Depending on how long you’ve been exploring the business of being a writer in Hollywood, you’ve probably asked or heard someone ask, “How do I get a writing job?” One of the first answers to this is often, “You need to have an agent.” The following question is, predictably, “How do I get an agent?” To which you’ve probably heard someone say, “Get a manager and the manager will get you an agent.” Which of course begets, “How do I get a manager?” And the answer is often, “Win a contest.”
So, if you win a contest you’ll get a manager then get an agent then get a writing job. Is this true? Yeeessss… ish.
Does winning a contest get you a manager? In 2011, not long after I graduated from school, I won a pretty big contest. It was sponsored by Amazon Studios and had a chunk of prize money attached. Amazon ended up optioning the script, twice. Both times, the executive pursuing the option waxed poetic about how they were going to introduce me to agents and get me repped. Once I signed the paperwork, he never mentioned the idea again and any emails where I brought it up the subject went unanswered. I also probably sent a dozen cold queries citing my contest win — (note that this is pretty much NOTHING in a numbers game like cold queries) and also didn’t get a response. Certainly no one ever sought me out based on my contest win. So I did my day job and allocated my extra time to writing. A few YEARS went by…
THEN, about four years later, I was invited to a party by an old USC classmate. At that party, another classmate introduced me to his manager. A couple months after that, the same classmate heard that the manager had a specific opening in his roster. He wrote to both of us, recommending me. So at that point there was a combination of things at work. This classmate knew me personally from school, had read my writing and knew it was in the genre the manager was looking for. AND he knew I had won this contest. I think the contest win helped give him the confidence to make the referral, because it was like having someone else, someone more important, vouch for me. There’s a good chance I wouldn’t have gotten the referral, or the manager’s interest, without the contest win. But the personal connection with someone who had actually worked with me, who was also connected to the manager (enough to know his needs) was also key. The fact that the manager had met me face-to-face among people he already liked probably also worked in my favor. I think if any of those things had been absent, it wouldn’t have happened. So:
- Contest win + Degree from Name School + Referrer familiar with work AND personality + Intangible Group approval of having been invited to party + Writing samples = Manager.
Does having a manager get you an agent? Almost a year into my relationship with my manager, I wrote a pilot script that “popped” more than the other scripts I’d been working on. The manager used this to get me read by two agents he knew. The first wasn’t responsive, but the second was. This agent worked at the same company as a senior agent who had taught a class at USC. I had worked hard in the class, and kept in touch in the years since (without agenda, I’ll note. He had promised he would never rep one of his students, and I believed him). So again — it was a confluence of things… an exciting script, the manager’s relationship with the agent PLUS the goodwill of the senior agent based on the effort I had put in to the class and to staying in touch… and I had the good school credentials and the contest win, AND – at this point a script I had been working on while un-repped had won a fancy prize — a fellowship in Switzerland. As a note, I don’t think the agent particularly liked either of my contest-winning scripts, but he liked that he could tell people it had won because it made me shiny.
- Manager + Manager’s Agent Relationship + Senior agent as secondary referrer familiar with my work AND personality + Degree from Name School + Hot Script + Other samples + Contest Win + Fellowship Win = Agent.
Does having an agent get you work? My new agent used the exciting script to get me a “water bottle tour” and some pitches. Ultimately one of the companies I pitched became attached and entered into the development process to pitch the series. Everything was going according to plan! However, the project ultimately floundered and didn’t move forward. The exec who had loved it never responded to another email. My samples earned me the opportunity to pitch for some open writing assignments, I got to break stories, go to meetings and give my “take.” Though my take was occasionally chosen, the projects ultimately fell through, I enjoyed the process. I could feel myself becoming a better all-round writer and pitcher.
There was only one problem:
In the four years of being unrepped + year of having a manager + four years of having both manager and agent (= nine years), none of the work I’d done had been PAID. All this time, I was teaching, editing, consulting, doing random side hustles and admin work — or going deeper into debt — or both.
Today, as I write this, this seems like it might be about to change. Not in a big way. Not even in a “quit my day job” way. But, in a way that at least breaks the almost decade-long cold streak. (Knock wood — send good vibes!)
To say it is to jinx it, so details must wait for a future post , but I can tell you now that the answer to the question “Does having an agent mean paid work” will be an equation containing a number of factors…