Christine Glover has just taken up a new post as Media Agent at Film and TV agency, Casarotto Ramsey and Associates. Christine has been my Media Agent for many years and I really don’t know what I’d do without her. We met at Clifton Nurseries, Little Venice for a chat about being an agent, becoming an agent, and how the client-agent relationship works in today’s film and television industry.
Jan: Why did you decide to become an agent?
Christine: It’s not the sort of job you normally hear about at the School’s Career Service. I studied Law and although I enjoyed my course academically I knew I didn’t really want to be a lawyer. I was exploring different options, one of which was volunteering in the law courts working with victims of crime, and I started doing some part-time work at a literary agency called AP Watt at the same time. My duties were very basic – franking the post and filing contracts – but I really loved it and they seemed to like me too. So as soon as an opportunity came up I was offered the job and I leapt at the chance to work there.
Jan: Why did you decide to specialise in Film and TV?
I’ve worked at literary agencies up to now where the focus has been more on books, but I really like the energy and vibrancy of the television world – it moves so quickly. From reading the treatment to watching it on TV doesn’t take long at all these days and I really love the medium. I love working with the writers and I love watching television for a living!
Jan: Can you explain how your career has progressed? Was your route typical?
Christine: It was typical fifteen years ago, but the situation has changed. Nowadays people start off on unpaid internships and with a lot more competition, whereas the route for me was fairly easy and I was actually paid for my first job even though it was just part-time admin. So, you’ll start in a very junior role, work up to being a Second Assistant, then a First Assistant, then an Associate Agent. At this point you start taking clients of your own and eventually become an agent.
Jan: Was that scary? Taking on your first client?
Christine: Not really, I’d been pushing for it for quite a while. It takes a long time to build a client list and that just doesn’t happen in the space of a few months. An Associate Agent is a good way of the agency hedging its bets – you’re still working with a Senior Agent, helping them, doing admin and learning from them, but at the same time you’ve got a bit of leeway and freedom to take on some clients of your own. Hopefully, over two or three years the balance will change from mostly admin support to mostly working with your clients and then you’re in a position to take that leap to becoming an agent. But it’s a big risk for the agency to promote a new agent. A new agent isn’t going to attract big clients right away, they need to work hard and prove themselves. The more they learn about how the industry works and how to sell their clients’ work and negotiate the best deals for them, the better chance they’ll have of taking on more established clients. If the Senior Agent retires or moves out of the industry then there’s a good chance the agency will want to retain their clients, and it’s good for them to have somebody there to provide continuity.
Jan: Which was what happened with us!
Christine: Exactly. That transition was very easy.
Jan: What advice would you give to anyone interested in becoming a media agent?
Christine: Get as much experience as possible before you apply for a job. Having a relevant degree is helpful but not essential – anything to do with Drama, English, Law, Languages. The most important thing is a passion and you need to demonstrate that by undertaking work experience or internships at a variety of companies, including production companies, just to see how the other side works and to have a rounder experience of the industry. The job’s not particularly well paid at the very early stages, so you need to really want to work in the industry in order to jump through all these hoops.
Jan: Can you give us some idea of how you work with a client?
Christine: A big part of what I do is providing moral support and career guidance and that’s what I find very satisfying about the job. Every writer needs a different type of support from their agent, every agent has different strengths and different ways of liking to work with their clients so it has to be a good fit. Every agent-client relationship is different. If you’re in a position to interview several agents, then I think it’s important to do so. I always say the agent-client relationship is like a marriage; you mustn’t marry the first person you meet!
For me, it’s about being there when things aren’t going well and celebrating success when they are; providing feedback on ideas, having regular contact and talking through what the writer wants to do next, discussing ideas and deciding which ones are the best ones to pursue. I meet with producers all the time and I try to guide writers to produce the kind of work that the industry’s looking for. I like to get a lot of interest in the project, guide the offers in and then be in a position to negotiate the best possible deal.
Jan: How proactive does a writer have to be, and has this changed over the years?
Christine: There are many more opportunities than there were in the past – more channels, the advent of multimedia, so I think writers have the opportunity to be more proactive these days. Screenwriters have always have had to be more proactive than authors because it’s a business that’s built on relationships; you have to get out there and meet lots of producers and figure out who’s the best fit for you and your work. Sometimes you might be having a conversation with a producer for a couple of years before you find the right project to work on together. And that might be either the writer coming up with a pitch that’s right for the producer or the producer approaching the writer – so it works both ways.
Jan: Do you encourage writers to go out there and make those relationships?
Christine: They have to. Obviously the agent is talking to people and submitting scripts, making sure they get read and getting feedback, but at the same time the writer has to follow up on these opportunities. The agent creates the opportunities but the writer has to take over the baton and maintain that relationship with the producer. It’s a personality thing – some people will click with each other and some won’t. It’s about finding that unique chemistry, a bit like matchmaking.
Jan: What qualities does your ideal client have?
Christine: First and foremost they have to be talented. They need to be tenacious but also realistic. And they have to have good people skills. It makes a big difference if a writer can pitch well at meetings, if they’re approachable and can take feedback on board. Sometimes a writer whose personality is more open and engaging can get further ahead than another who finds it difficult to do meetings or to take notes on their work. It’s hard, because it shouldn’t necessarily be that way – ultimately everyone should be judged on the quality of their work, but the creative process in film and TV is a very collaborative one, so personality is a factor.
Jan: There is some talk in the industry of book agents ultimately becoming redundant. Would you say the media agent is also under threat?
Christine: I’m not really in a position to comment about book agents because it’s a very different world from Film and TV. Self-publishing has brought about a lot of changes – a writer can probably start their career without an agent but once it starts to take off they often need help to explore the various opportunities, especially in film and TV and overseas markets. A lot of expertise is required to sell those rights, unless the author is prepared to immerse themselves in learning about twenty different markets! Also in terms of negotiating contracts, unlike agents who charge a percentage of the fee as their commission, a lawyer charges flat fees and often the sums involved in options or translation deals are not very big to start off with, so a whole advance or option fee could be taken up by, or even exceeded by, a lawyer’s fee.
It’s a full time job for an agent scouting opportunities for their clients and submitting their work – a writer wouldn’t have much time to write if they were constantly researching the hundreds of production companies and submitting work to producers. Also producers use agents as a filter, it’s that stamp of approval from an agent which will get a script read much faster than if it arrives unsolicited from a writer. Many production companies don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts from un-agented writers at all. If a producer trusts that agent’s judgement and knows that they usually come up with good suggestions and send them good scripts, they are more likely to take the writer seriously. They will read the material and often meet the writer to get a sense of what else they might be able to work on with them in the future, even if that particular script doesn’t sell. An agent can help build relationships with producers that open doors to other paid work. Producers are so busy, they need that filtering process.
Jan: What part of the job do you like best – the creative involvement with writers or doing the deals?
Christine: I like them both, they’re exciting in different ways. It’s a real privilege to see work at an early stage and to feel part of that creative process. I never give very detailed script notes but I do make broad brush stroke comments. If I don’t think the script is what the market is looking for at the moment, I might suggest the writer concentrate on another idea. But no script is filmed the way it’s first written anyway, so I think all you need is a strong script that shows potential. Once I put them together, I leave it up to the writer and producer to work in a proper development process.
Jan: How would you describe the current climate for TV and Film and how do you see the future for screenwriters?
Christine: I think it’s definitely a very exciting time for television – more opportunities, higher budgets, more ambitious projects on a bigger scale. When I started out 15 years ago every screenwriter wanted to write for Film – TV was looked down upon and was very much a second choice, whereas now film writers are working very happily in television. In a way the reverse seems to have happened: it’s Film that’s now very safe and not taking creative risks. There are a lot of sequels, big brand franchises and major literary adaptations backed by BBC Films, the BFI and Film Four and then there’s a very tiny indie market of films that are made on shoestring budgets and often don’t get any distribution. In TV there’s room for all sorts of exciting and innovative storytelling. Early on in my career, the aim was to get a film deal for a book, but now everyone has realised that Film has to make so many compromises and so much has to be cut out. But with a television adaptation you can tell the story over a number of hours and really do justice to it. And there’s potential for further series too – if the writer’s in agreement. That’s why crime and thrillers do so well on TV.
Jan: And finally… You’ve just moved from Blake Friedmann to Casarotto – do you have any particular plans and what are you most looking forward to in the new job?
Christine: I’ve got a remit to take on writers of TV drama, as it’s an area I’ve had quite a lot of success with up to now. So that will be my focus. I’m excited about working in a larger agency and working with an old colleague again too.
Jan: And I’m looking forward to moving with you! Thanks so much, Christine – that was really fascinating. I wish you every success in the new job.