A Manager’s Perspective

AITAF StaffBridge Award

Q&A with Jack Greenbaum

Many writers have questions about the role of representation - agents and managers - in an artist's career. What are these representatives looking for? How do they work with clients? To shed some light on these questions, Bridge Awards Chair Anna O'Donoghue spoke with Jack Greenbaum, a manager and producer at The Arlook Group.

Jack, a member of our Honorary Selection Committee for The Bridge Award for Screenwriting, has years of experience representing clients on all levels of the career ladder and helping them reach the next level in their journey.

Thanks for talking with us, Jack! So, to start out: where are you from, and what do you do?

I'm from Kansas City, and I'm a literary manager/producer for The Arlook Group.
Can you tell us a little bit about what it means to be a literary agent or manager? 
Both agents and managers are tasked with introducing the client to the industry, finding work for them, and securing deals. Managers often find and nurture writers and filmmakers and agents tend to come on board as their career develops, although representation unfolds in every possible combination. Managers are typically seen as more creatively involved with a client's work, but again, it varies and some of the agents I've dealt with are incredibly creative. 
I tend to view myself as the first person who gets to say yes. In a business that's full of rejection, as a manager, I'm excited by the prospect that each potential client is an opportunity for me to find someone new, get on board early, and help navigate their success.
How did you find your way to this profession?
 I've always loved movies and television - AMC Theaters is headquartered in Kansas City, so growing up, there were an abundance of theaters, and it always seemed to be the go-to activity. I went to Occidental College in LA to get a liberal arts degree while gathering as much industry experience as I could through internships and informational interviews. 
I began my career in the Gersh mailroom and worked my way up to the desk of a literary agent named Eric Garfinkel. After serving as his assistant for just over a year, I became the assistant to Tonia David, who at the time was working at Walt Disney Pictures. Both taught me a lot about deals, the creative process, persistence, all while retaining your humanity and empathy in a business that is severely lacking in such qualities. After working for each of them, I felt I had a decent understanding of agencies, the studio system, and Hollywood as a whole, so I thought I'd try my hand at applying what I'd learned to the New York side of business and moved to the city.
I did a brief stint at The Weinstein Company before transitioning into management. Richard Arlook has always been a mentor to me, and so when I went to him for advice about starting my own management firm explaining how I saw an abundance of creative talent in New York City and a dearth of managers, he suggested I join up with him and launch the New York office of The Arlook Group. 
How do you find the writers you represent? What attracts you to talent?
I try to look as many difference places as I can. I'm always interested in seeking writing talent where no one else is. I've found writers through referrals, college programs, blind queries, and even maximum security prisons. It's tough to specifically describe what I'm looking for. It's ineffable, but there's something about good storytelling that's all-consuming. You know when you see it.
What excites you about screenwriting?
That there are always new stories to be told. There's always a way to reinvigorate a genre or upend a trope, and anyone can tell a great story.
What do you wish people understood about representatives and their role in script development? 
I think it's important to understand that it's a partnership. We have to be aligned in our goal of a writer's success. A writer should tackle something they're passionate about, I'm excited about, and I believe the marketplace will respond to. And there has to be a mutual trust that we're both dedicated to creating that.  
Any advice for aspiring screenwriters? How about for aspiring agents or managers? 
I think there's a lack of compassion too often on both the representation and the writer sides. Aspiring writers feel under appreciated as they believe they have this gift that's being overlooked and agents, aspiring or not, tend to be too dismissive of aspiring talent. A writer cannot come from a place of defensiveness if a rep won't read their script or passes on it, and an agent or manager has an obligation to try to find as many exceptional writers as possible. You can only do that by believing that each writer could be the next big thing. 
That's a great outlook. Speaking of overlooked gifts - what's your perspective on the military and on bridging the gap between service members and civilian artists?
I believe that the entertainment industry suffers from a paucity of versatile voices, especially from the military. There's a real need for a diversity of perspectives and service members are a key part of that. I think when you have folks with a unique point of view and the stories and characters that come with that - that's one of the most valuable assets of the business, especially when there's oftentimes a built-in market for military-centric projects. The big question is - how can we hone those narratives in original and compelling ways?
And finally, what's the best piece of advice you've received in your career/what's the most important lesson you've learned along your way?
"Yes means maybe. Maybe means no." Too often, people in this industry are afraid to tell you what they really think, but their actions never lie. Just because people tell you what they want you to hear, doesn't mean they're going to do anything about it. It's your responsibility to keep the momentum going in your career, and if something's not happening with a particular script, take the hint, and write a better one.
Suzan-Lori Parks

Jack Greenbaum heads up the New York office of The Arlook Group, overseeing literary management and development. He has cultivated a career finding new voices, particularly in overlooked places, and nurturing them into dynamic careers writing and directing. On the producing side, he develops film and television including projects with HBO Max, TriStar, and Solstice Studios. He graduated from Occidental College and is a proud Kansas City native always happy to assert the merits of KC barbecue and the Royals.

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