Agents and managers answer questions about book-to-screenplay deals

Authors’ representatives Mike Kuciak of AEI (Atchity Entertainment International), Paul S. Levine of the Paul S. Levine Literary Agency, and Ken Sherman of Ken Sherman & Associates appeared at the BEA/Writer’s Digest Books Writers Conference last week to answer attendees’ questions about book-to-screenplay deals. As panelists invited to participate in the conference breakout session, the three professionals were good-natured about their differences of opinion and style, even when the discussion became rather lively.

Each panelist described a different professional approach to representing authors. Kuciak, a producer at AEI, explained that he was technically classified as a manager, not an agent. In California, where agents are licensed and regulated by the state, only agents are legally permitted to sell an author’s work to a purchaser. As a management and production company, Kuciak explained, whenever AEI succeeded in setting up a production, its policy was to refund the representation fee charged to an author. Kuciak pointed out that it was in his company’s best interest to arrange a production deal from which it and the author could both profit the most.

Levine stressed his qualifications as a practicing attorney and disclosed that in the past he’d been retained by AEI to review a complex rights agreement involving a film deal. Levine also serves his own clients as a literary agent and handles the subsidiary rights to their published books. When he was interviewed by Chuck Sambuchino last month for the Guide to Literary Agents Editor’s Blog, Levine mentioned he’d be teaching university classes on the legal aspects of book publishing this summer. When asked whether book contracts were less intricate to negotiate than contracts for film or television rights to an author’s work, Levine insisted they were equivalent in complexity.

Sherman, who teaches the business aspects of screenwriting to the students at two universities in California, is a literary and script agent in the traditional sense of the term. He cautioned the writers in the audience to work with only reputable agents or managers, such as the panelists, and to obtain referrals from other authors or industry professionals. Agents’ and managers’ experience in the film and television industry, he and the other panelists emphasized, resulted in a network of connections that facilitated the most lucrative sales. Sherman steered the question-and-answer session toward an uplifting conclusion by reminding the writers in attendance of their love for their work and the immense value of persevering in the face of what can sometimes seem to be discouraging odds in a competitive business.

The three authors’ representatives agreed that the most important quality to look for when seeking representation was an agent or manager’s dedication to ensuring client-authors obtained the best possible deals in exchange for the copyrights to their work. In addition to checking the current editions of the Hollywood Creative Directory and the Hollywood Representation Directory for an agent or manager’s listing, the panelists recommended that writers trust their instincts. If a deal sounded too good to be true, or a deal broker seemed a little too eager, something was probably amiss.

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