Let’s start by going over what each one does. Agents are representatives that work on behalf of the writer to get them work. This can include brokering deals, setting up meetings with producers, and, on occasion, finding projects for a screenwriter to work on (more on this later). A manager, on the other hand, has the primary job of nurturing a writer’s style, quality of work, and general career direction. A manager, like an agent, can set up meetings with producers and help get a writer’s foot in the door with industry execs. The main difference between the two is that managers are not allowed, by law, to procure work for a writer for payment. This means a manager can’t broker deals or sell a script for you. Additionally, managers can produce a script written by one of their clients, while agents aren’t allow to produce anything.
So which one is better for a screenwriter to have? First of all, once someone is established, they often have both: an agent to broker deals WHEN a script is ready, and a manager to GET a screenplay ready. And it’s important to note that an agent may take on some manager duties, like giving notes on a script. Different managers and agents have different relationships with their clients, so there can be a lot of overlap between an agent and manager.
The tricky thing about getting a manager or agent is that they choose whether or not to work for you. Because agents perform a service (selling scripts) that managers don’t, they are in higher demand, so in most cases aspiring screenwriters start off with a manager rather than an agent. But in both cases, writers have to put themselves out there and find work for themselves before an agent or manager will want to work with them. While this might sound like a catch-22, even something like winning a screenwriting award at a festival or producing a short film on your own might be enough to catch someone’s eye. The key is putting your work out there to gain as many possible avenues to success as you can.