Friday, December 01, 2006

No more agent phone tag

I’m sure agents long for the good old days. Those halcyon days before cellphones and email. Back when it was easy to duck calls from their writer clients and avoid them entirely. They had the drill down pat.

You, the writer/client would call. Step one: the assistant says he’s in a meeting and will call you back. Step two: He calls back at 1 PM, knowing you’re at lunch. Step three: You call back after lunch, and what do you know? He’s out of the office. But he’ll call you back. Step four: The assistant calls you back at 6 to say the agent has been in meetings all afternoon but will call you back first thing in the morning. Step five: He calls at 8:30 the next morning knowing you’re not in the office yet. A variation of Step four is he calls you back at 7:30 at night knowing you’ve left for the day. Repeat this process until the writer just gives up.

But now, with cellphones, there is no “out of the office”. He can reach you at lunch, at 7:30 at night, even 7:30 in the morning. And you can pepper him with email. Agents would give up their citizenship before they give up their Blackberrys. For us "schmucks with an Underwood" (or now an iMac) it’s a beautiful thing.

I must say, I’m one of the few writers who actually likes his agent. But he returned my calls b.c. (before cellphones).

How important you are in the business can be directly correlated to when (if ever) your agent gets back to you. If you call him and he actually gets on the phone, you’ve just won an Oscar. If he calls you back within the hour, your movie just opened big or you have three series on the air. A lunch callback signals that you’re still marketable. Same with an early afternoon callback. But if the fortunes haven’t been smiling lately, if he’s not fielding offers for you, expect the 7 PM call. Always from his car on his way home. Priority level right behind making an appointment to have his golf shoes polished.

Those are great conversations because you can’t hear him on the speaker phone, if he needs to refer to something he left it at the office, and if he’s going over a canyon you get cut off. And they ALL seem to have homes in the canyon. Hey, wait a minute. That could just be Step Six.

When you meet with your agent is also an indication of your place on the Hollywood Food Chain. Dinner -- you’re the flavor of the month. Lunch – it’s okay to be seen with you. Breakfast – charity.

And of course none of this applies when the agent is trying to recruit you. Then he’s calling you six times a day – asking how your weekend was, wondering if you wanted Laker tickets, telling you you should be having Paul Haggis’ career.

But now with email you can tell him every Monday how your weekend was, whether he asks or not. And when you read in Variety that Haggis signs a multi-million dollar deal to write the next James Bond movie you can find out why you didn’t get that assignment. Make sure your cellphone is on at 7:00, or in this case, more like 9:00.

And while you’ve got him, the Lakers are home against the Spurs on Sunday the 10th.

14 comments :

wcdixon said...

Brilliant...and it would be sad, if it weren't so true.

Anonymous said...

I would only add one thing, Ken... and that is to remind everyone that the agent's assistant is ALWAYS listening in on the call, ostensibly to follow up on whatever needs following up. So be careful what you say... especially ABOUT the assistant.

jm said...

I like how assistants always use some variant of the blow-off, "I don't have him/her right now."

What does that even mean? You don't have them? In what way did you have him/her before?

What the hell's going on in that office?

David S. said...

I had two agents at one time. One who was always friendly, helpful and not surprisingly just starting out at the time(which I'm sure accounts for the friendliness and helpfulness).

This agent was trying to help get my partner and my spec sitcom scripts read and set up meetings for us. This agent returned our calls promptly, met with us regularly, and unfortunately had virtually no success at getting us much attention from producers or story editors.

Then, on the other hand, I had my "meat agent." This was my agent who helped me with my animation career and who I believed saw me as a "piece of meat." We had no personal relationship, we only talked when a project was on the table, and this agent actually found me work!

Last I heard my friendly, attentive agent got very successful, and probably now follows some variation of your 4-step routine! C'est La Vie...

Will Teullive said...

WWARGD- What would Ari Gold Do?

RAC said...

Ken,
Is it true that no one in Hollywood orders off the menu at these power lunch meetings?

"Waiter, I'd like some lobster bisque with extra sherry and a sprinkle of authentic German Gummibärs, por favor. Oh, and a half-double decaffeinated half-caf… with a twist of lemon!"

(Okay, I watched L.A. Story last night.)

Some Guy said...

Your post reminds me of my days working at a boutique agency years ago. On one occassion a writer fired the agency and included a dime taped to the letter to reimburse the agent for "the only call you ever made on my behalf" (I'm paraphrasing, it was a long time ago, back when calls were a dime, before they were a quarter, before they became 2 or 3 cents)

By the way I know and like your agent too. I owe much of my success to his generosity.

Murph said...

25, aspiring TV writer not from a name college...

An agent is like Big Foot to me.

Tom Quigley said...

Any of the readings I was able to secure, I went out and found the business myself. The only thing my agent did was tell me "Send me a copy of the spec and who you want it to go to, and I'll forward it." She didn't even use up phone minutes on me...

Caroline said...

That's why I wouldn't take a Blackberry in the last job. The boss was dumbfounded when I lead a management team revolt. Our gripe? You don't pay us enough to be accessible 24/7. No thanks. There's something to be said for being inaccessible sometimes.

benson said...

I would be derelict in my duties as a fan of this blog if I didn't post two words:

Bebe Glazer

According to IMDB, those weren't your writing credits, but what an incredibly wonderful character. I'll always sit and watch a Bebe Glazer episode.

benson said...

Oh, and Ken, the radio guy in you will appreciate this...("some guy"'s post reminded me of this true story)

A PD (I actually got a job offer from this guy back in the 80's) walks into the CR, sits down across from the jock and says "Jocks aren't worth a dime a dozen".

The jock pulled a dime out of his pocket, placed it on the counter, and left the building. Wish I had the cajones to do that.

maven said...

Not having an agent (cause I'm not in the biz), I can't really comment on the agent brush/off debate! However, like any new technology...we belittle anything new, finally break down and get it and then wonder how we ever lived without it! I can't remember what life was like without the cell phone! LOL

guyot said...

When I was with CAA, it was pulling teeth to get my agents on the phone. But then, I wasn't (and still ain't) Akiva Goldsmith.

Now I'm with Gersh, and I would honestly say that, not only are they a junkyard pit bull to CAA's all-bark/no-bite Great Dane, but my agents will take my calls at least 50-60% of the time, and when they don't, they call back within an hour or so, almost always.