Pearls of Wisdom from Working Writers: GETTING YOUR FIRST REP

Getting that first agent or manager is a huge milestone for most writers aiming to break into the entertainment industry. But it can also be an incredibly illusive one, as sometimes the doors can appear closed at every turn.

With that in mind, I turned to my friends and clients in the professional writer space, all of them on the other side of that door now with industry representation and asked them: How did you get your first agent or manager?

And while I do generally like to keep these blog posts to a single topic, this time I threw in a bonus question: What are some things a writer should consider when choosing their reps?

Below is what they told me:

Savy Einstein, whose project is currently set up ScreenGems, and who is repped by Bellevue Productions and Gersh, told me:

I got my manager through a cold query. I decided to be proactive about getting representation, so I spent a few days looking up writers who I believed to be writing in a similar genre and then used my Googling skills (and IMDBPro) to find out who was repping them and get their contact info. I then came to Lee with a long list of managers and a semi-interesting query letter to get her advice. She helped me fine-tune the list and rewrite the query. I was extremely surprised when I got a few responses from managers and agents requesting to read my material. And after taking a few meetings, I decided to go with Jeff Portnoy at Bellevue Productions. So, to conclude, my advice is — be proactive!”

As far as what to consider when searching for a rep, Savy advised:

“You want your reps to be passionate about your writing. To get your voice, the kind of stories you want to tell and believe in your talent. Building a screenwriting career is a challenging, and often dispiriting, process and you want (need!) people who are in it for the long haul.”

Moises Zamora, Executive Producer and Head Writer on Netflix’s SELENA bio-series, who is currently managed by Grandview, with whom he landed by referral from his agency, told me that writers should ask themselves the following questions when considering representation:

“How did they work with new emerging writers? How much do they develop with you? Are they hands on or off? Do they give you notes or not? Do they have a strategy for your career? Can they be honest about your strength and weaknesses and is there a plan to correct bad habits?”

Melissa London Hilfers, who sold a number of feature specs, is currently on the JAGGED EDGE writing assignment, and is repped by super manager Alan Gasmer as well as UTA, told me this about what a writer should consider when choosing her reps:

I would consider whether they seem focused on your long-term goals in addition to selling whatever script you just finished. Ideally this will be a partnership for many years, so you need to be on the same page, and feel you can be honest about what you want for your career.”

Paul Puri, currently writing on CHICAGO MED and repped by Circle of Confusion said:

My first manager I got off of a stage 32 pitch. That was a mixed experience and I ended up firing him. My next and current one I got via a referral from another writer on the show I am on.”

iZOMBIE writer Bob Dearden told me:

“My path to representation was a little backwards – first, I got a couple of writing gigs that I worked up to from my position as an assistant to the EPs of a movie, that spawned a web series (my first paid writing job), and then as a writers’ assistant on a show run by the same EPs, which led to a freelance script. Once I had those credits — and the endorsements of the aforementioned EPs and a few other writers on the show — I was able to get reps.”

Greta Heinemann, who did a number of seasons on NCIS NEW ORLEANS and is currently writing on GOOD GIRLS offered:

“I got my first manager after an actress who I had cast in a short film connected me with her.”

Greta offered this advice when it comes to what to look for in a prospective rep:

“In the early stages, you often don’t have a choice. Here my advice is to go with whomever comes knocking but to watch their work closely and know when to sever ties. Once you’re in the position to make a decision between several reps I think it’s a combination of personality matches, taste matches and a shared career vision. I also believe that writers at different stages in their careers might have different needs, so it’s helpful to consider where you’re at. A manger with Showrunner reach might be a good way to break in a baby writer, while a young and hungry manager might have more of the hustle to set up a feature…”

On what to consider in a new rep, Eileen Jones, who previously wrote on LETAHL WEAPON and is currently on FOX’S DEPUTY, and is repped by Verve and New Wave media, both of whom she landed via referral, told me:

“Find someone who is genuinely excited about you. As exciting as it is to get representation — and as much as you may think any rep is better than none — I would argue that the real value  is in signing with the right person. You want someone who gets you, who will be excited by what you’re working on and who will respond to your emails. Not having that can adversely affect your process and your confidence. If they’re not excited when dealing with you, how can you expect them to be excited when selling you to other people?”

Working TV writer and thrice-published novelist Hollie Overton illuminated:

I was repped right out of the WB Writer’s Workshop but parted ways after my first staff job. There were several reasons, but the main one was I didn’t quite know who I was as a writer, and I needed to figure it out. I’ve been with my current manager Adesuwa McCalla at Metamorphic Entertainment for almost eight years. I had a pilot at the time that was getting some buzz and a friend I met in a writing class put in a good word. I staffed shortly after I signed with Adesuwa and landed a new agent after that (writers on my show put in a good word!) I was with them for six years before I left to sign with Verve.”

Hollie also provided this when exploring what to consider when choosing your rep:

A rep should be passionate about you as a writer and in it for the long haul. It’s easy for reps to get excited about one script or because you staffed on a hit show. But what happens if that script doesn’t sell or the show gets cancelled? You want to make sure your reps aren’t going to dump you when that happens and they’re onto the next hot thing. Don’t just sign with someone to sign with them. Also make sure you’re on the same page about about who you are as a writer and where you want to go. Do you see yourself as an edgy cable writer? If so, don’t sign with reps who talk about all the network shows they could staff on. Having a manager and agent is an important step in a writer’s career, but you want to make sure it’s the right person guiding you.”

Feature writer Josh Renfree, repped by Bellevue Productions, provided his insights:

“I placed in the quarterfinals of the Nicholl Fellowship. My manager requested the script, but it was the second sample I sent him that helped him decide to want to work with me.”

As for what to look for when considering a rep, Josh said:

“Someone that vibes with your style, understands you a bit as far as what interests you, is interested in your ideas, and is also someone that you would want to work with (i.e. you appreciate/respect their notes and are willing to work with them when developing new ideas.)”

Nora Nolan, a comedy writer previously on NBC’s TRIAL & ERROR and currently on Netflix’s PARADISE PD, shared this:

“I got my manager through your Lee’s recommendation, and when I was a finalist for the WB Workshop. I got my agents after I was staffed. Friends reached out to agents they knew on my behalf recommending me.”

When meeting with a prospective manager, Nora suggested you consider this:

“How excited they are about you, whether you’ll be a small fish in a huge pond. It’s hard to know until you’re in it, but you can tell in a meeting who is really into you. Pay attention to that and don’t get too swept up in the excitement of big agencies if they’re not excited about you.”

As you can see from the answers above, writers have gotten their reps in a number of different ways, from cold queries to referrals, and considered different things when choosing the rep that was right for them. But, at the end of the day, this is a relationship driven business, and referrals can very much be the name of the game. If you want to learn more about finding representation, check out my previous blog post, HOW TO GET A SCREENWRITING MANAGER.