Scriptnotes: Abusive Managers

On April 11th, 2017, Craig Mazin and special guest, former producer of Empire, Malcolm Spellman, spoke on the Scriptnotes podcast on abusive managers, sexual scenes in films and television, parentheticals, marital arts, writing credits, and other questions revolving around scripts in general.

However, an interesting note relates to how the manager and client relationship, specifically lawyers, agents, and managers and the abuses that are faced.

Craig and Malcolm received this question:

Up until about three hours ago, I was working with an extremely unprofessional and volatile manager. I never signed a contract, as I’ve always had a bad feeling about them. Today, after threatening to assault my writing partner, I sent him a very calm email, explaining why we should no longer work together. Duh, the dude repeatedly used the phrase, quote: ‘I’m gonna punch him in the fucking face’ (That’s the manager to her writing partner) The manager is now firing off a series of misses, demanding commissions on projects that have yet to sell. He wrote: ‘As is customary in our business or sale happens in the next twelve months, I am entitled to commission for the life of the deal.’… Is there any validity to his claim?

The answer, thankfully, is no. Mazin and Spellman emphasize the importance of having a lawyer and/or an attorney to deal with these issues. “If your manager has done anything to violate the Talent Agency Act,” Mazin says, “which would include, for instance, procure you work, or attempting to procure you work, then not only do you not have to pay him for the rest of your life, now that he’s fired, on anything you make, but you can file a grievance with the Labor Commissioner with the State of California and actually get him to cough up money that you have paid to him” (Mazin and Spellman 2017). Mazin further explains a concept known as “on-the-wheel, off-the-wheel” which is essentially a deal that allows the manager to collect commissions while working with a client (known as “on-the-wheel); however, once a manager is no longer working with a client, they cannot collect commission, hence they are “off-the-wheel”:

“The deal is, that unlike agents, who earn 10% of the deals they negotiate, and who collect that money even you fire them the day after they close the deal. They collect that 10% because their 10% is based on what they negotiated. Managers really are service employees. You are paying them while they service you as a manager, they’re on the wheel, when you fire them, they’re off the wheel…. They are not entitled to the money that keeps coming out. The idea is that the commission simply paying them for the work they’re doing while they are your manager, not a moment after” (Mazin and Spellman 2017).

Both of them acknowledge that  people who are starting out, come to Hollywood because they are looking for validation, the work that screenwriters and other artists matter to them and they want that work to matter to the people who run the business, and certain managers take advantage of this naivety: “It’s in their interest [managers] to make us feel afraid and it’s in their interest to make us feel like we need them… it’s an abusive-spouse relationship when it gets like that. You actually don’t need a single manager, attorney, or lawyer, you need a agent, you need a lawyer, you might feel you need a manager. But there is no specific individual one that is going to change your life or make a huge difference. Your work will. Your work got you this manager, your work will get you another manager. If anybody in your professional life is treating you in any kind of abusive way- get out” (Mazin and Spellman 2017).

Managers generally are necessary, agents are necessary, and lawyers are vital to success in the film industry. However, you need someone who is going to work for your best interest and not for the selfish needs of themselves alone. You need someone who knows the business and is good with negotiating deals that work for both themselves and most importantly for you. When a relationship with a manager occurs that is not fruitful, best to be rid of the bad fruit and look for another garden to pick from that can be worth your time and money. Mazin and Spellman go onto other topics related to screenwriting, but this caught a specific interest due to the recent dealings of the in-and-outs of entertainment lawyers and the workings of ‘the deal’.

Work Cited

Mazin, Craig, John August, and Malcolm Spellman. “Scriptnotes 295 – The Return of Malcolm.” Audio blog post. Scriptnotes. N.p., 11 Apr. 2017. Web. 11 Apr. 2017.


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