As a Writer, there are four ways to get jobs in Hollywood:
1) An Agent
2) A Manager
3) Nepotism (this includes both familial nepotism and hey-I-worked-with-that-chick-on-my-last-show-and-at-least-she-didn’t-stab-anyone-in-the-face nepotism)
4) Blowjobs (I guess I could also include “cunnilingus,” but the tiny percentage of female showrunners makes this a long shot)
The latter two are somewhat obvious in their distinctions (Jesus Christ, hopefully), but for those Writers just starting out, allow me to reduce the confusion as to the first two: Agents vs. Managers.
Granted, as a Writer who only relies on a Manager (and has, solely, for 13 years), I may be a smidge — where smidge = totally — biased, but all of my Writer friends (not some — ALL) have Agents, so I’ve been able to pick up a few contrasts and comparisons over the course of my career. Here’s the basic breakdown, as far as I can see:
An Agent’s job is to think in days — as in, how many days has it been since X was employed?
A Manager’s job is to think in years — as in, what’s the best strategy to get X where she wants to be in a decade?
An Agent is someone who will find you the next job.
A Manager is someone who will find you the next job you’ll like.
An Agent will take 10% of your salary for work that will often destroy your quality-of-life.
A Manager will take 15% of your salary for work that will often improve your quality-of-life by at least 5%.
An Agent will try to keep you constantly employed, but chances are, most of these projects will make you miserable and tempt you to slit your wrists with tetanus-encrusted barbed wire.
A Manager may take a little longer to get you employed, but chances are, most of these projects will be ones you can pour your creative heart and soul into without resorting to self-harm. (At least, no more self-harm than you normally incur whenever you pour your creative heart and soul into something.)
An Agent will never suggest you find a Manager. As far as he/she is concerned, you are now his/her property, and he/she is loathe to share you.
Some Managers might suggest you find an Agent, and if you have a good Manager, he/she will actually send you on the rounds to meet all interested Agents. Every single one of these interested Agents will give you the same rah-rah spiel about Why Our Company Is the Very Very Best In The Business You Betcha!, and you will immediately want to shower with hot bleach after every encounter. Then you will exclaim to your Manager, “Mein Gött in Himmel! The majority of these Agents are slimy pustulous eel-like creatures with whom I never want to come into contact again!” And your Manager will grin and say, “I just wanted you to know what your options were,” and then you will nearly collapse at his/her feet in gratitude.
An Agent makes day-to-day deals with people who consider Agents a necessary evil.
A Manager makes year-to-year deals with people who consider Managers necessary.
The better you’re doing on a show, the faster an Agent will return your call.
The worse you’re doing on a show, the faster a Manager will return your call.
An Agent will only send you on a meeting when a job is at stake.
A Manager will send you on any meeting you tell him/her you want to take.
An Agent is physically incapable of hearing you say the word “no.”
A Manager hears you say “no” and is physically incapable of resting until he/she finds something you’ll say “yes” to.
An Agent will often stop being an Agent, and become a studio/network Suit. This can work either for or against you.
A Manager will often still be a Manager, and become a Producer, as well. This will work for you.
An Agent will drop you for the new hot young Writer.
A Manager will find a job for the new hot young Writer. And for you.
An Agent will tell you how to lie about yourself in a meeting so that a showrunner will groove on you.
A Manager will tell you that this showrunner doesn’t really groove on folks like you (i.e., female, or edgy, or vulgar, or female, or female), so you don’t have to take the meeting if you don’t want to. Usually you will take it, just to prove to your Manager that you can get along with anyone, even a misogynist sonofawhore — but when the showrunner doesn’t groove on you, and later you cry in your car on the way home, the best part is, your Manager will not say, “Toldja so, neener neener.”
Personally, I think a Manager’s ability to not say “Neener neener” is one of his/her best qualities.
Now, before all y’all go bananas — “MY AGENT IS AWESOME! SHE IS AWESOME! I NEVER WANT A MANAGER BECAUSE MY AGENT IS AWESOME!” — think about the person who’d represent someone who writes so repetitively in all-caps like that.
I’m not saying all Agents are the Devil, just as I’m not saying all Managers are God. (Except for mine. I’m pretty sure he and his associates are, at the very least, God-ish.) Like the Judeo-Christian debate about the dual nature of man, or God, or what Stevie Wonder sings about in “Ebony and Ivory”: “There is good and bad in everyone.” — not every Agent is a pustulous eel, and not every Manager is God-ish.
The lesson here for new Writers is to wade into the fray with your eyes open as to the duties of each job, and think deeply about what matters to you: bringing in a “steady” income (and I use sarcastic quote marks, given the absolute instability of any job in the entertainment world), or pursuing your creative dreams at the expense of “regular” employment.
I can’t speak to the notion of having both an Agent and a Manager (as I’ve only ever known three Writers who had both — and these were all showrunners so firmly entrenched in the Business already, it hardly seemed to make a difference) — only to enlighten those joining our little Hollywood circus that NOT having an Agent isn’t the worst thing in the world.
Try a Manager instead.
In fact, having a Manager rather than an Agent can be one of the best parts of your career — to learn that it’s not all about snapping up whatever work lands in your path. That picking and choosing projects (while admittedly, scary as hell in the bank account department) can teach you integrity and strength of purpose. It may even serve to redouble (retriple? requadruple?) your commitment to the reasons you joined the circus in the first place: because you have ideas to share, things to say, dreams to turn into reality.
This isn’t supposed to be a safe job.
So walk the wire without a net.
But not without a Manager.