I currently have a lit agent and a manager, both from boutique companies. I’ve been with them both for about three years. I like them a lot personally, but as I look back over the years, they have not produced a lot of results.
I have a feature script that won two writing competitions (one major), a drama serial pilot and a drama procedural pilot and am currently working on a thriller. The feature was optioned for a year, but nothing came of it. It’s about to be optioned again, both are for very little money from very small companies.
But they never seem to send my stuff out. I’ve only had one meeting of significance in the past three years that my agent got for me. Not one from my manager.
They are always very circumspect about exactly WHO is reading my material. And I always get the impression it’s because they are not sending it out. They say they love my writing, so why do they sit on it?
I think perhaps their strengths as representatives might not fit what I am writing. Their contacts and relationships aren’t of much value to me. But would they ever admit that?
If I decide to move on from one or both, what is the protocol?
In this climate, I’d rather not drop one of them before I have new representation. But it feels like bad form to give my material to people on the sly without them knowing, to see if there’s interest. But if I drop them before I know there’s interest, and I have trouble…I would have been better off keeping them and trying to work on it.
I feel like I’m stuck. Any advice?
At this stage in your fledgling career, the job of both your agent and your manager is to put your work in the hands of people who might like it, then get you into rooms to meet with them. They can’t get you a job, or guarantee a sale. All they can do is help you make connections.
And they’re not doing it. So it’s time to change.
For readers new to this, a boutique agency is one with a relatively small group of agents and clients. Boutiques can be great, especially for writers and filmmakers with a very distinct sensibility that requires more careful positioning.1 Because of the small size, you’re not going to be competing with your own agency’s clients for jobs. The downside is that a boutique agency isn’t going to have all the resources and information that a major agency would have.
My first agent was at a boutique; his name was on the door. He sent me out on dozens of meetings with the right level of junior executives — including Dan Jinks, who would ultimately produce Big Fish and The Nines. Everyone I met with loved my agent. My first two writing assignments were landed through my own contacts, but he made the deals and stood up for me. He was a good agent.
Unfortunately, our tastes didn’t really jibe. I wanted to write big Hollywood movies, while most of his clients worked on the (admittedly fascinating) periphery. Reading an early draft of Go, he didn’t see it as a movie. And I knew it was time to go.
It’s time to see other people
Leaving an agent is breaking up. You’re telling someone who has been a friend and colleague that you believe someone else could do the job better. It’s going to hurt. Rip the Band-Aid off and deal with the sting.
Since you have both an agent and a manager, pick the one you think is the better fit and talk to him about your frustrations. If he has a list of ideas, consider them. If he tells you to keep things how they are, well, you need to leave him, too. It’s not working. Sticking around isn’t going to improve it.
Now is also the time to talk with trusted friends and colleagues about where you should go. The producers who just optioned your script may have opinions and recommendations. They might make some phone calls on your behalf.
Write something new and great
You’ll be in a better position to sign a new agent or manager if you have something new to put in their hands. They’ll want to send out material no one has seen, so the thriller might be the thing. It needs to be great, better than the script that won you the awards.
Agents want clients who work. That’s why the biggest change shouldn’t be who is representing you, but how you’re representing yourself. As you take meetings, make them understand that you will work your ass off to land assignments, then work five times harder to deliver. Say it and mean it. Novelists can be hermetic artistes. Screenwriters have to be hunters, hucksters and hostage negotiators.
You don’t necessarily need to be at a bigger agency, though they’re often better equipped to handle both the TV and feature sides of your career. You’re wise to pursue both at full speed, by the way. Many writers ping-pong back and forth between the mediums.
Your question illustrates why most aspiring writers’ perception of the industry — if I could only get an agent, then… — is so naïve. Even with an agent, a manager and some acclaim, you’ve had a tough time moving from a spark of potential to an actual career.
Switching to new representation will only be an incremental improvement. The hard work will be capitalizing on their enthusiasm to make connections, set up projects, and write movies that get made.
- In trying to think of examples of quirky filmmakers, I looked up Harmony Korine and Todd Solondz. It turns out they’re both at a giant agency, WME. But I stand by my general case. ↩