What’s The Difference Between an Agent and a Manager?

Yet another illuminating article from Marvin Acuna from The Business Of Show Institute. There’s no business like showbusiness… Okay, I admit I’m a blogging a cliche, but it was a gag waiting to happen.

From my perspective the difference is small and getting smaller.

In fact, some boutique agencies work so closely with their clients that, to the untrained eye, they may be mistaken for managers. And the larger management companies mistaken for agencies.

Many moons ago every artist would have an agent represent their interests. The agent’s primary responsibilities were to procure commercial  opportunities and negotiate contract terms. Back in the day an agent handled all their artist’s vast business interests. For such services, an agent would earn 10 percent of the artist’s gross revenue. Today this figure is around 10-20%. 20% is rare.

At the time, managers were really considered talent handlers (read babysitters). They were responsible for managing their personal lives i.e booking flights, coordinating their appointments, collecting dry cleaning, paying the gardener, and in some cases serving (or feeding) the artist’s ego. They also collected a fee in the 10-20% range.

In the 1980s a shift occurred, and managers slowly gained greater influence over the artist’s career. Typically, they guided which scripts their clients should pursue based on the prevailing market landscape. A few months ago, The Gersh agency (a tenpercentary) established a production division, despite the fact that this is traditionally outside an agent’s remit. An explanation that I feel is fair and likely for the shift was the birth of the super-agent. They don’t wear masks and capes, but they are truly multi-taskers.

The super-agent maintained a roster so significant that they literally brought the studios to their knees. That power, coupled with the innumerable professional opportunities available to an artist such as endorsements and sponsorships, resulted in the necessary compartmentalizing of the agency.

Consider that a screenwriter who signs with a major agency may briefly meet with a team of agents which may include an alternative agent (for the potential reality ideas), a talent agent (for casting your project), a television agent (for potential series ideas), a book rights agent (for book/periodical rights), a less senior literary agent (to cover the town for assignments) and the “responsible agent”, who arguably manages the team of agents on your behalf.

If utilized effectively, a large agency can serve as an invaluable resource, but it requires navigational skills. In general, most artists don’t posses this necessary talent, thus they turned to managers.

As artists relied more and more on their managers for career guidance, navigating the agency labyrinth, and to serve as a producer on their projects, the role of the manager was recast.

For your edification, here are some key differences between an agent and a manager:

  • Under California Law, agents must be licensed and cannot produce their clients’ projects.
  • Under California Law, managers are prohibited from directly negotiating contract terms. They must engage an attorney or an agent. Managers can produce.
  • Agencies are registered with the WGA, management companies are unregulated .

That’s really it.

While literary managers are framed as individuals who are more likely to develop talent, the truth from my perspective, is as follows:

As an aspiring writer you need to focus your energies on attracting an individual who believes in you and your work. Yes, it’s likely that a boutique management company will be more receptive to you, but the same is true of a boutique agency. And if a major agency is interested then it’s likely a major management company will also express interest.

While it’s essential for screenwriters to be aware of the commercial aspects of screenwriting, your key role is to write and leave the wheeling and dealing to the experts.

Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.
-Benjamin Franklin


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