Kelly Jo Brick: The Write Path with Manager Zadoc Angell, Part 2

A series of interviews with hard-working writers — by another hard-working writer!

by Kelly Jo Brick

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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.

Kelly Jo Brick: The Write Path with Manager Zadoc Angell, Part 1

A series of interviews with hard-working writers – by another hard-working writer!

by Kelly Jo Brick

zadocucla

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.