There are Managers (talent and literary), Agents (TV and film talent, TV and film literary, unscripted, book to film/TV, digital, branded content, below the line, voice over, and packaging), Lawyers (sometimes split into different departments like, IP / rights, TV, film, etc.), Producers (see below) and Executives (usually studio, network, production company).
And there are 2 sides: The buyer side and the seller side. It’s a buyers market. Always. The buyers side includes studio and network executives and independent financiers / production companies with money. The seller side includes all the creatives (Writers, Directors, Producers and Actors) and their representation, including all the Below-The-Line talent from Line Producers, Cinematographers, 2nd unit directors, lighting, production designers, production assistants and hundreds more.
– Managers: These people often help talent take shape and begin their careers. They have smaller client lists than agents and because they have less overhead, they can take bigger risks (with who they represent) and will get a bigger upside in success. Managers can be a 1 person company run out of that persons home or the can be a 100 person firm, with many different departments. Often people will start with a manager in the beginning of their careers and then add agents and lawyers as their business grows. Regardless of whether you start with a manager or agent or lawyer, it’s always about the individual you sign with vs. the company. It’s that person you must believe in and build trust with, not just the reputation of the firm.
– Agents: Sometimes smaller agencies will take on a newer or less established client that has a piece of material that they feel is easy to sell. However, most agents only represent clients with an established business and many agents will only consider clients with over $1M / year earnings. Agents are closest to the market and what the specific current needs are of the studios and networks up the the moment due to all the agents actively covering, packaging, and representing so many clients. While the agencies will often have the most information collected around town, keep in mind they only use that information to decide what they will or won’t do for their clients. They’re not in the business of sharing that information to empower you. The agency business is a volume business that is mostly geared toward servicing their biggest star clients and production companies. If they can plug you in to servicing their largest clients it’s a win-win. Often agents and agencies will be useful in placing executives in their various jobs around town. Or agents will leave and become buyers at the various studios and networks around town. In this respect, the big agencies have the leverage. They have the biggest clients, the most information, they’ve placed the most executives into jobs around town and they will use that leverage to their max benefit.
– Lawyers: Often Lawyers are only available when there is a deal to negotiate. Some are more entrepreneurial and really help clients find agents and managers. Depends largely on if they’re at a boutique company vs. a large firm. Individual lawyers at smaller firms can sometimes function a bit like managers, acting to introduce clients to various producers and executives around town.
– Producers: There are many different kinds of producers in Film. Associate Producers, Line Producers, Co-Producers, Executive Producers, and capital P producer Producers. All these types of producers function slightly differently. Some are individual / solo producers vs. production company executives. Associate Producers can be anything from production executives to very experienced Director’s executive assistant to individuals who’ve had some impact on putting a project together. Line Producers are the nuts and bolts day to day producers who are on set and help substantiate the director’s and producers vision. They report directly to the capital “P” producers. A Co-Producer could be a Line Producer with an increased influence on the creative development of the script. Co-Producers could also be production company executives who report to the main Producer. The main producers, capital “P” producers are the lead producers who are usually senior producers with both creative and physical production experience. They are responsible for delivering the film. They could have originated the project from concept to script and so on or they could be a trusted veteran who is assigned to a project that has been put into production by a studio. Executive Producers can be packaging producers, people who make the initial creative match between idea, script, director and / or actor. They can also be the people who bring financing or distribution to the project. Often Executive Producers deliver essential elements to a project but are not full time on set producers responsible for delivering the picture. In Television, a writer-producer driven business, the ranking from beginning credits to highest credits is as follows: Staff Writer, Story Editor, Co-producer, Producer, Supervising Producer, Co-executive Producer, Executive Producer, Executive Producer / Showrunner.
– Executives: There are three main types of executive. Studio, network and production company executives. In film, studio executives are the ultimate buyers. In TV, studio executives are buyers but they also sell to networks. In the independent arena, there are financiers and production company executives with money. They are buyers that produce content outside of the studio system and then often sell completed product back to the studios or distribute independently. In the larger production companies, there are lower level executives (managers, directors of development and VPs) vs. upper level executives (SVPs and Presidents). At every level, most executives are not in a position and not willing to take risks. It’s not primarially about supporting creative people and making art, it’s about getting product made that makes money.
For anyone, at any level, it’s always easier to say No than Yes. They aren’t looking for “passion projects” or anything less than an easy business until you’re established in the business.