Dave emailed a few days ago to ask about a management company he found on the internet. How do you tell if a company is legit?
For agencies, check the list of WGA signatories. For writers in New York, here is the WGA East's list. Be wary of any agency not on these lists. You should also be wary of any company that asks you to pay a fee of any kind - they shouldn't be making money until you are.
Management companies are a little tougher since there is no official list that I'm aware of. See what you can find on Google, IMDBpro, StudioSystem, etc. If you can't dig up anything on them or their clients, I'd be skeptical. Also, watch out for terms like "screenplay agency," "script management," etc. Companies represent people, not scripts.
In many cases, a company might not be a scam, but just a fledgling company. Other clues: LA area codes are 310, 213, 323, 424, 818. There are reputable people in all of these, but most of the money is in 310 (or 424, which is more or less CAA's personal area code). Dave asked me about a company with a 626 (Pasadena/San Gabriel Valley). It's not Kansas, but it's no 90210. Sounds silly, but it's worth noting. If the company's website lists who their managers are, try to dig up dirt on them too. Did they used to be development execs or something, or did they just leave their careers in investment banking to manage screenwriters? If they're as new to the industry as you are, they probably won't be able to help you much. You need representation with contacts; your rep should be able to get you in the doors of studios, production companies, etc. Buyers need to take their phone calls. It seems to me that brand new agents and managers have the most success at firmly established agencies/management companies, since they have the advantage of older, more experienced reps to guide them and the respect that accompanies a brand name. If it's a brand new company, I'd hope one of the managers had a lot of experience working at a bigger one. You also want to be careful of brand new managers who want to attach themselves as producers to your projects. Producers with no credits probably aren't going make your material more attractive to studios and prodcos.
Remember that new writers often do not begin at the Big Five, or at the largest management companies. Also, all companies have to start somewhere: Chris Bender, one of the founders of Benderspink, explained how his company began in this interview on UGO Online:
The best way to find out if you're going to survive in Hollywood is to take a chance and see if you can make it. In November of 1998, we packed our things and started the company out of a three bedroom house in Hollywood with about 15 writing clients. We each took a bedroom to live in, and the third room became our first office. We built the company up to 9 people in that house before moving into new office space. Within our first year, we were lucky enough to secure a first look production deal with New Line Cinema. We were effectively at the same place our previous boss was at within a year all because we took a risk.
If that's not badass, I don't know what is. Sometimes representation involves boths sides taking a bit of a chance. For the record, Benderspink still accepts queries. They also have a great little image of how NOT to write a query (with a pen and notebook paper and 13 year-old boy handwriting).