Tuesday, December 26, 2006

My Second Agent...(Or Some Of The Truths About Representation )

...comments from editthis and schmucks with underwoods kicked me to do this follow-up to yesterday's repost.

First, in answer to the questions, an agent is in the business of helping you find you paying work so you can stay busy doing what you (hopefully) want to do and they can earn a living from their ten percent commisions. I've asked myself many times whether they are worth it, and of course there's a lot of things to factor in, but at the end of the day I'd say yes. I've got some more specific examples why in a repost set for tomorrow.

So what should you look for in an agent?

You'd think you wouldn't want an agent who's aggressive or a bully or irritating or brash or even deceitful and insincere...however those are also all qualities you'll want in your rep at the end of the day. Ironic isn't it. But that's okay, as long as you understand you don't have to be friends with your agent for them to do well by you. It helps if you get along, but it's not absolutely necessary. As long as you always remember they work for you...never forget that.

Here's a few things I've learned from playing in the land of agents...

One: agents don't get you work, you get you work. Agents can hear about projects before you do...they can hustle and get your name out there...they can even get you meetings - but ultimately it's you and your work that gets the offers. And you'll be a bored bitter client if you think otherwise. You have to be working in conjuction with your agent in terms of networking and socializing and shmoozing, not waiting for them to bring you the job. Sure some agents will be better hustlers or better negotiators or better connected than others, and they can prep you and hype you and help you - but it still will be up to you to take the meetings and land the jump.

Two: agents have their reputation, and their roster. It's smart to take a hard look at the other clients in an agent's or agency's stable. Whether you like it or not, you will become associated with them. If they're known as a bunch of hacks, you will be too. If your agent is reputed as an annoying goofball, you will be known as being repped by 'that dork'. Not a good thing. But if there are a lot of serious players at the agency or with your agent, that's a good thing. Why? Because your agent will be hearing about a lot of breaking gigs first since those players are sought after. And then as those players get jobs, your agent will be able sell you (and their other clients) to them first.

Three: agents should negotiate and badger, and be the middle man/woman during the awkward to and fro that occurs when the company/show/studio is offering you scale and you want scale and a half; or you want a cell phone as part of your deal and they want you to use your own and pay the bill; or you feel you should be getting a supervising producer credit and they are offering an executive story editor credit. And so on. And then make sure the checks are arriving when they should be. It takes the personal out of the picture (sort of) so if any disagreements happen or ugliness occurs...you don't have to walk into the office and try to work with the person you would've been haggling/arguing with with the day before.

Four: agents can hurt your feelings and even lie to you. When you are hot and busy they're your best friend and taking all your calls. When you're not so busy and a little cold it's next to impossible to get past the assistant. Expect it. And they'd like to believe they are the best and are tapped into the heartbeat of the industry and hearing about all the jobs out there, and will assure you of this. But the reality is they have their areas of expertise and their niches and are limited by that. And will be perceived in a certain way. Much like you will be if you've specialized in just childrens shows, or scifi shows, or worked only as a writer...or as a director.

I started writing as a means to direct. My first agent was a lovely woman with a small agency that could be described as a Canuck version of a 'boutique agency'. She was a good negotiator and had a good reputation. It was just herself and an assistant in a small yet tasteful three room office space in downtown Toronto. And she repped a short list of writer clients, and focused primarily on Canadian television. And she always was saying she was trying to find me directing work. But she wasn't tied into the network of line producers that do most of the hiring of directors on episodic television series. And the handful of series I got wind of and made some inroads to didn't seem to take my directing samples or reels coming from her as seriously as say, some other agents/agencies in town.

So as I cruised along getting more and more work writing/producing syndicated action/adventure television, I started to miss directing - the reason I got into this whole nutty business in the first place. I started to realize having an agent with those producer contacts and some knowledge of the U.S. scene would be an advantage (since most of these shows were Amercian-based shooting in Canada).

And there was something else going on. When you start to get gigs and become better known, other agents will try to get to you. And they will do so for two reasons...first, if they know you and you are running something, they can try to get one of their clients on board. And second, if they are aggressive (and ruthless), they will want to let you know what they might be able to do for you if you jump ship and came over to their house. I heard from a couple of those agents, and I didn't take any of them up on their promises, but it got me thinking.

I started asking around about Canadian agents who were more focused on directors AS WELL AS writers. There were really only a couple (small industry remember)...one in Toronto and the other in Los Angeles. I'd met the Toronto agent already because he repped a story editor I'd once hired. He was part of a much bigger agency - no CAA or ICM but as close as we get in Canada. They repped writers, directors, actors, etc. And he and I got along okay. Calling him up and broaching whether he'd take me on was relatively painless (as in, he took my call...and said he'd be very interested). We had several lunches talking through his client list and his contacts while I conveyed my desire to get back in front of people as a director again. He wholeheartedly agreed and said he'd make it happen...(but what else are they going to say).

It felt kinda covert and sneaky, but in the end, it was just business. I finished the gig I was on (switching agents mid job can get messy, as in who's entitled to the commision), called my first agent and told her I was moving on and why. She was very pleasant and understanding about it all. Just business. I had to write a letter officially severing the relationship, and that was that.

And as for my second agent, I was with him for 3 years and it was a pretty decent marriage...until I moved to Los Angeles and onto Agent Number Three. Unfortunately, that wasn't the best of relationships, but I'll relate that experience another time.

SONG&ARTIST? - "Get up, (get on up)
Get up, (get on up)
Stay on the scene, (get on up), like a sex machine, (get on up)

And then, shake your money maker,
Shake your money maker,
Shake your money maker,
Shake your money maker,
Shake your money maker,
Shake your money maker,
Shake your money maker



The Film Diva said...

Nice post, Will. Hope you had a merry merry.

DMc said...

JB and the fabulous flames -- oh will. you're breaking my heart.

Schmucks with Underwoods said...

Interesting post WC. Glad I had a part in prompting it. :-) So do you live in LA now? Would be interested in hearing about your adventures when you moved to LA. Happy Boxing Day :-)

Mystery Man said...

These posts were truly great. Not a word you wrote that I disagreed with, Dix!

Have a great New Year!