When Backstage invited me to write this piece about my new book, “How To Manage Your Agent: A Writer’s Guide to Hollywood Representation,” they suggested I write about why I’m “a great person to be giving advice” on agents and managers. But here’s the truth:
Or at least, I’m no more qualified to write about Hollywood agents and managers than I am to write about marriage... and I have no freaking idea how that works.
In fact, after nine years of marriage, I’m pretty sure I’m getting stupider about the whole thing. I talk when I should be listening. I don’t express my own needs and wants. I’m not considerate of my wife’s needs and wants. I don’t go on enough date nights. I load the dishwasher wrong. I unload the dishwasher wrong.
“So what?” you ask. “What does marriage have to do with my agent or manager?”
Everything. Because if you have a tough time figuring out one, you probably have a tough time figuring out the other. And not because you need your spouse to represent your work or get you jobs, and not because you’re sleeping with your agent or need them to help you with the laundry—but because they’re both incredibly personal, intimate relationships—and they work surprisingly similarly.
Both require total openness and communication—a willingness to express fears, concerns, worries, expectations. The ability to see and understand your partner’s perspective. A constant (often unconditional) output of product, whether that product is romantic affection or marketable scripts and pitches. And both require patience and an acceptance of responsibility when things start to get rocky.
In fact, many artists, and many of you—writers, directors, actors, musicians, whatever—get frustrated with representation for the same reasons spouses get frustrated with one another. Your agent doesn’t “get” you. You’re afraid to reveal your deepest, darkest fears. You’re not getting the time and attention you deserve. You suspect your agent likes other clients better. You feel your life and career are stagnating, moving too slowly.
Whatever the details, most client/agent conflicts stem from the same issues you’d find in a marital spat: a communication breakdown, a failure to articulate expectations, a misunderstanding of perspectives. And sadly, most marriage conflicts—er, client/agent conflicts —could’ve been avoided had both sides better articulated their own needs and motivations, expectations and perspectives.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wished I had a portable therapist with me, a brilliant guide to tell me what my wife was thinking and how to respond appropriately. “Don’t say that, you idiot!” “Just hug her -- don’t ‘fix’ it!” “She’s not mad at you; she’s just venting!”
And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wished I had that same guide when dealing with my representation. Like when a former agent convinced me to write a procedural spec—even though I had no desire to write for procedurals. When I didn’t understand why other writers were getting staffing meetings and I wasn’t. When I wanted a specific job and my agent couldn’t—or wouldn’t—put me up for it. Or even when I did get a certain job and my agent urged me not to take it.
That’s why I wrote this book: to have that guide. To help me understand how agents and managers go about selling material and getting clients meetings, how they prioritize clients, how they profit (or don’t profit) from various clients and deals, and what secret motivations and agendas are at work behind the scenes. I also wanted help navigating common conflicts and disagreements with my representation—to understand what I’m doing to hamper my own agent relationship, and even to know when—and how—to break up with my agent (or find a new one) should I need to.
Basically, what I’m saying is: I didn’t write this book for you, I wrote it for me. To help me have a bigger, better career, a more productive relationship with my agent, and a better understanding of what my representation can or can’t—and should or shouldn’t—be doing for me.
Having said that, I love sharing what I’ve learned with other people. (Not for free, unfortunately. As much as I’d love to give it away, my publisher won’t let me. Plus, it’d probably result in a conversation with my wife where I’d really need a therapist present.)
So I hope you learn as much reading it as I did writing it. Think of it as a Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus... but for you and your agent. Just don’t apply most of it to your marriage—your spouse deserves much more than 10 percent.
(FYI: Yes, the book is geared toward writers. But anyone in Hollywood who has representation, wants representation, or interacts with representation will learn a ton. Just ask my mom. She doesn’t even work in Hollywood and she said she loved it.)
Chad Gervich is a television writer/producer, bestselling author, and award-winning playwright. He has written, produced, or developed shows for almost every major network and studio in Hollywood, including E!’s After Lately, starring Chelsea Handler; Disney Channel’s Dog With a Blog; Food Network’s Cupcake Wars; and ABC’s Wipeout. He also spent four years as a development executive at the Littlefield Company, former NBC President Warren Littlefield’s production company with NBC Studios and Paramount TV. Chad’s first book, Small Screen, Big Picture: A Writer’s Guide to the TV Business, has been a staple in film and TV writing programs at USC, UCLA, California State University, Long Island University, as well as writing programs at NBC, CBS, and the Writers Guild. He also frequently teaches, speaks, and consults for various studios and production companies around the world.