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What Should I Look for in My First Manager?

By August 18, 2021No Comments

“How do I get a manager?”

It’s a question hot on the lips of aspiring screenwriters everywhere. Any industry Q&A, any screenwriting Twitter thread, that’s the question you’re likely to hear more than any other.

Of course, there are many, many answers to this question. Do well in a high-end writing competition. Network. Query. No two writers have the same story of how they initially got repped.

It’s an understandable question. We’ve all been there. As writers, we’re always looking for that next step. A sign that we have the potential to make a living in this business. That we’re not just running on a treadmill. That we’re actually getting somewhere.

But, that’s not what this article is about.

The truth is, many emerging writers can be so focused on finding a manager, they don’t think about finding the right manager.

A bad manager, or even a good manager who isn’t the right fit for you, can be just as frustrating and unhelpful as having no representation at all.

So, what should you look for in your first manager? How will you know they’re the right fit for you?

What’s the Deal?

Screenwriting is a tough field to break into. Like playing in the NBA. Or going into space as a non-billionaire. We all know this.

Unfortunately, there are some rather unscrupulous sorts who know this too. Predatory “managers” who realize how badly you want this, how this is your dream. And, they will try to take advantage of you.

The good news is, it doesn’t happen that often. But, it’s something to be aware of.

A legitimate manager will never ask you to pay anything upfront. A legitimate manager takes no more than 10% as a commission. And no legitimate managers, that I know of at least, ask you to sign anything to join their roster. “Signing” is more of a handshake agreement. A verbal, mutual understanding that you will be working together.

If you’re not sure if the manager you’re talking to is on the level, there’s another great way to be sure.

Enter the Launch Pad Prose Writing Competition! Next Deadline ends August 27th.

Who Do They Rep?

Before signing with anyone, it’s important to know who they represent. Their website may list projects their clients have worked on, but it’s a smart move to do your own homework. This is where IMDb Pro really comes in handy.

No, they’re not paying me for the plug. (Unless they want to. Call me, IMDb.) But, when I was taking meetings with prospective managers, I made sure I checked out all of them. Their client rosters and projects their clients had written.

Every potential manager will talk a big game about what they can do for you and your career, even the ones who can’t. Especially the ones who can’t. Seeing that their clients are working in the industry is a great sign that they can help you get to the same place.

Checking what their clients are working on has another benefit as well, in terms of deciding if a manager is the right fit for you.

What are Their Clients Working On?

The types of projects a manager’s clients are working on tell you a lot about the kind of work they can find for you. What types of contacts they may have. In what medium.

It’s less and less the case as film and television continue to merge and overlap under one umbrella known as “content,” but managers can be stronger in one area than another.

To put it more simply, are their clients working more in film or tv? And, does that line up with your own goals? If you’re a feature writer, and the manager you’re considering mostly has clients writing for tv, maybe there are better fits for you.

Conversely, if your goal is to get staffed on a tv show, a manager whose clients are mostly writing features probably won’t get you where you need to go.

Know what your goals are, and make sure your manager has the connections to get you there.

This is your career. It’s important to know what you want it to look like.

Are We On the Same Page?

This isn’t always the case, but there’s a stereotype that is often true in the screenwriting game. An agent’s main focus is to sell you, your script, and find you work. A manager’s main focus is to help you build your career.

These lines are definitely blurry, and it varies from rep to rep. Some agents are more hands-on, and some jobs come from your managers. But, the main point still stands: your manager is there to guide you in the long term.

So, when looking for a manager, you’ll want to make sure you see your career in the same way. Before I signed with my managers, we didn’t just talk about my most recent script and the plan for it going forward. We talked about other ideas. Recent movies that we both loved. Screenwriters who had influenced me.

My taste and the kind of career I want, the kinds of movies I want to make. How to sell me and how to build to the best possible version of the writer I want to be.

Being on the same page about your career goals is key to a good, long-term working relationship. 

And, it is a relationship. This means the last question you need to ask yourself is maybe the most important.

How Do We Get Along?

You want your manager to be around for the long haul, so you want to be sure you’re able to work together. 

How involved or hands-off are they in the development process, and does that jibe with the way you write?

Do you trust their taste and notes to make your script the best version of itself?

How communicative are they? Will they be available when you need them?

And, quite frankly, do you like them? Are you comfortable talking ideas with them? Or just shooting the breeze?

When it comes to screenwriting, your career is a big part of your life, so your manager naturally becomes part of your life as well. 

So, really, all the above questions boil down to one essential question:

“Would I be happy working with this person?”

If you ask yourself all these questions, and this manager still feels like the person you want to build your career with, say yes. Trust your gut, and start working together on the career you want.

Brian T. Arnold has won the Tracking Board Launch Pad Competition, Best Thriller and Best Drama in the Script Pipeline First Look Competition, and Best Thriller in the Shore Scripts Competition. He’s also been featured on the Hit List and the Young & Hungry List and placed in the Top 50 of the Nicholl Fellowship. He’s repped by Bellevue Productions and APA.

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