Thursday, September 9, 2010

How I got a manager

A few people have asked how I got a manager. I've been kind of scared to post any specifics of what's happening in my writing life, because I'm afraid I might jinx it or look like an idiot or something. So let's hope neither of those things will happen.

When I was working at the agency, I made friends with an assistant at a management company. When you're an assistant, you'll spend most of your day talking with other assistants via phone and email. Sometimes you'll talk to the same person over and over if you're trying to set a meeting that keeps getting rescheduled, and that can lead to small talk and maybe even drinks or friendship. A lot of studio, network and production company assistants find agency assistants to be annoying, since agents and their assistants are constantly bothering these other people to give out information and buy things. (Many agency assistants are also aggressive 22 year-old whipper snappers who haven't really learned how things work yet, so I think that's another part of it.) But management assistants are generally nice to agency assistants, since they're both in the same boat, dealing with the same kind of stuff. And if your boss shares clients with the management assistant's boss, you'll probably talk ALL the time. You'll need to CC each other on every meeting set and submission sent, and your bosses will frequently need to talk strategy.

So this one management company assistant was a master of writing hilarious emails, which is the kind of thing that impresses me. I asked him to drinks, and by drinks I mean going to Baskin Robbins 31-Cent Scoop Night and waiting outside for an hour with the other cheapskates. We finally got our cones and sat on the only free chairs, these tiny plastic things clearly meant for children, talking about our grandiose dreams of not answering phones for a living. He actually wanted to be a lit manager and wasn't another aspiring writer. Crazy! (Keep in mind I wasn't trying to get a manager out of this meeting. I was trying to make friends with funny email guy, and eat some unusually cheap ice cream. Done and done.) He asked to read my stuff, so I sent him all my scripts. Over the next few months he kept checking in with me to see if I had anything new, so that made me feel good. (I've posted before about how you don't want to have to pester someone into being your manager or agent.)

After I left the agency, I found a producer who was interested in a feature script of mine, and it seemed like a good time to secure representation. My management assistant friend had gotten promoted, and he found another manager (with a bit more experience) at the company who liked my work too. Now they're both on my team.

So like I always say, personal connections will get you farther than query letters - and getting a job as an assistant can be a great way to make personal connections.

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The Bitter Script Reader said...

You do realize this is now going to lead to frequent "how did you get a producer emails?" Congrats.

And this is how networking is supposed to work. People who ask for favors at the first meeting have it all wrong and are the same people who complain about no one remembers what it was like to be on the outside. They're probably the same people who start a Twitter feed to promote their products and complain that it's useless when all they do is spam their followers with ads and self-promotion.

There's a social aspect to networking, guys. It's not all business.

Claude said...


Dan Williams said...

Wow, that's kind of interesting. You made a great relationship happen and only spent 31 cents! It's really good you are building a team--they must really like your work!

Marquis de Gstaad said...

Thank you for sharing your story with us. I didn't know there was a 31-cent Scoop Night!

What said...

I have a general comment about the blog and all.

This may sound harsh and maybe it's because I'm a bitter 26 year-old who can't fathom ever becoming an assistant in LA.

I read John August's blog a long time ago coming out of college.

I first wanted to say something about the exhausting importance that you place on making connections: the connections I have may not be as potent as yours, but I'm also on the features track and not TV, and they've meant the world to me. I haven't made them by intentionally combing through jobs, I've made them by working on different aspects of the industry, proving my worth and dependability, and establishing friendships.

The thing is that, you never know who knows who so I think it's a tad myopic to come in and say that only in LA and only as an assistant will you make any gains. Every single writer's path is entirely different.

The other thing that I wanted to touch on was that the ONE and SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT lesson that I took away from August's blog (and mind you, he's written an Oscar nod, Emmy nods, and is a showrunner/director) is that you can PA until you are blue in the face but it will be a huge vortex that sucks away at the TIME that you should be spending CREATING things. Painters paint, dancers dance, singers sing, but TV writers...assist agents?

I study the career paths of many of the most fabulous filmmakers today and very very few made it by being PAs. MOST made it by churning out a phenom script, putting the film together, and skyrocketing to everyone's IT list.

Frankly, I don't want to be the writer's PA that gets a job because I'm a friend of a friend's and NOT because my writing is astronomically amazing.

And lastly, LEARNING THE CRAFT OF WRITING TAKES SO MUCH TIME AND ENERGY. I'd rather spend my life's valuable time on THAT and then moonlighting on other people's productions so that I can have a spider web of contacts to send my magnificent work out to.

But that's MY path. To each his own.

The Bitter Script Reader said...

Yeah, fuck Amanda and her free advice!

Hey "What," Amanda's going to be far too nice to give you the tongue-lashing you deserve after that baiting comment, but I'm not.

You clearly took a lot of time writing that, so could you have at least taken an extra minute or two to make it polite and not confrontational and condescending. I don't think Amanda has ever said the ONLY way to make it is to work as an assistant. You can make contacts by working in any area of the industry. She's sharing all her assistant-related networking because, well, that's what's worked for her.

And it seems like you misuse the term PA. A PA is a production assistant, pretty much the grunt on film and TV shows. A writers' PA is the guy who keeps the office stocked and does lunch runs for the writers on a TV show. A writer's assistant is a MUCH more important job and there are pleny of writers who have come up that way.

If you're a writer's assistant, often your boss will help you get an agent if they like your work, and there are hundreds, if not THOUSANDS of TV writers who got their start as a writer's assistant. Usually at least one or two episodes a year are set aside to be written by non-staffers and those slots usually go to writers assistants. I personally know a guy who started as an Office PA on "Judging Amy," got to write two freelance episodes of the show after becoming a writer's assistant, and then went on to the writing staffs of "Jericho," "Harper's Island," and "Human Target." You can check out my interview with him here.

I'm sure you had an interesting counter-perspective to offer, but your tone was incredibly rude. When you comment on someone's blog, you're a guest in their house and you should mind your manners accordingly.

Amanda said...

@What - I think you're absolutely right that there is no one path to becoming a professional writer. Of course I think honing your craft is essential...but I don't spend much time talking about that on the blog, because there are already so many writing resources out there, from Robert McKee and Syd Field to Jane Espenson and Alex Epstein, and because I'm not experienced enough to be telling people how to write. I'm still learning and working on my craft.

The purpose of this blog has always been to answer the question, "how do you go from film school to becoming a professional writer?" I think there are fewer resources about that, so that's what I'm trying to cover, as I experience it.

I think that becoming a professional writer is a two-step process: 1. write a great script, and 2. get someone important to read it (and like it). While there are a lot of aspiring writers out there who obsess more about #2 when they should be focusing on #1, I don't think you can ignore #2 completely. If you've written 10 fantastic scripts and they're just sitting on your hard drive, they won't do much for you.

You definitely don't HAVE to be an assistant of some kind to make it as a writer. It's just one path that I've seen work for people.

Jay Faerber said...

The secret is finally revealed!

Dan Williams said...

@What--you make a valid point about the primacy of craft. I think what you are talking about is ART. Writers who are artists tend to keep their projects inside so they'll grow, and to talk about it ruins the process, so networking is counter-productive.

TV writers produce entertainment on a professional level rather than art although sometimes a show rises to that level. In the TV world, networking can be very important, so it's nice to get Amanda's take on it from the inside.

Your dedication will result in good work if you keep at it, I bet. And Amanda will get hired one day for the room.

Rachel Upshaw said...

Witty email banter and daily discount hookups make up a large portion of my life, although unfortunately neither has amounted to getting representation. Congrats!

Cobblestone Creative said...

Tried the mail. Tried the email. Tried the phone. The best way to start a career in entertainment is to make friends.

You don't make friends by saying "Nice to meet you, now what can you do for me?"

You make friends by saying "So, you're into Battlestar Galactica too? Cool! Do you watch Caprica? What do you think of the new Starbuck? I think they made a good call not having a daggit in the series this time."

The trick? You have to mean it! You can't be false!

Why? Because the only way to make a career using your natural creativity is to have contacts that will understand you and become excited by ideas that excite you. These contacts will naturally become friends and vice versa. If you like Force Five Cartoons and they do'll both be excited at the prospect of a live-action film being produced about Grandizer!


Danny said...


Not farther!

Ha ha, just pickin' on ya--congrats, Amanda!

Not sure the poster What sounds so much "bitter" as he sounds unfamiliar with your blog, as he's put about 20 billion words and opinions in your mouth that you never uttered. Quite the opposite, usually.

Oh well.

Congrats again!

Amanda said...

farther is distance, further is depth, right ? wasn't I talking about the proverbial distance of your career? I actually think about these things and thought I was right!

Danny said...

Heh, maybe I'll end up putting my foot in my mouth, but I *think* "farther" is only for physical distances and everything else, anything metaphorical like that, you would use "further."

Though you may be right. Hmm...

Amanda said...

you may be right too. I am looking this up!

Dan Williams said...

"So like I always say, personal connections will get you farther than query letters"

According to my sources "farther" is used correctly as it relates to distance and time. So here it relates to "distance" in that personal connections will take you a greater distance towards the goal than query letters will.

The use of "farther" is really interesting. It is a more abstract word. It relates a process or an effort, as in "further efforts are needed to reach the goal" and "we've gone farther into than our competitors."

You can tell you've got lots of literary talent when you're willing to fight for the way you use a single word.

Dan Williams said...

Oops! Let me correct the typos in my third paragraph (I think faster than I type):

"So like I always say, personal connections will get you farther than query letters"

According to my sources "farther" is used correctly as it relates to distance and time. So here it relates to "distance" in that personal connections will take you a greater distance towards the goal than query letters will.

The use of "further" is really interesting. It is a more abstract word. It relates a process or an effort, as in "further efforts are needed to reach the goal" and "we've gone further into it than our competitors."

You can tell you've got lots of literary talent when you're willing to fight for the way you use a single word.

We Really Didn't Think This Through said...

that's how i remember how to use FARTHER vs FURTHER. the word DISTANCE has an "a" in it.

Jeff said...

Sweet meet cute! Glad to see honesty and friendship paying dividends. Keep it up.