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 of Echo Lake Entertainment brings with him the unique perspective of having worked first as an agent and now as a manager. He shares experiences and insights from his years building, growing and revitalizing writers’ careers.
WHAT ARE THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES YOU FACE AS A MANAGER?
The first is breaking in someone who’s totally new and hasn’t staffed before. It’s always hard to get that first job at the staff writer level and be taken seriously. People break in all different ways. It can be through your manager or agent submitting you to a show or it can be working your way up as a writers’ assistant or script coordinator or a showrunner assistant. It can be winning a contest, it can be getting into one of the network programs.
The other biggest challenge is career transition, when writers may have established themselves in some sort of fashion, let’s say as a comedy writer and now they want to be taken seriously as a drama writer or a veteran writer who has been around a long time, but has gone a little cold and you’re trying to reinvent their narrative and their story.
The good news about writers is that you can reinvent yourself through material. You can write that new special script in a different genre to help show people that you’re not just the category of writer they may have perceived you to be. We deal with these challenges all the time, but they’re big hurdles and they need a lot of strategy and thought and care put into achieving them for the client.
WHAT ADVICE DO YOU GIVE WRITERS WHEN THEY’RE TAKING THEIR FIRST MEETINGS?
If it’s a showrunner meeting, the biggest thing I tell writers is to make sure that you’ve read the pilot script and you have very specific thoughts about it, meaning you responded to a particular character for a particular reason or particular joke or storyline or bit of dialogue or a key moment.
You have to realize that these showrunners are meeting with writers on the hour or the half hour and everyone’s saying they love it. Everyone says it’s great, but if you’re only speaking in generalities, it doesn’t mean anything to them. So if you really have read it and really have internalized it and really can talk about specifics, then that showrunner is much more likely to think that you actually cared about his or her show and you really thought about it.
The best is when you can take those things that you responded to and turn it into a conversation about yourself, where you responded to that character because she reminds you so much of your mother, then you’re talking about your mother and where you grew up. Then all of a sudden a showrunner is getting to know who you are and why you’re specifically right for his or her show, but you’re leading into the conversation by talking about that showrunner’s show and their writing.
The worst thing you can do is come out of a showrunner meeting and feel like they didn’t get to know you at all, because then why would I hire a writer that I don’t think is uniquely qualified for my show or that I got to know as a person on any level. You have to find ways to insert that in the conversation because quite often they only want to talk about their own show.
WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT YOUR JOB?
It’s funny because the things that are the most challenging are also the most rewarding. So when you do get that client their first staff job, it’s just so exciting. You know someone’s life has just changed and a dream has come true for them. That’s really fulfilling on a lot of levels and the career transition, when you’re able to take that client and get them into a new side of the business or achieve a long-term goal that seemed really hard to pull off, that’s when you feel the most fulfilled and the most pride.
One of my signature clients is Ingrid Escajeda who started out as a comedy writer. I got her, her first job on HANNAH MONTANA when I was a Coordinator at Paradigm. That was a big first for both of us, because she broke in and it was my first time staffing somebody and we were so thrilled. And then she went on to BETTER OFF TED on ABC for 2 seasons and coming off that she was really interested in becoming a drama writer. She thought that was maybe where she would find more success.
So I told her to write a drama pilot. And she wrote a pilot about the LA Bomb Squad that was very RESCUE ME in tone and used the best of drama and comedy in one sample and it was gritty and compelling. I sent it to Graham Yost who was reading for JUSTIFIED. He hired her and she was on JUSTIFIED for four years. Now she’s a Co-EP on EMPIRE and has an overall deal at 20th.
Her whole life has changed, but it changed through that one script. That piece of material that showed she could do it. And it didn’t happen overnight. We worked hard and were patient and did the right things. We got it to the right showrunner and the right show and it changed her whole profile as a writer in the community. When you do things like that, there is no better feeling.
WHAT ARE THE BIGGEST MISTAKES YOU SEE WRITERS MAKING?
Once you’re a successful writer and you’re working on shows full-time, it becomes very hard to write your own material and so it’s really important you find time to continue to write your own pilots or features or film shorts, even prose. Just have some sort of creative outlet for yourself outside of your day job, because the day job can be all consuming and it can drain you emotionally and creatively, but you’re writing for someone else, on someone else’s show that is their voice, their characters and what can happen is that you start to lose touch with your own creative fire. So it’s really important to keep that going.
You have to be incredibly disciplined to do it because it’s so easy when you have a full-time job and a life and a family and that sort of stuff to not find time for your own writing. But I find that the writers who do, they’re the ones who really need to write in order to breathe and ultimately have the most success.
WHAT CAN A WRITER DO TO HELP YOU DO YOUR JOB?
Write great material and be great in a room. There’s a marked difference when a writer goes into a room and has just an okay meeting and when they go into a room and they kill it, because when you call an executive for feedback, if there’s just middle of the road feedback, you made an introduction, but it’s not really going to add up to anything or go anywhere, but if the person that you met with is genuinely excited about you, there’s much more possibility of an opportunity coming out of that somehow, some way, whether it’s immediate or down the road, because they’re going to remember you for if not this thing, the next thing. They may be tracking that writer’s career. They’re excited about that person. You’re now on their recommended writers list when they’re thinking about writers for projects and staffing.
We work really hard to get our clients in rooms and get meetings and so if we’ve done all the work of opening the door, you’ve got to meet us halfway and barrel through that door and win over the people you’re talking to.
ANY OTHER ADVICE FOR WRITERS IN EARLY STAGES IN THEIR CAREER LOOKING TO BREAK IN?
Write material that excites you, that is daring and different and bold. It’s bad when writers just try to write for the marketplace or try to copy something that’s popular right now. It tends not to be writers’ best work.
What’s probably going to break you through the clutter and get you your first representative and get you your first job is really compelling, exciting material that is a distinct voice, that is a distinct point of view, that people read and they get really excited about. Trying to write down the middle just doesn’t do anyone any good.
You also have to think of the kinds of content that the tastemakers in our business are watching. Most people are watching HBO and Showtime and Netflix and AMC and FX and so that kind of taste in material is quite prevalent in our business. So your edgy FX sample might be the thing that gets you a job on CRIMINAL MINDS. That’s the thing that people don’t realize sometimes, because the showrunner of CRIMINAL MINDS is probably watching FX’s programming.
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.