How I met my TV agent (and my manager, and my lawyer)

Breaking into TV writing is about as mysterious a process to most of us as nuclear fusion. The biggest mystery of all is how one goes about getting an agent.

Here’s what knowledgeable people will tell you to do:

1. Enroll in film school.

2. Move to L.A.

3. Grovel till you find work as an assistant in a writer’s room on a show.

4. Grovel till one of the writers takes a look at your specs.

5. Pray your script will make the writer laugh/cry so hard he’ll introduce you to his agent.

That path only works if you’re 18. What if you’re not? And have a full-time job doing something else entirely, plus a mortgage, plus a husband and kids, and you live 3,000 miles from the Hollywood sign?

Here’s a short version of what happened to me.

Jeremy Piven Entourage

My agent is not this guy.

In 2007, I was a journalist, a staff writer for Time magazine. I had just published an article I thought—for no good reason at all—would make a super cool TV series.

My book agent—who had hoped the article would turn into a super cool book—sighed and introduced me to her friend, a TV agent in Hollywood. He called. I pitched the idea. He totally got it. He asked for a treatment.

I said, “What’s a treatment?”

I could say that was the start of my brilliant career as a TV writer, but that would not be true. That pitch died a gruesome death, but not till two years later, during which I continued to work at Time. Meantime, I took classes and workshops and read everything I could on how to write a TV script. I finally quit my full-time job in 2009.

In 2010, I went to L.A. for staffing season. That’s the month or so in late spring when new TV shows hire their writing staff. My agent set up a ton of meetings, but I wound up not staffing because all, and I mean all, the jobs that year were in L.A.—which is kind of a long commute from New Jersey.

But it wasn’t all for nothing. Because the most important meeting my agent set up was with the guy who would become my manager.

Whoa, whoa, you’re saying. Why would a broke-ass writer without a single credit need or deserve a manager? And what’s the difference between an agent and a manager anyway?

That’s a timeless question, and a tricky one. I can only speak for myself: my agent is my connector and negotiator. He’s my link to networks and producers as well as the other people and projects his powerful agency represents. My manager represents me. (Think Ari and Eric in “Entourage.” Without the drama.)

So that’s how I met my TV agent. I now have two at the same agency. And my manager. They hooked me up with my lawyer. They’re all great guys.

That’s a lot of commissions for said broke-ass writer, you’re thinking. But you know what? Ten percent of zero is zero. If I earn nothing, they earn nothing. I hope to earn them a little something someday.

 

How I met my book agent

I walked up to her at a journalism conference.

Books by Lisa Takeuchi Cullen

How I met the agent who sold these books.

I don’t actually remember this. I could swear I cold-queried her after finding her name in the copy of “Guide to Literary Agents 2000,” which I still have on my office shelf.

No, she says, I walked up to her after she spoke on a panel about nonfiction books. I just waltzed right on up to this A-list superagent who reps some of the bestselling authors on God’s green earth, apparently, and introduced my unimpressive self.

There’s no way I would do that, I tell her. I don’t have the balls. But she insists. And she’s always right.

I do remember she said my pitch sucked.

That was after the conference, over lunch, after I had with great excitement pitched this idea I had about a reported memoir of my parents. And she didn’t actually say it sucked, because she doesn’t use that kind of language. But I got the message.

Crushed, I went back to my job as a staff writer at Money magazine. Then I did this fellowship, after which I became a Tokyo correspondent for Time, after which I transferred to Time in New York. Through it all, I kept in touch.

I mailed her copies of my splashiest stories. Occasionally, I dropped her an e-mail. Sometimes she responded; sometimes she didn’t.

Then I got a call from a publisher.

It was when I was back at what we call the Mother Ship, or Time headquarters in New York. I had written a feature story about how Baby Boomers were reinventing funerals as celebrations of their lives. A young woman called to ask if I had considered turning the article into a book.

I had not. But now I did.

I told the agent. She read the article, thought about it, and agreed it could work as a book. I can’t remember ever signing anything. But at some point, the agent became my agent.

And, at some point much later, she became my friend. More than that: she’s the big sister I don’t have, my sista from anotha mista.

That’s how I met my book agent.