3 MOST COMMON COMPLAINTS ABOUT AGENTS BY SCRIPTWRITERS
1. “My agent never calls me back!”
“There are a lot of people who don’t return every phone call,” says literary manager Jeff Thal of Ensemble Entertainment, “even if you’re friends with them.”
He’s right. I have close friends who take days to return calls — and I’m the same way. But when it’s our agent, someone we’ve entrusted with out livelihoods, we tend to set the bar higher than we do with other people. This isn’t entirely fair — to us or the agent.
The first step in dealing with this is realizing that unreturned phone calls are rarely about you. Managers “deal with the same thing,” Thal says, “whether it’s agents or network executives or studio executives or produers. A lot of people are very busy, stressed, and under a lot of pressure. And some people just have bad phone manners.”
Wait — managers can’t get all their calls returned?! Well, what’s this tell us?… That’s right — it’s not about you.
Certain times of the day, for instance, are better for reaching some types of colleagues than others. I have a very successful screenwriter friend who always says, “What time of day your agent calls you back tells you where you rate in their life. My agent never calls me back before 7:00 at night, which makes me think he doesn’t care about me at all. If they call you back the same day it means one thing; if they call you back before 11:00 a.m. it means they love you.”
But this isn’t necessarily true.
Agents make and return countless daily calls to execs, directors, managers, and producers… and “you have to plan phone calls to those people around the times when they are likely not in meetings, which usually start at the top of every hour,” says APA agent Lindsay Howard. “So if they’re not starting meetings until ten or eleven in the morning, you have between nine and ten to get people on the phone. Then it’s cyclical toward the end of the hour before another one starts.”
Of course, execs and producers aren’t the only ones who are busy. Agents are also in meetings much of the day, so they often make calls while in the car or racing from one meeting to the next. Entire days can be spent playing phone tag. Thus, “a lot of people just routinely return all their calls at the end of the day,” explains Thal, “especially client calls.”
This isn’t a comment on the importance of those clients. But since most executives and producers have specific office hours, agents have limited windows in which to reach them. Writers and directors tend to have more flexible schedules, so agents push those calls to the end of the day. It’s easier to reach a writer at 7:30 p.m. than a Lionsgate exec. So, unless you have an extremely urgent matter, don’t be insulted by your agent’s end-of-day phone call.
Having said that — if your agent starts failing to return calls at all, and this becomes a pattern, it may be worth having a conversation. You agent may say, “I’m sorry, my wife is pregnant, it’s been a crazy month,” or he may say, “Look, I’m not great at returning phone calls — can you build that into your expectations?” Or, “I haven’t told anyone this, but I’ve been having some serious health issues.” Or, “I have more important things to do than talk to you all day — I’ll get to your calls when I get to them, you needy baby!”
Based on your agent’s response, you can then decide whether the problem is fixable… or whether it’s time for new representation.