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DAN FRENCH has an M.A. in Rhetoric, and a Ph.D. in Media Studies, but don't let that fool you. And he still hasn't mailed us an 8 X 10.

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Dan French
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"Inside the Box, Pt. II"
TV Development


"Whose Line is it Anyway?"
French's gag in a Quote-A-Crostic!


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TV Programming


"Your Showcase Set"
How to craft an L.A.-ready set


"The Clogged Drain of Comedy"
Who belongs on the stage? Comedy in L.A.


"Torture"
Why move to L.A.?


"Good Side/Bad Side"
What does comedy mean to a culture, post-911?


"Management"
What should a manager do?


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What does TV want?


"Cash for Words"
Writing for dollars


"Stoking the Joke Machine"
Writing for a living


"Screenwriting for Standup Comics"
Just what it says


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Wisdom born of experience


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Casting Season in L.A.


"Ladies & Gentlemen: A Job"
Working at Best Damn Sports Show Period


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It happens to everyone: Freefall!


"Hollywood or Bust"
How to change to succeed in L.A.


"How Edgy"
Column #2


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Column #3


"Who Writes Your Stuff?"
Why don't comics ask for help?


"The Art of Standup"
What would we gain by "turning up the art"


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Holiday column


"Getting Exercised"
A writing exercise


"High Octane"
Road vs. L.A., Monologist vs. Performer


"Inside the Box, Pt. I"
Television Programmers


"Inside the Box, Pt. II"
Television Production and Development


"Castle Breached"
Working at Late Late Show, Network television gig!


"I Like LA"
The third of five columns on writing comedy for money


"Hollywod Carousel"
Between BDSSP and Late Late Show, what I learned




 

Management

Earlier this month I found myself locked into a slightly antagonistic online exchange with a comic I barely know, so much so that I finally picked up the phone and called him to straighten things out. At first I didnít know why I didnít just dump out of the conversation and let it be, because there was nothing for me to gain by arguing with him. Even if he accepted what I was saying it wouldnít help me in any way.

Then I realized why I couldnít let it go. I absolutely hate to see people make mistakes out of ignorance and desperation.

Those two characteristics-- ignorance and desperation-- describe about 90% of comics currently in LA. Theyíre desperate to get off the road, to get steady work, to pay their rent, to get rich and claim some status so people in this city will stop treating them like they donít exist. They want to get inside the gates before things are closed to them forever.

And theyíre ignorant about how to do it. Any clue they do have is a red herring, taking them away from the real answers and causing them to lose more and more time as they grope around in places that will never yield them anything of value.

Again, I donít know why this bothers me so much. Maybe itís the fact that I grew up in a working class family in Kentucky that was thick with ignorance and desperation. Maybe thatís why I write this column, its part of my personal lifelong war with those two pale evils.

Whatever the reason, ignorance and desperation were sure as hell bothering me that morning I was talking to that comic. He had told me that he had been offered Hollywood "management" by someone out in the Midwest. He was very excited about this. Which I understand. Weíre all excited when someone in the game offers to get you down on the field. But thereís a huge difference between a peanut vendor saying he can get you into the World Series and the manager of the Yankees saying heíd like you to sit on the bench so he can ask your opinion when the game gets tight.

The guy who wanted to sign the comic was a partner in a comedy club who was trying to expand into the management business (there are hundreds of these guys, by the way; every comedy club bartender and manager in the world has heard about how Rick Messina was a club bartender/manager who started managing a guy named Drew Carey, and now is worth a couple of hundred million dollars). This "manager in the making" said he could get the comic an industry showcase at The Improv; he could get him seen by Lenoís people. All of which sounds pretty snazzy if youíre working the road out in the middle of the country. But the thing is, if I pulled a couple of favors I can get you an industry showcase at The Improv. I can get you seen by Lenoís people. Those are common happenings around here. Dozens of them happen every week. Itís easy to get those things.

What isnít easy is getting Lorne Michaels to look at your tape, fly you to NY for one audition, and then hire you that night for SNL. What isnít easy is getting a producer to call to tell you that they want you for a film for a week at $10,000 grand and you donít even have to audition for it. What isnít easy is getting you on the showcases where powerful people in good moods come to see you, rather than sending out a bunch of 20-year-old assistants who want to get drunk and make it look like the office is working its tail off to find the new blood. What really isnít easy is helping you negotiate the very strange political terrain out here where you finally manage to get aligned with the right people and projects, but not too aligned because those people are probably going to be fired next week and then new people will come in and sweep you out so they can show everyone that they have better taste than the old people.

So what the comic was actually doing by signing with someone who wasnít really in the LA game was handicapping himself, maybe even dooming himself, before he ever stepped foot into LA. Because he wasnít even going to let the really big, powerful, effective LA management companies get a chance to see him unsigned and pristine. He was going to show up in LA with a big "Do Not Help Me" sign around his neck.

Because he was ignorant. And desperate.

And so, because I dislike ignorance and desperation so much, I thought that this month I would write what I know about LA comedy management.

* * * * *

Imagine for a moment that LA is a jungle. Jungles are mythic places, dark and dangerous but full of mystery and allure. Thick with hidden quicksand and snakes, but they hide lost empires and golden temples.

So the metaphor fits. LA is a jungle. Complete with quicksand, snakes, and golden temples. Iíve seen them all out here.

Lurking at the edge of every jungle are guides who offer to take people inside. Who claim that they know the safe paths. That they know the ways of the natives. They know all the exotic dangers. That you are somehow the shining chosen one who holds the key for opening the great vaults of diamonds. And that they will help you get to those vaults safely... for just a small fee.

In LA they call these guides "Representation."

* * * * *

Let there be no doubt about it: you have to have representation to work in Los Angeles. Every stage, every show, every writing job, every commercial, every tiny place you could possibly work out here is locked up by an unbreakable collusion between representation and people who hire talent. Producers and casting directors and network executives hire people. They do this by letting representation suggest who they should hire. If you donít have representation, your name never even enters the discussion.

Some will tell you that you can get right to the producers, casting directors, and network execs directly, without representation. You cannot. For all practical purposes, you cannot. You will spend all your time going up on stages hoping an industry person will spot you, and it will never happen. Iím sorry, it wonít. And if it does, it will be a low-level industry person who has no power to sell you to the industry proper. Or it will be someone with some power who will ask who your management is, you will say you donít have anyone, and that will be the end of that. Or theyíll tell you to come back when you get management. Which means youíre right back to where you started, needing representation.

Why is it like this? Because people who hire creative talent like to deal with representation. They trust representation to be professional, efficient, and to send them good people. If you donít have representation it is a huge red flag that says youíre not ready to play the game.

So you have to have representation in LA. Thatís how the town keeps things organized. Thatís how non-creative people drain off huge sums of money from LA. Thatís the middle man who actually rules the creative people in Hollywood.

There are two types or representation: agents and managers.

You need both. Agents sniff out work for you. A manager finds agents, and then makes sure they find you work.

Agents.

An agent knows about available work and suggests his/her clients for that work. Hollywood is crawling with agents. They scurry like starving ants all through the industry, signing up clients, trying to stay aware of any possible project that is rising up that might have any amount of money invested in it that might in some bizarre way actually use one of their clients. But hereís the problem: there are good agents (those who send in clients that actually get looked at) and there are not good agents (those whose clients are routinely ignored and not given a fair shot). And there are horrible agents (people who really have no contacts at all, who are low-level assistants or outsiders or fakers who try to attach themselves to a talent who will actually bring them along even though they do nothing to actually get the talent any work).

How do you tell a good agent from the bad?

You donít. You canít. Because youíre not in the industry, you donít get to see and hear what agents are doing, you donít get to experience the difference between good agents and bad agents.

Itís your managerís job to tell the good agents from the bad. Or at least itís one of their jobs.

Managers

A managerís first job is to sift through the psychotic swirl of agents and find you a good one. Except when I say agent, I mean "agents." As a comic you need a TV theatrical agent, a film theatrical agent, a commercial agent, a personal appearances agent, and a literary agent. And all of them need to be good.

A manager helps you pick an agent, and then stays on top of your agents and makes sure theyíre actually working for you.

What else do managers do? Hereís a quick list. (1) They find you agents. (2) They constantly create and maintain contacts within the industry that can help you. (3) They keep the industry aware of you, they try to convince the industry that you are valuable. (4) They stay aware of the industry, the players, the projects that might be good for you. (5) They evaluate your skills, talents, what you have to offer. (6) They find people who can help you get better at your skills, talents, what you have to offer. (7) They keep you from making mistakes. (8) They stay loose and fast, always ready to cut you off their roster in the event that you flake or bomb out, because they have to make themselves money, and they absolutely must keep their reputations intact.

Good or great management has tons of powerful, friendly contacts, often because their families have been working in Hollywood for decades. They run a well-organized, efficient office where they actually make and return calls. They have a cadre of groomed, eager, smart assistants. They are incredibly easy to talk to. They keep up communication with you. They make you money.

For all of this they usually take 15% of what you make. And they try to get attached to your projects as producers (so that they can watchdog to make sure your projects donít turn to crap; and so they can get a huge cut of your projects-- thus, Rick Messinaís money).

As far as I can tell, LA has five levels of management companies that deal with comics.

(1) Super agencies, those that can call anyone in town, get right through, get their clients at the top of the list for acting jobs and writing jobs, and can actually put together deals and create projects on their own. There are three: Brillstein-Grey. Three Arts. Messina-Baker.

(2) Known agencies, those that are a step below the big guys, but who can still do a lot for you, and have really good inís at a few important places. From what I can tell, there are five: Power Management. Barry Katz. Moore-Medavoy. Omnipop. Buchwald.

(3) Independent managers who have split off from one of the top agencies to start their own shop. Names I know include Rath-Walker, Jeff Gitlin, Randi Seigal. Iím really not very clear on these because they come and go so fast. Itís a crap shoot with these people, because they can do some things and not do others.

(4) Independent managers who have a couple of weak contacts, and start calling themselves managers and signing comics, mostly to leave them in limbo. These include, more often than not, anyone who doesnít live in LA. Not that there arenít some good, smart, even ethical people out there who can do a few things for you. But they donít have the always-growing, thick and intricate web of contacts you need to get consistent work.

(5) Liars. A whole host of people who will never be able to do a thing for you, but who still want your blood.

Now the obvious question: how do you get great management?

You get great management by two processes: you prepare yourself and then you expose yourself.

Preparation means: (1) You are skilled, have learned through study and experience how to really act, write. Not how to do standup, but how to act and write in the specific formats of film and television. (2) You are talented, have tons of raw natural ability that comes through in conversations, on stage, etc., even if it isnít skilled. (3) You are useful, which means something about you and your life can be easily turned into a show, or you just happen to match a pre-existing slot the media likes to fill (ie, a fat, funny-looking janitor they can kill in a horror movie).

These three things will make managers eyes light up like dollar bills when they see you. Because they can make money off of you. They can get you development deals with networks and production companies. They can get you holding deals. They can get you on writing staffs and take 10% of your salary every week. The can place you on existing TV shows and take 10% of your salary every week. They can get you films and take 10% of your fee, and attach themselves as producers. You are a cash cow, my friend.

So say you believe youíve got the Big Three Necessaries that will attract a manager. Now how do you get seen?

If youíre skilled, talented, and useful, exposure is easy. The festivals-- Montreal, Aspen, even Chicago-- are basically a way for people who arenít in LA to get seen. But as soon as youíre seen, you have to move to LA. Because how are you going to audition, to go to meetings, to meet producers, if you arenít in LA? Youíre almost useless if youíre not here.

So hereís the alternative for those who donít get into the festivals. Move to LA. Get a day job. Go up around town at the coffee shops, the open mikes, or on easy nights at the clubs. Comics who already have management will think youíre funny. Tell everyone you talk to that you are looking for management. Be friendly and easy to hang out with. Comics who like you will want to help you because they think youíre going to be "big," and that youíll feel grateful and then help them. So theyíll start talking you up to their manager. And soon youíll have managers at your shows, giving you cards, saying they want to set up a meeting.

But then hereís what you do: donít sign. Wait. Until you know the real lay of the land. Iím convinced that you shouldnít sign with anyone your first year in LA. If someone really wants to help you, have them "hip pocket" you (means they do some stuff for you to show what they can do, to see what you can do, but there is no commitment until something bigger happens). If they want to sign you without hip-pocketing, donít do it. Itís a red flag that says this person isnít good enough. They donít believe that you will want to sign with them after you get to know them and their work.

So there it is. The basics of management. My attempt to lessen your ignorance and quell your desperation.

And to answer your question, I donít have representation right now. Because Iím not yet sure what I want from them. Itís taken me awhile to figure out the LA grid and where I want to fit into it. From where I sit the best job in the industry is writing screenplays at home and then having an agent who knows the buyers and can sell what you do, and/or get you assignments to script out and rewrite concepts a studio has already bought. That way I donít have to show up every day and I get to control at least the first draft of what I do. But just like there is a learning curve until you really figure out how to do standup, thereís a learning curve in figuring out how to write films. Iím just now getting to where Iím confident that I can write a great script, and so Iíve waited until I was skilled before getting exposed.

I waited until I could get rid of some of my own ignorance. And in the interim I got a day job so I didnít feel desperate.

But thatís just me.



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