Ask a Mentor

Getting What You Want

The Goldbergs’ Peter Dirksen outlines what writers can do to create a strong working relationship with their agent.

Photo by J.W. Hendricks

Much has been said of late about how the relationship between writers and agents should work, but when it comes to your agent, what can you do to help create a partnership that works for you? The Goldbergs’ co-executive producer Peter Dirksen lists some concrete steps you can take to establish and maintain a rewarding working relationship with your rep, and explains why the key to getting what you want is knowing what you want.

Question: “What are things you should do to establish a good working relationship with your agent? I want to get along with them, but I don't want to be taken advantage of.”

Peter Dirksen: Right off the bat, if you are worried your agent is going to take advantage of you, they shouldn’t be your agent. Find someone you’re more comfortable with. Don’t waste your time trying to get on the same page if you don’t trust them, because it won’t ever happen. I know that, especially when you’re starting your career, it’s not always easy to find an agent, but trust is paramount. There’s always going to be some level of worry that they could be doing more or getting you more, but that’s just because you’re a writer. We worry. Anything deeper is a red flag.

Check in with your agent on a regular basis, especially when you’re unemployed. Keep your name in their head. Send separate emails for separate questions. Make sure they have your latest specs, pitches, samples, etc. Most importantly, don’t ever think that you can sit back and let the meetings/jobs roll in. If you do, they won’t. Keep in touch with writers you’ve worked with, especially the ones you respect. The majority of your jobs will come because of your connections. In a normal year (if they ever exist again), make a list of writers you know who have pilots or are upper-level on new shows. Make sure your agent knows this list and make sure your agent looks into each one, to see if there’s an opportunity. You might also make a list of shows, especially new ones, that you’re interested in working on. Any information you give your agent will help them do their job.

Find someone you’re more comfortable with. Don’t waste your time trying to get on the same page if you don’t trust them, because it won’t ever happen.

Do some introspection. What are you wanting from an agent? Are you looking for someone to track down info for you? Someone who knows everyone in town and can get you a lot of meetings? Someone who can be the bad cop, so you don’t have to be? Someone who is a tough negotiator and can get you the best deals? Someone who can give you notes? Someone who you can hang out with, get drinks, meals, go to events? The answer might be, “All of these things, Peter! Don’t be an asshole.” Well, good luck. There is probably some super-agent out there (or team of super-agents) who excels in all of these areas, but in general, agents have their strengths and weaknesses, just like everyone else. Ideally, you’d be able to go out and find an agent who matches exactly with what’s most important to you, but in reality, that can’t always happen. So, next up, you should figure out which of those areas are your agent’s strengths (hopefully at least a few of them). The crossover between your list of what’s important and the list of your agent’s strengths is where you might want to spend most of your energy.

Your agent’s assistants are vital to your working relationship. Don’t forget about them. They’re human beings too. Learn their names. Be friendly. Get them gifts.

Lastly, if you want to have a good relationship with your agent, don’t write an Ask a Mentor column about getting along with your agent. They will find it and read it. Hi, Paul. Can’t wait to see the new offices.

Send us your questions about the craft, job hunting, your career, or Guild service (under 100 words, please) with the subject “Mentor,” and we’ll send them to an established screen or TV writer to answer. Questions might be edited for space or clarity and will be published anonymously. WGAW mentors provide informal career advice and are not expected to read scripts, give notes, hear pitches, or help find representation or work.

(This article originally appeared in the May 21, 2021 issue of the WGAW Connect newsletter)

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