x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

More people taking bigger cuts of an ever-shrinking pie

I like puppy dogs and candy canes and the smell of baking bread too, but when you get right down to it, I think money ranks pretty high up there in terms of things I like.

I got a call recently from an agent I know, a guy who represents some wonderful writers, some of whom I've worked with, some of whom I only wish I've worked with, and he told me that he was leaving the agency business, and becoming a talent manager. The difference between an agent and a manager is sometimes hard to discern. Essentially, an agent handles a lot of clients, gets them jobs and takes a legally capped 10 per cent of the pre-tax compensation of each job he garners for his client. A manager, on the other hand, works in a totally unregulated environment, can take any percentage his client will allow, (usually about 15 per cent) and is also allowed to be a profit participant in any project his client puts together.

Not too long ago, managers were considered slightly seedy - a down-scale crowd, shifty, slightly unsavory. Put it this way: managers had the reputation of being less trustworthy than agents, which is quite an accomplishment. "The agency business has changed," my agent friend told me when he called. "And I really feel like it's time to move on." This is happening all over town right now. Well, spring is traditionally the time in the television business when people get squeezed out or turfed out or just freak out and need a change, but theses days, the numbers are a little larger.

Agency mergers, contractions in the business, plummeting production fees - all of these are making it harder and harder to be in the 10 per cent business, and making it a lot more attractive to be in the 15 per cent business. It makes financial sense. "Well, great," I said. "I guess a lot of people are doing that." "Yeah," he said. "And I really feel like I can be more useful to my clients. I can get in there and help them with their projects, sell them better, package them and just be an all around creative resource. More of a producer, really."

"A producer?" I asked, suddenly not liking where this was going. You see, I'm a producer. That's my rice bowl. I produce. Where it says "producer" on the production budget? That's my money. Mine. Not my agent's. Or my manager's, if I had one. And I like money. Oh, I like puppy dogs and candy canes and the smell of baking bread too, but when you get right down to it, I think money ranks pretty high up there in terms of things I like.

"A producer?" I asked. "Yeah, you know. I think I can bring a lot to that process - interfacing with talent and the network and the studio and just interfacing with those entities that get interfaced." "Isn't that what a show-runner does?" I asked. In a friendlier tone than you might expect, for someone who was seeing his rice bowl get taken away. Because that's my job description: I'm an executive producer of television shows. I'm what's known around town as a "show-runner".

"Well, these days, show-runners have so much other stuff to do," he said. Which isn't really true. These days they actually have less to do - quantitatively less, too, because programme lengths get shorter every year. So if you're running a show these days, you actually have fewer minutes of show to deliver, which means you often make it home for dinner. And I said that, or words to that effect, to my agent friend. Of course, I said it in a nice and totally non-hostile way, even though in my mind's eye I saw some rice being spooned out of my bowl and into the bowls of a lot of former-agents-now-managers-getting-producer's-fees, and, honestly, I was getting a bit peeved.

My agent-now-manager friend was undeterred. "Yeah, but you know how it is these days," he said. "There are so many people involved with these shows, so many layers and layers of suits and execs, I think it would be really helpful to have someone there to handle them all." Translation: we need more people to deal with the more people we have doing fewer shows for fewer minutes who are taking more slices out of a pie that's already getting smaller anyway. And, by the way, none of those people are writing a word. That's still my job. And I'd better get to it. I've got a bunch of producers counting on me.

Rob Long is a writer and producer based in Hollywood