Below is an adapted excerpt from the book is published below courtesy of the book's publisher, Focal Press, in which Gervich answers the eight questions screenwriters have about their agents.
1.) What does an agent do if a client is passionate about writing something the agent
feels is un-commercial?
Scott Hoffman, Folio Literary Management: It depends on the client, and it depends on the project. There are projects you
think are entirely wrong projects, career killers, and there are projects that are just
not the right next project for a client, in which case you have a dialogue about each
of your respective roles, and what the benefits and drawbacks are to each specific
party. [Likewise], if a client turns in work that happens to be not their best work, or
not up to the kind of quality you as an agent feel you would like to represent, it’s
up to you to have an open and frank discussion and say, ‘I don’t feel comfortable
sharing this [with buyers]. When I send something [out], there’s an implicit endorsement
of it. I don’t think this work is your best work, and I don’t think it’s the kind of
thing I would like to be professionally associated with.’ But, in general, if the
dialogue is working between the agent and the client, what needs to happen for both
parties will happen for both parties.
2.) Is it okay to ask my agent for help or feedback as I’m writing? Can I show her early
or interim outlines and drafts?
Hoffman: I don’t want to see anything till there’s a script,” says one feature agent. “I hate
to say it, but I don’t have time to read more than a couple of drafts. The job of the
manager is to read the first draft, maybe another draft, then give it to me.”
3.) One of writers’ biggest frustrations with agents is that agents don’t always read and
respond fast enough to clients’ material. When this happens, writers are unsure how to
respond. They don’t want to get angry and alienate their representation, but they’re also
anxious and frustrated. What should you do?
Zach Carlisle, agent, Verve: Given the life of an agent—given the life of just people in general—giving
someone a weekend to read it is fair. So if you give it to them on Monday, the following
Monday. [And if your agent hasn't read by then?] It depends if the representative has reached out and said, “I’m sorry . . . I
had something go on this weekend—I didn’t get to it. Give me a couple of days and I’ll
absolutely get to it.” But if Monday rolls around, and Tuesday rolls around, and you gave
somebody a piece of material for [the previous] weekend, then you have a right to pick up
the phone, call your representative, and say, “What’d you think?!” Maybe they’ve read it
and just haven’t have had a moment to call you.
Robyn Meisinger, President, Madhouse Entertainment: This is where a good manager comes in handy. Part of our job is to work those agencies. We’re usually the ones driving the strategy, driving the process. Also, it gets to the point where we (managers) do so much, the agent feels like he or she has to keep up. So if you have a manager who’s in there nudging, saying, “We’re going to go out with this script whether you read it or not,” they usually do.
Carlisle: Put the onus on your representative. That’s something clients don’t do enough,
and are afraid to do. [Clients] think "Oh, they’re doing something more important," or, "They’ve got other things going on; I don’t want to bother them." But what clients forget
is we own ten percent of your business. I work for you, so never hesitate to pick up the
phone, put the onus on me, and make sure I’m doing my job. [That] job consists of: when
you give me a new piece of material, reading it and figuring out what to do with it—whether
it needs more work or to go to a producer—then executing it in a timely fashion.
4.) I had a general meeting with a producer yesterday, and I mentioned the screenplay I was
developing. The producer loved it and suggested developing it together. On one hand, I’m
thrilled to have someone excited about my project! On the other, it’s my idea. Is working
with this producer a valuable partnership? Is it worth attaching a producer before the
script is written?
Tanya Cohen, literary agent, Verve: It’s a case-by-case situation. If a writer came up with an idea [on his own], I don’t
see the value in developing it on spec with a producer—unless that producer adds a
substantial amount of creative value in terms of breaking the story. If you have a writer
who is a great executor, but has a hard time coming up with the next great thing, and a
producer gives him an idea—something he loves—then I would encourage it. In some
situations, it’s [even] easier to just go and pitch it, to try and get a studio or financier
to put up money for development. If you’re a brand new writer, and there’s a great producer
who has a track record, fantastic actor and director relationships, and is invested in the
project . . . it can open doors where there are paying opportunities that the producer is
5.) I’m a young screenwriter who signed with my first agent about five months ago. I haven’t
sold anything yet, but I’d love to make some money doing open writing assignments. I’ve
mentioned this to my agent, but he hasn’t put me up for anything. If he believes in my
scripts—which he says he does—it should be easy for him to get me an open writing assignment
. . . shouldn’t it? What should I do?
Ryan Saul, literary agent, APA: There’s only a handful of people that can get open
assignments. I have newer clients who might be ‘right’ for
the job, but aren’t ready for the job; they need more experience. Generally, to be considered
for the assignment world, you have to have sold a script or have a spec that’s so hot it gets
you forty or fifty meetings. For a writer to expect their agent to start getting them a bunch
of assignments is silly, there’s a process to it. In the best case scenario, it’s an eighteen
to twenty-four month process before they reach that critical mass where they’re ready to get
6.) I recently got hired for my first open writing assignment job—rewriting a low-budget thriller
for a small indie production company. The draft is due next week but to be honest, I don’t think
I’m going to have it done. What happens if an assignment writer misses his deadline?
Aaron Kaplan, Kaplan/Perrone Entertainment: The vast majority of the time: nothing. You might have an angry studio exec or an angry producer, but
very rarely does anything happen financially or contractually.
Michael Goldberg, manager, New Wave: If you’ve got a
problem, communicate it. You might have eight weeks,
but it might take ten weeks to crack a couple of problems. People are understanding.
Theoretically, as you’re doing open writing assignments, you should be talking to the producers,
showing them half drafts. Don’t go into a dark hole, because if you accidentally go in the wrong
direction creatively, you’re off the project and you might not get hired again in the future.
7.) If I have more than one agency pursuing me, could I negotiate a lower commission—say, eight
percent instead of ten percent?
Lenny Beckerman, agent-turned-manager: If you’re a baby writer, and you try to bring your percentage
down, you’re not really incentivizing your agent. Ten percent is not a lot of money in this market. [An agent] needs a lot of clients working
until that ten percent buys something decent to live in. So I would not go with that. I would go
with the idea of "Who do you feel is going to be the best agent for you?"
8.) I spent four years in Los Angeles trying to get an agent so I could start a career as a TV
and film producer. It never happened. I signed with a couple managers, but it was a terrible
experience. Now, I’ve moved back to Oklahoma, and while I’m obviously far from Hollywood, I’d
still like to create stuff, put it online, and hopefully have a career. As an online producer,
do I still need an agent or manager?
Shilphi Roy, producer, Hipsterhood: Absolutely not. For TV and film, you have to have an
agent or manager to get anywhere. In the world of digital media, you can totally do it by yourself,
it just takes a little more work and effort. [The truth is,] a lot of agents and managers don’t
understand the space very well yet; they don’t know how to move in it. If brand sponsorship is vital to your show, then yes—you’re going to need
help with that.” It doesn’t necessarily need to be an agent or manager, however. Many online
distributors and MCN’s, like Big Frame or Blip, shop their producers’ work in hopes of finding
advertiser partners. “Blip is doing that for me,” Roy says.