What's the difference between an agent, a manager and a lawyer? What can they do for a creative and what do they need from you? Darlene Chan talks to a host of reps to find out what you need to do to get in good hands.
It's a long road from concept to premiere for a project. Before creative talent can even deal with buyers, executives, producers and the people who can greenlight or torpedo their long-coddled project, they must first engage in a frustrating, peculiar rite of passage to find someone to represent them and their work to the marketplace. All talent have their ideals of what a representative should be like: honest, with integrity and a high regard for the client's unique and bountiful talent; but ruthless, dragon-slaying and loyal to a fault when negotiating with the buyer for money, rights and credit. Of course, representatives have their own fantasy standards for what comprises the perfect client. AWN asked the top agents, managers and lawyers working in the animation business today what they look for when signing new clients and what kind of relationships they value. Novices and established talent alike will be interested in all the factors representatives must consider before taking on a new client.
Harvey E. Harrison, Partner and Founder, Catalyst Agency
Harvey founded Catalyst, a literary and talent agency in 1996. He began his career as an entertainment attorney and continued as a business affairs executive before joining the Jim Preminger Agency in 1989. Catalyst represents all aspects of animation, digital and interactive media for motion pictures and television. More on Harrison's company can be found at www.catalystagency.com.
Catalyst is seeking artists with two main qualities: (1) Artistic talent about which we are passionate and (2) human beings with whom we would like to go on a long journey. Moreover, I designed Catalyst based upon a simple, single idea: it is the agency I would want if I were the client; consequently, we tend to attract clients who meet the criteria above.
At the same time, I must stress that current and future conditions in the animation media are more unpredictable, let us say fluid than ever before. I have seen it from a variety of angles from my 25 years in this field as agent, attorney, producer, studio head and executive at Columbia/TriStar. Also, I have been devoted to the digital entertainment media since their infancy, and those media grow and spread wildly. "fluid" may be the best term. So, I would add to the two criteria above that I seek collaboration, understanding, and versatility in a client. The conditions are just too, well, "fluid" for anything less.
Potential clients need to show samples of their work in forms that are as creative as the work itself... whether on a Website, a CD, a videotape, on a good ol' script... but the work must be presented in a way that SELLS the talent who created it. I believe that our business our society really suffers from what I call "chronic attentional panic"... that queasy, jittery feeling that you have to hurry up and do something other than what you are doing right now... hence, multitasking! In selling today and in the future, the client and I must hit the buyer fast and effectively... the talent's sample must accomplish this task. For those who want the entire book-length message on what I recommend, the Catalyst site contains "For The Creative Mind," a text I use when I teach art students "Professional Studies," a course designed to prepare them for the adventures of the Real World.
Matthew Ellis, The Metropolis Agency
Matthew Ellis is a talent agent at The Metropolis Agency specializing in the representation of artists and writers working in animation and childrens programming. Ellis works closely with Metropolis' founder and president John Goldsmith. Prior to joining Metropolis, Ellis was an agent at The Irv Schechter Company. Matthew began his career as a stage manager in Beverly Hills, California.
When evaluating which clients to sign, we're looking for a strong background in animation with a wide variety of training ranging from traditional to CG. We look for people who have original series/feature ideas that we can help sell while simultaneously staffing them on a series or feature while their personal properties are in development. We are always looking for clients that will expose us to new arenas in the animation/entertainment industry, where new and interesting opportunities can be found for our clients.
In picking clients, we first must consider the direction of the marketplace. If the marketplace is only doing CG feature films then what would be the point of signing someone who only directs, writes or creates traditional animation? We also have to consider whether we have had much success in recent history procuring employment for artists with similar talents and status in the entertainment industry. Many people ask why, when shown two similar people with like credits, would we pick one over the other? The answer is we follow our instincts. After all is said and done, we have to follow what our hearts say. The most important part of selling a client is believing in that client. We need to believe 100% in what we are saying, and the only way we can do that is when we truly, instinctually believe in our clients.
There is only one thing in animation that is ever for sure, and that is that nothing is ever for sure. Before we sign a client we always think about whether that person's particular talents are in line with what the marketplace is currently after. Unfortunately, what buyers look for can change overnight, solely based upon one unexpected hit feature or series, or conversely a feature or series that does not measure up to the expectations of studio or network executives.
In deciding whom we should sign, we review the potential clients' previous credits, what their demo reel consists of, and what their goals are for the future. Then after meeting with them we decide if there is a personality fit between us and the prospective client. We do not take on too many new clients only for the reason that we do not like to have multiple clients with very similar skills, credits and goals/ambitions. We look at their sense of originality and style in the work they have done and assess how that work has faired in the marketplace and try to make a judgment as to how their work will be received in the future. Particularly exciting is a new client that is not only very enthusiastic about their work, but they have a reputation in the community as a team player. We love people that know how to play nice in the sandbox.
Richard Sigler, Entertainment Attorney
Richard Sigler has been an entertainment attorney for more than 30 years, specializing in animation. He has been general manager of Hanna-Barbera, sr vp of Marvel Productions and New World Animation. For the last 10 years he has been in private practice representing production companies and individuals whom executive produce, create or direct animated projects.
It helps to understand the different roles attorneys play from agents and managers. Agents generally work for 10% of the income they obtain for their clients; they don't expect to be paid up front, if they do not obtain work or a deal. They are regulated by the state as to certain matters. Managers legally may not act as agents (that is, obtain work or sales for their clients), but are supposed to manage their clients' careers in a more general sense. They are unregulated by the state and charge more than 10% of the client's income (typically 20% or more). Attorneys tend to work on an hourly basis, regardless of the results obtained, and they frequently require new clients to pay a retainer up front to assure that they receive their fees. Some attorneys will shop material, and a very few will work on a percentage basis (usually 5%) but the successful ones do so only to make more money, not less money, than their hourly rate. Attorneys generally do not work "on spec" like the agent and manager do.
In my experience, talent in the animation area are "second class citizens" to their live-action brethren, in part because they do not utilize unions, agents, managers, and attorneys like live action talent does. Historically, animation projects cost more and made less than live action projects, so the old economics contributed to this status. Now, however, animation is not more expensive to produce and makes just as much money as live action. Unfortunately, the talent has not caught up to the product and still acts like second class citizens, much to the pleasure of the studios.
The attorney and client (with agent/manager) are a team devoted to helping the client succeed. An attorney wants to work with clients who appreciate and value what the attorney does, are honorable and fun to work with, and who can help further the attorney's reputation, such as by being involved in high profile projects, making good press, referring colleagues, etc. Attorneys, like everyone else, are running a business, so clients should, of course, be able to pay the attorney's retainer and fees, and the most likely ones to do that have work or deals already in place.
In deciding on whom to represent, I have to consider several factors. (1) The first decision is whether the attorney has a conflict of interest with the new client. Attorneys are constrained by conflict of interest and confidentiality rules that do not apply to agents and managers, so a client has to be free of those problems (for example, the attorney cannot work on a deal where one client is opposed to another client). (2) The client has to be "real," that is, have real legal work to be done, and not just want the attorney to act as an agent by finding work or a buyer for the client's property. (3) The client has to be able to pay the attorney's fees, and requiring a retainer payment up front not only helps assure the attorney of his fee, but helps cut out the poseurs from the client list. Of course, not all who have talent and opportunities can afford to make the payments, and the attorney has a judgment call to make about whether to risk the attorney's time in hopes of being paid later. Generally this time is lost to the attorney. 4) Will the client be fun to work with and help the attorney build the quality of his practice? The attorney wants clients who might recommend the attorney to other clients and who think the attorney's work is good. An attorney does not want to have a client who views him as a "necessary evil," an adversary, a money pit, someone he has to be "all business" around, etc.
Sometimes a deal is not acceptable to the client and goes away, in which case there is an awkward moment between client and attorney for the work the attorney has done and billed for. Another difficult situation is when the studio submits an onerous 30- to 40-page option agreement contract, entirely one-sided, and the cost to negotiate it will be $3,500-$5,000. The client may be obtaining an option payment of $1,000-$2,000, so the client will have to pay more to negotiate the deal than the client is receiving. On the other hand, if the studio exercises the option, all the terms are in place so the client will regret trying to save at that point. This is a big advantage the studios have over the talent.
I generally do not like to review creative materials because it is irrelevant to the attorney's function in negotiating and documenting deals someone else has obtained. Some clients try to encourage me to do so (I suspect in hopes I will find their material irresistible and work on spec for them). However, it does not matter what I think of the material, because I only work if the client has sold it or had a job. Of course, you have to be sure the client is legitimate, so if there is no deal at present, you want to see some evidence of talent (which can be determined from a résumé, the work itself, or the fact that a studio has offered a deal). Turnoffs include clients who think they are the only client you have, don't pay on time or at all (especially if they expect the work quickly), and who only tolerate you as a necessary evil.
Jean-Marc Lofficier, Hollywood Comics
Jean-Marc Lofficier has a 1977 M.B.A. from the Paris Business School and a law degree from the Sorbonne University. Lofficier founded Hollywood Comics in 2000. Prior to that, he was vp of Starwatcher Graphics and an executive with Credit Lyonnais and Barclays Bank. Lofficier is also an award-winning writer. You can learn more about his company at www.hollywoodcomics.com.
In most cases, an agent fulfills two functions: that of a salesman, and that of a contract advisor. Because of my background as a lawyer, my years of experience, and the thorny issues involved in securing a good deal when selling or licensing comic-book rights, we tend to be more involved in the latter. Clients tend to hire me when they already have made a sale, as opposed to trying to make a sale. As a result, we also deal with more established talent, as opposed to newcomers.
On a personal level, I want to make sure that I understand their career goals, and that we can effectively be of assistance to them (and not waste their time), and conversely that they understand what we do, and can't do. This is, of course, a very subjective process; but I have to be able to picture in my head what the finished film (or TV series) would be like. If I don't see it, then I'm likely to pass.
Louise Nemschoff, Entertainment Attorney
Louise Nemschoff is a sole practitioner of entertainment and intellectual property law, with offices in Century City. She represents a wide range of parties in domestic and international transactions in animation, gaming, digital media, film, television, comic books and other publishing. Nemschoff is a graduate of Harvard College and Yale Law School who has been in practice for over 25 years. She has published a number of articles and spoken extensively, both in the United States and Europe, on various aspects of copyright, trademark and entertainment law. In addition, she sits on the board of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.
For the most part, I do not get involved in submitting my clients' services or properties to potential buyers like an agent would do. If, in the course of talking and dealing with people in the animation business, an opportunity presents itself, I would naturally recommend an appropriate client and make the necessary introductions, either directly or to the client's agent.
Ordinarily, I will get involved in a transaction when someone has already made an offer or otherwise expressed serious interest in my client's work or material. At that point, a client will retain me to negotiate their agreements with a third party, to review, analyze and comment on a proposed agreement or to draft an agreement on their behalf.
Thus, I do not get heavily involved in evaluating a client's work or properties. While I am happy to give potential clients my impressions of their material, I tend to leave decisions as to commerciality to the agents and buyers more directly involved in the marketplace.
In picking clients, I look first at whether I can provide the services that the client needs. For example, as a transactional lawyer, I negotiate and draft contracts and give general business advice regarding employment in the animation, gaming, comic book and general entertainment industries, the purchase, sale or optioning of entertainment properties and the production and distribution of films, television and other entertainment properties. I do not, however, handle any litigation or litigation related matters, such as claims of infringement or theft of ideas.
If I can provide the needed services, I will see if we can come to an agreement as to payment of my fees. Usually, I work on an hourly basis, but fees are negotiable, depending on the nature and the amount of the services.
Finally, I look for a more intangible quality an ability to work together and communicate well with one another. Working with an attorney is a collaborative process and it helps if both attorney and client are on the same "wavelength."
The contraction of the animation business over the last few years has dramatically reduced the opportunities for a lot of very talented animators and writers. Vertical integration in the media has hit the animation business particularly hard, reducing the number of buyers and the number of outlets for animation properties. However, since I do not get very involved in selling their services and properties, I tend to see the impact more in terms of the pressure it places to reduce fees for services. The equation is simple: fewer jobs and more people looking for work means buyers are offering less money for the work that is available. In response to the changing economies, a number of my clients have begun to work not just in animation but also comic books, gaming, book publishing and other media.
Out of all the material I have seen in over 25 years in practice, I can only think of a handful of times when the material was so extraordinary that it knocked me out. But then, I don't consider picking the winning talent or properties to be my primary area of expertise. I tend to look more at the business realities. How is a potential client received in the marketplace? What kinds of deals has he or she been offered (either in the past or currently on the table)? Does he or she have potential for a long-term career in the animation business? What excites me is the prospect of working with someone to help them build that career.
Julie Kane-Ritsch, The Gotham Group
Since joining The Gotham Group in 1999, Julie Kane-Ritsch has been instrumental in developing animated and family entertainment related television series, shorts, features and Internet content, as well as strategic and business plans for the company. Her diverse list of clients include Piet Kroon, director of Osmosis Jones, Luisa Leschin, writer on The George Lopez Show, Stephen Fossati, director of Shrek 2, DKP Effects, a Canadian production and effects house, and Unbound Studios an innovative new media company. Kane-Ritsch began her career as a lawyer and has worked in business and legal affairs for Hanna-Barbera, Turner Feature Animation, Saban Entertainment and DreamWorks.
We look for three primary attributes: unique creativity, professionalism and an ability to get along with executives, producers and other creative talent. First and foremost, we always look for a unique creative vision. We look at the individuals portfolio and/or writing samples to see if the material is fresh and compelling. The individuals original ideas are always discussed as we have a strong desire to work with creators and/or potential creators. Second, the person must be professional and reliable. The studios and producers rely on us to represent talent that will get the job done on time and on budget. Finally, the person must have the interpersonal skills to work with studios, producers and other creative talent. Since the studio and networks finance the show, the client must be able to walk that fine line between adhering to their own creative vision and accommodating the studios desires.
After determining whether the potential client has the unique creative vision, professionalism and ability to interact with the studios, producers and other creative talent, we look at what the individual brings to our client roster as a whole. We do not want to represent too many people who excel in a particular style or voice. We also like to work with new clients who will get along well with current clients since they frequently work together in the industry.
The demands of the marketplace are always changing. But, our clients have a wealth of skills that translate into a number of different storytelling arenas. Not only do our clients work in television and features, but they also work in the arenas of book publishing and comic books as well.
Difficulty can arise if the client has a passion for only one type of storytelling, or if the clients expectations are not realistic. For example, if a director will only direct pure action/adventure, and will not consider working on any other type of show, that person may find employment more difficult to obtain. Furthermore, if a client does not heed our advice and their expectations are not in synch with the realities of the marketplace, it makes the task of helping them achieve their goals more difficult. For example, if the client expects a large salary increase when salaries are being depressed in the marketplace, or wants to run their own show without the necessary background, the client may overlook good opportunities because they do not have a realistic assessment of the world around them or their skill set.
A potential client needs to show us material with a strong, original voice and either strong writing, design or directing skills. It can be a pilot script, sketch material, or a feature spec for a writer. For artists, it can be a unique design style displayed in a portfolio, the ability to create a unique visual style displayed in a test, reel or short, or a polished directors reel reflecting a great body of work. We see so much material that the strong and unique voices do stand out.
Paul Husband, Husband Management, Inc.
Paul Husband is a Universal City, California-based manager in his eponymous firm Husband Management, Inc. He is also a practicing attorney who focuses on animation and tax matters. He was co-founder of AniManagement LLC in 1995 and was a licensed talent agent until 2000 He has been active in ASIFA-Hollywood where he serves as general counsel. Husband was an ASIFA-Hollywood director from 1997 to 2003. He represents primarily talent and production entities in animation and digital effects areas.
As a manager, I am not presently looking for new clients. As an attorney, I look for clients with work to be done and/or deals to be made and the ability to pay hourly rate-based fees for many types of work or for talent negotiations, sometimes fees based on the compensation negotiated.
To accept a management client, I determine first whether or not the individual is ready for a manager; that is, his or her career/project has reached a point at which management services can be effectively utilized. Also, I try to ascertain if the prospective management client realizes that he or she needs professional management to achieve his or her goals and therefore is willing to accept the operation of a manager as a part of their professional team. If these prerequisites are present, then there are seven factors which I utilize to evaluate and determine whether or not I would manage a client:
Integrity of the individual;
Passion for the art;
Reasonability (i.e., not a petulant prima donna);
The credits and/or body of work that has been achieved by the artist (or writer) to this point in time;
Compatibility of the taste and sensibility of the artist with my own. There are many brilliant artists I would pass on as a manager simply because their primary motivating principles are so different than my own that I would not choose to make that commitment, even though I may respect them, hold them in the highest personal regard and wish them the best of success;
Sources of financing for his or her services/property.
What do potential clients have to show me to make me excited? Multiple major sources of financing in hot pursuit or his or her services/property, with an artist who possesses the qualities described above is very exciting!!
Jason Dravis, Partner, Monteiro Rose Dravis Agency
Jason Dravis joined the agency in 1995 as an assistant and was recently named partner. The Monteiro Rose Dravis Agency represents writers in film and television with a specialty in animation. Dravis clients have included Eddie Guzulian (Lilo & Stitch 2, Kim Possible), Mark Drop (Recess, Lloyd In Space), Madeline Paxson, (Lilo & Stitch [the television series], PepperAnn), Scott Fellows (Fairly OddParents, Neds Declassified School Survival Guide), and Peafur Productions (AAAGH! Its the Mr. Hell Show, Bounty Hamster).
In looking for new clients, I must be blown away with their talent. I need to be really excited about the work and the possibilities. I really think there is a gut feeling, in addition to being excited about the talent. Its important to click with the new client. This is an important relationship and there needs to be a comfortable line of communication and trust. The times I didn't go with my gut feeling, I have also found myself in situations where I was really excited about a project or client and found I was alone. This is a subjective business and its important to remember that. You never really know what it will be, but it must really get me going. Sometimes its a simple one-sheet, other times its sample animation. It really depends on how we will be marketing this person.
Eric Treibatch, Entertainment Consulting Group
Eric Treibatch is a former TV agent at Endeavor Agency. Treibatch left to form Entertainment Consulting Group, which manages writers, directors, animation studios and FX houses. Also a producing entity, ECG will a launch a 13-episode series Camp Chaos on VH1 this fall. ECG is also producing Firedog, a direct-to-video $2 million animated feature.
In evaluating new clients I look for a creator who has thought out the entire world surrounding the story, a creator who can tell me how each character will react in every situation. Besides story, character development is key.
We are all at the mercy of the buyers. We must be familiar with what demo, genre and style they are currently programming. If a rep doesnt know the needs, they won't be able to pick clients and the respective material they need to develop.
Buyers will change their mandate every six months. Yesterday it might have been boys action 9-14, tomorrow it will something entirely different. You must develop projects that you feel strongly about, but that also falls in line with the buyers' demand. Anyone who tells you that they do not take into consideration the buyers needs is not being realistic.
To get excited about representation, a potential client needs to show me a bible that includes story, character/ background designs, character breakdowns and preferably a script or treatment.
An alumna of UCLA, Darlene Chan has worked in the motion picture industry for 14 years. She served as a production executive for Paramount Pictures, Walt Disney Pictures, Davis Entertainment and Motown. She produced Grumpy Old Men (1993) for Warner Bros. In 2001, she joined Animation World Magazine as general manager and was named managing editor in 2002.