A series of interviews with hard-working writers – by another hard-working writer!
by Kelly Jo Brick
Finding the right representation can be a key component to growing and developing a writing career. TVWriter.com sat down with several managers to find out what they’re looking for in writers and what writers can be doing to help achieve success in the industry.
Literary Manager Zadoc Angell was always interested in the arts. David E. Kelley shows like Picket Fences, Ally McBeal, The Practice and Chicago Hope drew him to the entertainment industry. While in college at Harvard, he did five internships over two summers including working at Malcolm in the Middle, Carsey-Werner-Mandabach and The Bold and the Beautiful. He got his start at the boutique agency, Genesis, which was eventually bought out by Paradigm. After three years working as an agent, Zadoc transitioned into management, first working at Artists International before making the move to Echo Lake Entertainment.
WHY THE SWITCH FROM AGENT TO MANAGER?
Agency culture was not the perfect fit for me. I wanted something that was more creative, more nurturing, where I could be closer to my clients, more creative, more hands on, more thoughtful and strategic. I thought that might be management, but it took my current colleague, Dave Brown, recruiting me into management. He really saw the potential. He wanted somebody who was an expert in TV Lit. and that’s all I’ve done over these years. We had worked together at Genesis when I first moved out here in 2003. He recruited me and I am so thankful that he did because right away it felt like the right fit for my talents and skills and experiences.
I think my years as an agent helped so much in making me a great manager, because I already built a foundation of relationships. I know how to negotiate. I know how to sell. I’m not afraid of picking up the phone and calling a showrunner. It gave me a lot of skill sets and access that have really benefited me as a manager.
WHAT’S THE BEST ADVICE YOU GOT AS YOU WERE STARTING OUT?
When I was training for my first assistant desk the woman who trained me said, “Go to drinks with your fellow assistants.” It’s so simple, but the networking is a big part of it. I think whether on the business side or the creative side you have to be willing to be vulnerable and to ask people out to not just drinks, but dinners.
I do it constantly. I’m booked for breakfast, lunch, and dinner almost every day. I’m on the sales side, so that’s a big part of my job, but I think the same goes true for everybody. Everyone has to work on their network of relationships and not be afraid to introduce yourself to new people or someone you’ve only talked on the phone once. Ask them out. And the good thing is, everyone in the business does it.
WHAT’S THE MOST COMMON QUESTION YOU GET ASKED BY WRITERS THAT ARE LOOKING TO BREAK IN?
If it’s anywhere not in Los Angeles, the number one question is, “Do I have to move to LA?” Which is yes. If it’s in LA, people still ask the benefits of writing a spec of an existing TV series versus writing an original pilot. I can’t believe we’re still having this conversation. People stopped sending specs out as writers’ primary writing samples I want to say 9, 10 years ago. Once in a while you have a show that’s kind of old school and wants specs, but working TV writers don’t write them anymore.
The only reason to write them is to learn the craft. There’s value in analyzing your favorite television show and figuring out how you would crack that for yourself. It helps you understand the mechanics of TV and you can use those samples to get in most of the diversity programs.
We’re in an era of the original voice. That’s what people want. The young writers that we have now are way ahead of the older writers who came up through the spec system, because our young writers are writing original material from day one and coming up with lots of ideas. A pilot is one of the hardest things to write. It’s way more complicated than a screenplay and you put a lot of pressure on young writers to be able to write at that level right out of the gate, but it does kind of cull the herd a little bit and you see who can really crack that nut.
HOW DOES A WRITER GET HIS/HER MATERIAL TO YOU?
It’s tough. Most of the new clients that I consider are referrals from other people in the business who are established. Sometimes agents will send me their clients, sometimes lawyers, sometimes executives are doing a favor for a friend. Sometimes clients will refer friends who they think are talented to us. Usually the personal referral basis is how it tends to happen. Once in a while I’ve judged writing competitions and have found a client, but they are few and far between. I think most of the time it’s personal referrals.
WHEN YOU ARE LOOKING AT A WRITER, BEYOND THE WRITING, WHAT MAKES SOMEONE STAND OUT?
The writing is the calling card. You do have to love the material in order to meet with someone. Sometimes you’ll ask for more than one sample because what you don’t want is someone who is just a one hit wonder, so don’t be surprised if you get asked for more than one sample.
Once you get the meeting and you are in the room, we always look for a person’s personal salesmanship of themselves because that’s a huge part of being in this business, especially as a TV writer. TV writing is so social. You’re in a room together all day long. You hang out with each other, hire each other on different shows year after year after year. The social is as important as the writing, but you have to know the writing is what gets you the face-to-face meeting. That’s true with representatives. That’s true with executives. That’s true with showrunners.
Our job as managers and agents is to help open doors for a writer. But what really sucks is when you have a great piece of material, doors open and the writer goes in and they aren’t great in the meeting or they aren’t good about talking about themselves or they’re just not memorable. Not every meeting can be an A+, but some writers are shockingly bad about talking about themselves, which is essentially what a general meeting is.
Writers need to prepare what they want another person to know about themselves. What their key selling points are. Be able to talk about your life story in an interesting way. People will think their own life stories are boring. Not everyone can grow up on a dairy farm and come to Hollywood like I did. I love my story, I love telling it, but I want my clients to love their stories too.
Talk about where you’re from and if you are that kid that grew up in Orange County and went to USC and now you work in TV and film, still find a way to make it interesting. Find points in your life story where you maybe took a different path or made an unexpected choice or, if you’re a comedy writer, had something really funny and embarrassing happen to you.
Coming Soon – Part 2 with Manager Zadoc Angell as he shares advice about taking meetings, breaking in and mistakes he sees writers making.
Kelly Jo Brick is a TVWriter™ Contributing Editor. She’s a television and documentary writer and producer, as well as a winner of Scriptapalooza TV and a Sundance Fellow. Read more about her HERE.