In early 2016, Billy Domineau was an unrepresented comedy writer living in New York City. While he made a living teaching teenagers how to ace their SATs, Billy dreamed of being on the staff of a half-hour comedy. But, without reps, Billy’s chances of getting staffed were slim, and he realized that he needed to grab the attention of agents and managers with a big, bold idea. That idea was Seinfeld 9/11. Billy’s Seinfeld spec, set just days after the infamous terrorist attack, broke the internet, and within twenty-four hours of its release, Billy was inundated with calls from agents and managers. Two years later, Billy is repped by both UTA and Management 360, and is a staff writer on Family Guy. Dreams do come true, y’all.
But Billy’s story is a novel one. Most writers working today did not get their reps by becoming internet famous; while every story starts with a solid script, the rest of the details vary. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to put yourself in the best position to attract representation when the time is right. If you believe you’ve reached the point in your career where you need literary representation, here are some working-writer approved tips for procuring an agent and/or manager.
Michael Richards, Jason Alexander, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Jerry Seinfeild in Seinfeld
Many uncredited writers, fondly deemed baby writers, think agents and managers are interchangeable. But while the two may have some overlapping responsibilities, they serve very different purposes, and early on in your career, you may not need both.
Simply put, agents are the dealmakers– they’re the ones writing and executing your contracts. Aside from negotiation, an agent’s primary job is to connect writers with paid writing opportunities, which they do by setting their clients up on general meetings with producers, executives, and financiers. Managers can set generals as well, but they don’t negotiate contracts. As they usually maintain smaller client lists, managers also have more time to work with and develop writers. Most importantly, managers aren’t regulated, and even though there are no rules on what they can charge, respectable managers will only take 10% cut.
So, which rep do you need, an agent or a manager? That all depends on where you’re at in your career. Let’s say you’ve got a solid spec script that has gotten interest from a production company. You’re going to want an agent to negotiate the terms of that option deal. But maybe you’re a baby writer with no credits under your belt, but with a really promising sample. A manager would be a better fit to help develop your talent, and introduce you to future fans of your work.
However, instead of sending query after query to reps who probably won’t read your unsolicited work, your time is better spent writing. You should devote the bulk of your energy to creating original material; original content is what gets you repped and staffed. If you plan on applying to television fellowships, like NBC’s Writers On the Verge or the CBS Writers Mentorship Program, it’s important to have a few specs for current shows as well. These specs show the fellowship judges that you can work within an established story and voice, but, to be honest, they’re pretty ineffectual outside of the competition process.
Currently, though, IP (intellectual property) is all the rage in Hollywood. Everyone wants to buy something that already has a built-in audience, like books, podcasts, video games, or web series. So, once you have a few solid samples under your belt, it’d be smart to move onto creating IP. If executives are interested in your project, you can bet that reps will come calling.
Writers from CBS Writers Mentorship Program Have Been Staffed at Brooklyn Nine-Nine
There’s a reason why, in his 2018 Emmys acceptance speech for Outstanding Writing in a Variety Special, comedian John Mulaney thanked, “everyone that represents me, and their assistants, who do all the stuff.” Assistants are the underpaid lifeblood of Hollywood, particularly at agencies and management companies. Because of their access, they have a unique pulse on the industry and often act as the proverbial gatekeepers to their powerful bosses. This piece of advice rings especially true to me personally, as I landed my first agent after her assistant read one of my screenplays. The assistant passed it up the chain to her boss, and two weeks later, I was represented.
And the best thing about assistants? They don’t stay assistants for long. They’ll rise up the ranks to agent, manager, or creative executive, just as you will move up to working writer. So, if you’re able to turn entertainment industry assistants into fans of your work, you’ll eventually make contacts with people in hiring positions, or with buying potential.
Another proven way to get representation is to surround yourself with repped writers, and the best way to do that is by working on set. Whether you’re in a writers’ room, writers’ room adjacent, or at a production company, the access you’ll get to working writers is invaluable, and not just for educational purposes. More often than not, writers with whom you have a friendly working relationship will offer to read your writing samples. And sometimes, the writers who read your work will be impressed enough to offer to pass it along to an agent or manager. Reason number 2,873 why you need to devote time to writing stellar material!
Nothing, and I mean nothing, makes a repped writer cringe more than when a colleague or acquaintance asks if they could pass along a script to their reps, unprompted. It puts the writer in a very uncomfortable position, which reflects poorly on the baby writer who did the asking. It’s like when someone asks you to drive them to the airport. If you didn’t mind giving them a ride, you’d offer; if you don’t offer, you’d probably rather not.
Just because you want a representation doesn’t mean you necessarily need it. Baby writers seem to believe the landing an agent or manager is the only path to working in the industry, but that’s just not the case. Great content is the most important tool in a writer’s toolbox, and if the material is there, eventually, representation will follow.
But there are actually some situations in which it’s actually not advantageous to be repped. For example, if you’re a Writers’ Assistant on a hit show, but have yet to snag a co-write, hold off on getting representation. You don’t need someone taking 10% of a script fee that they didn’t procure. Similarly, if you are getting promoted from assistant to staff writer, you don’t need to run out and find an agent to do your deal. Instead, hire an entertainment attorney; they’ll only take 5% of your earnings, and you’ll be in no rush to sign with an agency who’s potentially not the right fit.
There’s no “one-size-fits-all” approach when it comes to finding an entertainment agent or manager, but as long as you’re continually creating solid, innovative content and following these steps to best set yourself up for success, representation will follow.