TWIC/Representation NOW

This Week in Coaching – Week ending 1/10/20.

Moving forward, This Week in Coaching posts and newsletters will be published on Saturdays

The new year only just started, and if there is one question that I got asked more than any other in my first week back to client meetings, it is: what’s the deal with representation??? This shouldn’t come as any surprise. After all, whether the question comes from previously unrepped writers looking to land representation for the first time, or writers with existing representation looking to make changes to their team, this is something I get asked about ALL. THE. TIME.

Which is why I decided to launch my Representation NOW column as part of This Week in Coaching. This column is specific to what I see and hear that is happening right now, so please pay attention to the column’s date, because things do shift and change pretty fast around her

First, a bit of context:

  • I am a manager-first kind of girl, and have been long before the great agency exodus of 2019.* Not quite sure what I mean? Check out my previous blog post HOW TO GET A SCREENWRITING MANAGER.
  • The great exodus did change everything, because overnight, managers, who were, for many, a nice-to-have rather than a have-to-have on the writer’s team until that point, became, in lieu of agents, the writer’s primary industry advocate.
  • Due to the exodus, many managers found themselves suddenly overwhelmed, doing both the manager’s and the agent’s job in order to keep their existing clients employed and their material (screenplays, pilots and pitches) going out into the marketplace.
  • Without agents at their side, many writers found themselves looking to bring a manager onto their team for the first time.
  • From April 2019 until late summer 2019, many managers stopped reading not-yet-working new writers altogether, focusing on ensuring that their existing clients were employed, and only considered writers who were previously employed in the professional space.

*The great agency exodus: the move by WGA members to unilaterally fire their agents in protest of packaging fees and affiliated Production. This took place in April 2019. 

Which brings us, more or less, up to speed. So… where are we now?

The good news: Things have calmed down significantly since the summer of 2019. While many managers have added a significant number of writers to their list following the exodus, it seems that most have found their groove again in this new normal.

What this means: Some (though it’s hard to tell how many) managers will be reading new writers for potential representation moving forward, more so than they were in the summer of 2019, when even the most open managers (i.e. always interested in promising new voices) informed me that they weren’t going to be taking anyone new on for a while. But this has seriously loosened up, and I am finding that managers are once again more open to discovering previously unrepresented writers. However, because there are so many writers – both WGA and non-WGA – still looking to secure management, managers are more discerning, and potentially harder to “hook” than ever. Referrals are now more important than they have ever been, as managers are able to be even more selective about who they bring onto their list. This by no means indicates that managers were not selective before; rather, many have more writers available to them than they did previously.

What are reps looking for? Managers are always looking for great screenplays and TV pilots, as well as unique new voices. However, recently I’ve talked to more managers who are prioritizing the signing of female and diverse writers, specifically in the TV space.

What’s ahead: While we are recovering from a disruption (as many of you know, a handful of mid-level agencies have signed agreements with the WGA since the exodus, and are once again representing writers), the exodus is by no stretch over: the WGA and the Big 4 agencies (CAA, UTA, ICM, WME) are tied up in lawsuits that will likely keep them busy for a while, which means that the Big 4 will not be representing writers for a while. Of course, a new agreement can be forged tomorrow and all of this can change; there have been a million rumors about what’s about to happen and who’s about to sign an agreement with the WGA for months, so this is what remains true for RIGHT NOW. In addition, we are also facing a potential writers strike in May 2020, which will make for an unstable staffing season… always a good time!

What’s happening with my writers: While many more established managers may not be as open to new writers, previously repped writers or writers with some pedigree to their name (contest & fellowship placements, success in other writing mediums such as novels and graphic novels) are getting meetings with managers again, more than they have in a while. Even though I will hear from some of my better-known manager friends that they can’t add anyone else to their list at this time or that they are “not taking on any baby writers,” I have four different writers who have not previously worked in the scripted space (i.e. features/TV) with scheduled manager meetings for January, all at reputable firms. Those meetings weren’t easy to get, and support from referrals was key, but it is happening!

What I’m hearing: As mentioned above, many managers now have the luxury of being more discerning than ever. BUT (and this is an important BUT) I am also hearing from more new managers that they are eagerly looking for exciting new voices to add to their lists.

All of which is to say… : While it is more difficult than it was this time last year, new writers can and do get signed for representation. Maybe it won’t be the hot rising young star that will sign you (though that is possible) or maybe you won’t be in the biggest firm right off the bat, but if you pay close attention, write GREAT screenplays and TV pilots that are voice-y and noisy, and create the sort of pedigree that managers pay attention to, you may, in time (longer than anyone wants it to take, but still… ) find your way to a meaningful industry advocate.