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.
Thanks to his high school offering both film and a psychology as class selections, manager Eddie Gamarra fell in love with Hitchcock and Freud, sparking a passion for film and psychoanalysis that led him to major in Psychology at Vassar with a minor in Film. Eddie furthered his education by getting his Masters at NYU and a PhD at Emory. Rebooting his career after working as a professor, Eddie moved to Los Angeles where he started as an assistant and eventually found his way to The Gotham Group where his love for animation and experience working for a book packager found him well-suited for a role as manager with the company.
WHAT IS THE MOST COMMON QUESTION YOU GET FROM ASPIRING WRITERS?
How do I get you to read my stuff? That’s the most common question and it’s the easiest to answer. Almost every company has a corporate policy of no unsolicited submissions so finding an executive, a lawyer, an agent, somebody who’s in the business to vouch for you, to make a call on your behalf. That is going to be the key to breaking in. The personal introduction makes all the difference.
WHAT DO YOU LOOK FOR IN A WRITER OR DIRECTOR? WHAT MAKES A PERSON STAND OUT?
The God’s honest truth is just their personality. It’s gotta be on the page and it’s gotta be on the screen. The talent has to be there, of course, but after you’ve read something or after you’ve watched something, if they don’t know how to carry themselves, if they can’t articulate their vision, if they can’t defend their creative choices in a non-combative way, you know. You have to be able to understand it is a collaborative industry.
Not everyone’s going to hand you a check for millions and millions of dollars. You have to be able to justify your project and know how to market yourself, know how to read your own contracts. I encourage my clients to learn marketing, to learn the distribution models, to learn the financing models, to learn how to read a contract.
If I’m vetting a potential client and they have an openness to learn, that makes a huge difference for me. My clients have often said, “Wow, working with you for two, three years, I’ve learned more about how the business works than I ever have from any previous rep.” I want my clients to be empowered. But in order to sign a client, I’m going to sign a client who wants to be open to learning these things. To feel a sense of ownership. You can be a starving artist and that’s fine. I don’t want to sign starving artists who want to keep starving. I want starving artists who want to learn how to build empires.
WHY A MANAGER VERUS AN AGENT?
It’s not an either or game. I don’t put it in an organically adversarial kind of question. I think it’s really just about fit and focus. I just want to find someone who’s going to believe in me and my work. I want to find someone who’s willing to dedicate the time and energy to advance me and my work.
If that’s an agent, great. If that’s a manager, great. If it’s both, even better. People say, “I can’t afford 20% off of my salary.” Okay, but you have another person and another company out there pitching you, getting you meetings, putting another set of eyes on your work, sending emails out with a link to your film, proofreading your stuff.
It’s a simple thing, 80% of something is better than 100% of zero. If you can build a team around you, build a team around you. Agents have different resources, typically. They have different backgrounds, typically. Usually more of them come from a business affairs or legal background. They’re going to be a little more deal oriented. I just came out of a meeting with one of our writer/directors and me and my colleague and our client and the client’s two agents, who are feature agents. The client said, “Okay, well, I have a new script,” and they said, “Great, Eddie and Eric are going to read the script.” And Eric and I said, “We’re going to read the script and we’re going to give you notes and when it’s ready to share with the agent, we’ll share it with the agent.” And that’s kind of the process. We just accept that.
It sometimes frustrates me, but I understand they have a different set of pressures than we do. Our job is inherently focused on the long-term growth opportunity for the clients, not what’s the immediate check. Although we are very concerned with the immediate check as well, of course. But it’s a slightly different perspective.
HOW MANY PEOPLE DO YOU REPRESENT?
It’s hard to say because we joke around, we call ourselves The Gotham Group and we actually do work as a group so I share clients. I partner with my fellow managers.
For example, one of our clients created the animated show Daria, Glenn Eichler. Glenn then went on to work on the Colbert Report, so one of the things I do with Glenn is I’ve also taken some of his screenplays and I sold them as graphic novels. So Glenn’s a storyteller. He’s a really brilliant, smart, funny guy and his stories can exist in different media. Even though he’s my boss’s client, I work with Glenn. So it’s less about the number.
The way I like to provide the analogy of the big agencies, CAA and what not, they’re like big universities. Management companies are like small liberal arts colleges. There’s a smaller client to rep ratio just as you have a smaller student to professor ratio. We want to make sure we’re really in the thick of it with our clients on a day-to-day basis.
WHAT DO YOU ENJOY THE MOST ABOUT WHAT YOU DO?
I’m very lucky to work with some of the best people in their respective industries. That’s amazing. My weekend read is filled with manuscripts and treatments and bibles and screenplays and pitch documents from people who are Oscar winners and nominees. Emmy winners and nominees. In the publishing space, Newbery and Caldecott winners. Printz Award winners. Geisel Award winners.
People who are just so creatively stimulating to work with. That’s the best. And there’s also a blessing and a curse in the diversity of what I do. Because I get to a little bit of everything, which is a creative challenge, but it’s also fun. That’s probably the best part of the job is the diversity and the quality.
WHAT’S THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE WITH YOUR JOB?
The diversity and the quality and really trying to stay on top of so many different industries. Like I’ve really pushed myself and some of my coworkers, particularly in the animation space, to really try to delve deeper into the digital space even though there’s not a lot of money flowing, we have to know it.
I think we also really love finding new voices, discovering new talent and it’s hard to break new voices and break new talent into this industry. We joke around that we push the boulder up the hill and then they’ll sign with an agent and then the agent kind of pats the boulder and says, “Hey, good job getting up here.”
We’re very developmental. We’re very editorial. We’re very much like come in and practice a pitch. Let’s do 9 drafts of that script until we’re ready to go out with it. That’s very different than a lot of agencies. They’re much more transactional. Close the deal. Fill the job slot.
Coming up in Part 2 – Manager Eddie Gamarra talks about the client/manager relationship, expectations, and shares advice for building and sustaining a writing career.
Kelly Jo Brick is a Contributing Editor at TVWriter™. 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.