Gavin Palone looks at why why so many more writers (and directors and actors) in Hollywood are paying the extra money for a manager:
The reason for this change can be found in the news reports written about talent agencies these days, most of which involve a cycle of mergers between agencies and the subsequent firings of suddenly superfluous agents.
The big agencies have gotten bigger — but also smaller, because every time they merge, they lay off a lot of agents. Now cut loose, these agents often become managers, performing many of the same functions for many of the same clients.
That helps the bottom line of the agencies (they still get their 10%), but it means screenwriters are paying out another big chunk of their income.
As the owner of a restaurant, I would love to save money by firing the dishwasher and dumping all of the equipment necessary to keep plates and utensils clean; then the unemployed dishwashers could stand outside the restaurant and rent clean plates to customers for a separate fee. I could then still charge the same prices and increase my net profit, while the dishwashers would probably make more than the minimum wage they are getting now. Unfortunately, there is too much competition and customers would just go elsewhere for meals where the plates are provided for free.
The talent agents are lucky in that they have rolled up so many of the agencies into two giants [CAA, WME] and two medium-size companies [UTA, ICM] that there isn’t real competition and they can get away with their machinations with little or no blowback.
It would be interesting to see the agent/client ratio of the agencies, and how it’s changed over time.
In the 15 years I’ve been working, technology has made some aspects of an agent’s job much faster and easier. Emails let you avoid phone tag. PDFs don’t need messengers. Information about jobs can be centralized.
But maintaining relationships with clients simply takes time. The more clients a single agent is trying to service, the less likely each individual client is going to feel satisfied. Thus, managers.
For the record, I’ve never had a manager, nor felt I’ve needed one. But I came into the industry at a different time. Last year, Justin Marks laid out his reasons why most screenwriters should have managers, and I can’t argue with his logic, other than (pointlessly) wishing that things were more like they used to be.