Is A Bad Manager Better Than No Manager?

Years ago, at a Representation panel I put together for the Screenwriting Expo, manager Jewerl Ross posed this question to the audience of screenwriters eager to secure representation: What can I, as a manager, do for you that you can’t do for yourself? While the answer, to some, is obvious – a good manager should help the writer get out there and get their name known, what Jewerl spoke to is this: In the early stages of your career, it’s all about getting out there and building a name for yourself. With a little motivation and a lot of chutzpah, you can do that just as well.

While there are a few managers who will put their energy into developing their talent and getting them out there (Jewerl being one of them), many managers, specifically those on the fringes, can only do so much for you before you’ve started to develop a name for yourself. In that spirit, let’s break down what makes a strong manager, what makes a bad manager, and what – or rather whom – you should strive towards.

Effective representation is all about the existing relationships they bring to the table. They facilitate introductions and become your advocates in the space. If they can get your material read by executives who are players in the industry marketplace, they can help propel your career forward in an effective manner. HOWEVER, not every manager, despite the title and the company letterhead, comes equipped with a contact database that can turn an unknown writer into a rising screenwriting star in the film and television industry.

A good manager is one who:

  • Has strong industry connections – This person’s been around, and is established. You don’t have to do much more than scratch the surface to see that they’re a valid player working with other writers who are effectively moving their career forward.
  • Has an appropriate client roster – You don’t want to work with a manager who works with various types of above- and below-the-line talent (screenwriters fall into the above-the-line distinction). The right manager is one who has a number of screenwriters on his roster, which means that he’s developed relationships with executives who read his writers’ material.
  • Has some sort of a track record – While a baby writer should not aim to be represented by the hottest manager out there as said manager will likely be spending most of his time servicing his high-profile clients, it is in your best interest to find a manager who has some sort of a track record for getting work out there, with at least a few spec sales over the years under his belt. If no track record is established, industry executives will simply be less eager to read the work that comes from him. A great resource to check for a particular manager’s track record is The Scoggin’s Reportannual spec sales report card.

The Manager You DON’T Want:

  • Doesn’t have any working clients on their roster
  • Hasn’t gotten any specs out there in recent years, which means executives are not going to be excited about his talent when he takes a new script into the marketplace.
  • Is a jack of all trades – producing, managing, representing above- and below-the-line talent, which means that he’s still trying to figure out his business model and niche.

Never sign with an unestablished manager just to be represented. Sure, we all want someone  facilitating relationships and helping us pave inroads, but the right manager should have more than a business card to show as evidence that they’re good at what they do.

While some managers in the earlier stages of their career will offset their lacking relationships with motivation and energy, others may not prove instrumental in propelling your career forward simply because they have proven over the years to be ineffective in what they do. Deciding to sign with a manager should be based on who they are, their track record, current station, and vision for you, rather than the glow of securing representation. Signing with the wrong manager, one who is ineffective, could ultimately do more harm than good. You will have the illusion that your career is being moved forward, while in fact, you will be standing statically in one spot.