Wednesday, June 01, 2011


What exactly do managers do? Are they worth the extra 10%? Come with us, young grasshopper, as we impart unto you the secrets of management and why you should have some in your life.

Reprinted courtesy of Creative Screenwriting

By Jim Cirile

Richard Arlook
The Arlook Group

A.B. Fischer
The Shuman Company

Ava Jamshidi
International Creative Management

Emile Gladstone
International Creative Management

Julien Thuan
United Talent Agency

Jake Wagner
Film Engine
Managers are one third of the representation triad (along with agents and attorneys.) Yet do you have a clear idea of exactly what they do? Many of us don’t. So this time out, Agent’s Hot Sheet has been shanghaied by five feisty reps from leading management companies. As you will see, managers may be the most crucial part of the team, especially for the emerging writer.

I describe managers as the guys who really do what we think agents do. They who do the heavy lifting — developing scripts through draft after draft, nursemaiding our rampaging writery neuroses and trumpeting us to the industry. FilmEngine’s Jake Wagner tells us an agent may have 80 clients while a manager may only have 20. “An agent will read a script once and make a decision if they can sell it or not, boom, one and done,” he says. “Managers will go through eight drafts.” Mandown Pictures’ Pouya Shahbazian agrees. “It’s about having more intimate relationships and a lot more personal attention than an agent has time to give.” Shahbazian, who is also an attorney, says that agents are pressured to book business nonstop and simply can’t be as hands-on as writers might hope. “But as a manager, I can take a flier on a young client who needs development work or wants more attention so I can get them to the place where their career will launch or we can place them with an agent.”

Yep, that right there is the key reason why a manager is crucial to have on the team — because the path to agency representation is often through management. Whether we want to believe it or not, nine times out of ten our material needs honing before it will be ready for presentation to the biz. “I will do 100 drafts with a client before I’ll even give it to an agent,” says A.B. Fischer from Shuman Co., who summarizes himself as part life coach, part development executive, part cheerleader and part business partner. “If an agent has 100 clients, there’s no way they’re able to dig into material like I can.” More often than not it is the manager who gets your material to the point where it’s really ready—as opposed to when you think it is ready — and then he gets you the agent and the attorney.

Any other differences between agents and managers? Well, managers can’t legally negotiate. “That’s what agents and lawyers are for,” says Fischer. “We strategize, and oftentimes we’ll be on the call if the agent is negotiating the deal. I like to be a part of that process and feel like I add value.” Magnet Management’s Jennie Frankel describes agencies as “an incoming call business, whereas managers tend to be an outgoing call business. When people have an assignment, they’re going to call CAA, ICM, UTA, Endeavor.” But Magnet is constantly making calls to get their clients out there. “In general, we’re supposed to be looking out more for long term, and I think in general, agents (are) more concerned with the short term.”

One way the agent/manager lines are blurred is that a lot of managers started out as agents. Why? The Arlook Group’s Richard Arlook says there are two reasons — voluntary and involuntary. “It’s very competitive at agencies. (Maybe you) reach a certain age, or you’re not bringing in a certain income, or maybe you got caught up in some political thing. In my case, it was purely voluntary. I was a partner, ran the Gersh motion picture lit department and had a home there for many years. In my case, it was a bit of agent burnout, wanting a different kind of lifestyle and a change in my life.”

But the big reason agents move into management? Money. By the talent agency act, agents cannot produce. Managers can, which can yield significant additional revenue. “I’m probably one of the few managers that didn’t get into managing to produce specifically,” says Fischer. “There are a lot of managers who look at it as a means to an end, because they want to be a producer.” Arlook notes that in his first year as a manager/producer, “I’ve got two documentaries in the can that were labors of love, executive produced my first feature and set up a few things at studios,” he says. Arlook feels that his coming aboard as producer can be an advantage to the client. “My role is to do everything I can to facilitate the project moving forward and to protect my clients’ needs. I don’t produce every client’s script. It’s really, am I added value? Have I helped in the development process?” Frankel says, “If there are ideas that we generate in-house as producers, then we’ll bring those ideas to clients. We’ll only produce when mutually agreed upon, and there’s no pressure to our clients to have us come on to their material. We’re not looking to glom onto anything. But a lot of them like it when we come on to produce. Should the writer be taken off the project, we’re there to hopefully prevent that from happening, and also to (protect) the original idea.”

Get the picture as to why a manager may be beneficial to your career? But then there’s that pesky extra 10%. When you add together agency fee (10%), attorney fees (5%), the WGA and taxes, you’re looking at 40% or more of your money vaporizing. And then you’re going slice another 10% off the pie? “That’s a legitimate argument,” says Fischer. “We think that we more than make up for that 10% in what we do for our clients. This business is about relationships, and you’re multiplying the number of relationships (you have access to) by the number of representatives that you have. If you’re getting an extra job a year, or getting you the job you want, that 10% is going to be more than made up for.”

Arlook notes that while a million-dollar writer may not want to give away the extra 10%, “if you’re somebody that has never earned any money and you’ve got maybe a young agent and you haven’t gotten your first break, (it helps to have) somebody else out there — that manager-producer screaming your name. Every time there’s a submission made on your behalf, it increases the odds that someone’s going to read it, someone’s going to buy it, someone’s going to send it to somebody else, that it will lead to a more successful career.” Wagner adds, “Oftentimes it seems to be more of a personal relationship as well, and to that end, you speak with your manager a lot of times more than your agent because you’re developing the material from an idea, doing multiple drafts and all that. You become close through the creative process, closer through notes and development, especially if you have that creative connection with someone. I think that’s worth 10%, certainly.”

So if many managers used to be agents, and managers do a lot of the heavy lifting, do you really need an agent? Our panelists say absolutely. “There are a lot of agents that act like managers and a lot of managers that act like agents,” says Frankel. “But the business just keeps getting tougher, and the more hands helping you on your team, generally, the better off you are.” Arlook notes that he has gone out with specs as a manager with no agent on board, but, “I really like to build bridges. I am perfectly capable and qualified to go sell a spec just as a manager and producer. I have the same relationships, and as long as all the clients have lawyers to negotiate, there’s no conflict.” But Arlook still prefers to bring an agent aboard. “If I’ve got (a great script) and there isn’t an agent involved, then I can reach out to an agent, and in the long term get the client a great agent to capitalize on the sale of the script, and then in turn maybe get that agent to send me a client, then it’s a win-win.”

Shahbazian concludes, “As a manager, you love everybody, and everybody loves you. You can have relationships with other managers, producers, executives, everyone across the board. For the most part, agents very rarely speak to their direct rivals. But as a manager, you can be everyone's friend." So befriend a manager today! You’ll be glad you did.

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