Monday, June 28, 2010

Reader mail: Agents vs. Managers

Time to dip into the proverbial mailbag and answer a few reader questions, kicking things off with a question from regular reader Peter Dwight:

Agent vs. Manager...? Say some poor schmuck just needs a paying job. There's an impression that Agents get you the work, where Managers get your movie made. Your thoughts?

I know that no matter which answer I give, 50% of the readers will chime in with a contradictory opinion. If you're lucky enough to land an agent, that's probably all you need unless you find that he doesn't seem particularly motivated to help you build a career. Speaking as someone who's still looking for representation, though, I've found more success in getting read by managers than agents. Managers seem more responsive to email queries, whether they are targeted queries, referrals, and making contact via other business connections.

I've got a script I feel pretty good about, and so after I finish my next polish, I'm going to do my next round of calling in business connections, favors and a few specifically targeted queries to very precise people. My list absolutely has more managers than agents, largely because I anticipate a greater success ratio in actually getting those people interested in my work.

The downside is that if you've got an agent and a manager, between the two of them, you're going to lose 20% of your paycheck right off the bat to their commissions.

As far as advice that readers of this blog should probably follow, I see no reason that you shouldn't pursue both. I know a couple of people who only have had managers and it hasn't stopped them from optioning and even selling a few (low-budget) scripts.

Obviously any field is going to have some percentage of members that give the greater group a bad name. If you're a starting writer, having someone in your corner like a strong manager wouldn't be a bad thing, just as it wouldn't be terrible to have an agent who's in a good position to package your script.

When you have no credits to your name, I say take either. After you've worked one-on-one with your agent or manager for a while, you'll get a feel for their personal style, their level of commitment to you and if your work is a good fit with his plans. If the two of you seem to be on completely different pages, it might be time for a change.

As I see it, it's not an either/or, at least not in a "one size fits all" way that could sum up either profession.

Rosie asks a question I don't really have an answer for:

What do you view as the key differences between the British film industry and Hollywood? Do these variations result in vastly different scripts?

On my end of things, I don't really deal with many British scripts or productions. At least on a professional level, I can't really offer an informed answer. I know we've got plenty of readers in the UK - anyone feel qualified to weigh in?

Robert asks:

Hey Bitter, have a question on formatting. When you read a script, what type of continuance do you prefer? "..." or "--". I noticed guys like Tony Gilroy love the "--" but guys like Scott Frank (and I would argue the majority of screenwriters) like to employ the "...". Is this more a question of style, or do readers like yourself role your eyes when you see one type over the other?

Strictly speaking, "--" is used at the end of dialogue when the character is interrupted, either by a character or an action. "..." is supposed to be used when a character trails off. If the writer knows what he's doing, they shouldn't be used interchangeably.


  1. Thanks bitter. Planning to jump into Rep Searching in a few months, and I've definitely been receiving contradictory opinions from different people. So I'm sure my experience will be totally different (different yet the same).

    If I'm gonna play the game why not play it smart, or under the delusions of knowledge.

    And with the "..." and "--" I was reading a script the used "-" often for the purposes of "--", and other layout differences. And the fact that is was consistent throughout it didn't bother me one bit. But if the formatting jumps around I tend to have problems. But I'm not too qualified to talk on formatting, since my own formatting is often "mad shittay!"

  2. agents sell material and get you jobs. managers spend more time developing material. eventually everyone needs an agent, but for beginning writers, it's often good to have a manager to help you work on your stuff since you may not be ready for the marketplace.

    I agree that new writers should pursue either. If you find someone legit who likes you and wants to help you, go with it, whether they're an agent or a manager.

    more on the topic:

  3. Bitter,

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but my understanding is that a manager can submit a script to a producer/studio, but only an agent (or lawyer) can negotiate a deal for said script.

    And don't managers receive 15% commission, whereas an agent receives 10%?

  4. Thanks for having a go, Bitter. I await enlightening comments with anticipation!