this section out, move that over here, punch up this sequence by doing this, eliminate that character” etc.
If your rep seems to be venturing into the territory of “writing partner” what should you do and how?
To which Bah Bahrbahrossa answers:
Question: “If your rep seems to be venturing into the territory of “writing partner” what should you do and how?”
Answer: “You’re fired.”
There’s certainly nothing keeping you from firing your rep for too much interference in your writing process. But how much is too much? And who’s to say if you switch reps, they won’t have a similar attitude about creative input?
Indeed the line between between writer and representative in terms of creative input has become increasingly blurry as the role of manager has evolved over the last 15 years or so. Unlike agents, managers can act as a producer on their clients’ projects. This is not necessarily some sort of arbitrary thing as managers can be much more hands on re script development. As an example, here is an excerpt from an interview I did with screenwriters Jeremiah Friedman and Nick Palmer, who sold their spec “Family Getaway” last year to Warner Bros:
You mention doing a “number of drafts” of “Family Getaway” based on feedback from some AFI connections, then “two additional rewrites over the next several months” in conjunction with your managers at Mosaic, all the time while holding down day jobs. How did you manage your time to enable you to write all those drafts?
NP: It was tough and honestly, it was really hard for me at first. Because we both had day jobs, it meant working nights and weekends and basically giving up our social lives.
JF: Our friends can tell you we essentially disappeared for about a year and a half.
NP: Our schedule had been writing maybe three nights a week, 7 to 10-ish, and then usually one weekend day.
JF: And we should say that was at the point where there was no light at the end of the tunnel. We were a year out of grad school, we had kind of humiliating day jobs, we weren’t repped and we really had no idea how long we’d have to maintain the lifestyle.
NP: Yeah, by this point I had to stop telling people I’d just gotten out of grad school because that had become, you know, a lie and I just started telling them I was a Lego Robotics instructor.
JF: We were both getting pretty depressed but we knew our only way out was really to keep writing and push through.
NP: So we just kept working nights and weekends. Then, once Mosaic got involved, it basically became a second full-time job and we were writing till 11 every night after work and then writing 12 hour days Saturdays and Sundays.
Friedman & Palmer spent months working with Mosaic [their management group] rewriting their script. I don’t know how extensive their notes were (e.g., line edits, dialogue edits), but clearly their managers were quite hands on in the process.
You also have to consider where you are in your writing career. If you’re just starting out, you’re more likely to consider a rep’s creative input on your script. If you’re an established writer, perhaps not so much.
Those of you who have an agent and/or manager, what is your attitude about their involvement in your creative process?
The Business of Screenwriting is a series of GITS posts based upon my experiences as a complete Hollywood outsider who sold a spec script for a lot of money, parlayed that into a screenwriting career during which time I’ve made some good choices, some okay decisions, and some really stupid ones. Hopefully you’ll be the wiser for what you learn here.
[Originally posted June 2, 2011]