Echo Lake Entertainment’s Zadoc Angell
Zadoc Angell is one of those names. Not only does it sounds like it belongs to a super hero, in reality it is the moniker of one of the hardest working guys in the industry, who comes from simple beginnings and has built one of the most stellar reputations for an up-and-coming rep in the screenwriting business. He is not only famous for big sales, a superior taste level, and a solid client list, but also for being generous with his time and information, as is exhibited by his teaching stints at UCLA Extension, and the simple fact that he took time out of his busy schedule to talk to me on a Friday afternoon, when most of his peers are busy checking off their very last to-do’s for the week, only so they could check out for the weekend.
Lee Jessup: Quite a few people told me your origin story: You come from a small dairy farm. Could you tell me a bit about your journey from the dairy farm to the industry?
Zadoc Angell: Sure! It’s an unconventional one. I grew up on 400-acre dairy farm in rural upstate New York near Ithaca New York. It’s the true blue family-run farm like you picture everything in Vermont to be. Big red barn, 150 head of cattle, seasons, working the land, it’s sort of an idyllic childhood out of the 19th century. I embraced it because I was already acutely aware that this was not where I was going to live my life and that it was a rare and special childhood.
Having said that, it is a lot of work. My sister and I were part of our family’s labor force. It was a true family farm: My parents, my grandparents, and my sister and I were working on the farm many hours every day and it taught me and my sister this insane work ethic that I continue to work within today, and is the thing that I carried with me into entertainment because our business is a 24-hour job and lifestyle and you have to love it and have you have to work it. Farming, in its own way, is a lifestyle of work. You have to be passionate about it in order to really succeed in it. So in that way it kind of translated.
Also, working outside in nature I had a creative mind, so I would daydream and I drew and I painted. In fact, I told my parents I wanted to be an artist at the age of five and I wrote scripts for my favorite David E. Kelly shows. I had the entertainment bug from a very early age, and very specifically in television. My favorite cartoons were Scooby-Doo and He-Man, and I would watch every episode — I cared about those shows and those characters. As I got older it became live-action shows like Picket Fences and Ally McBeal, The Practice and Chicago Hope, the sort of 90-s era of drama that I just adored. I would be very loyal to my shows. I would watch them in seasons when they were great, and when they would be falling apart, and when they would recover. I really enjoyed sticking with series for the long term and seeing that life of the series and how characters grow and change as an audience comes to know them over multiple seasons. And so I think it makes a lot of sense that I ended up working in television and representing writers because I love what they do and have such respect and admiration for it.
Lee Jessup: What took you to Harvard?
Zadoc Angell: It’s kind of convoluted how I even knew how to apply. I was a straight-A student in a tiny public high school where my graduating class was only 33 students so it’s about as rural as you can get. I grew up near a small town that’s so small it doesn’t even have a stoplight. You literally can blow through town and blink and you’ll miss it. I was really into school and extracurricular activities. I did everything I could get my hands on: Theater and yearbook and newspaper… everything except spots. Anything creative I adored.
I applied to Harvard and they took me. It changed my life, of course. I went from this sheltered childhood on a farm to Cambridge and living in a city and being around all of these valedictorians and rocket scientists. You always feel like you are the mistake, the first year of Harvard, but then you get over it. I had to do a lot of growing up in college but it really helped prepare me for Los Angeles and the industry and the bigger world out there. They really value diversity and diverse points of view, and as white as I am I think they saw that I was coming with a unique perspective.
Lee Jessup: What did you study at Harvard?
Zadoc Angell: I was a film major. They have a film/video track within their arts discipline, which is not very well known. It’s a production-based environment, which usually surprises people – I only took three theory classes the whole time I was there. The classes are studio-based so I was making videos and 16mm film. My thesis was a 16mm/25-minute short. It taught me a lot about filmmaking: lighting and cinematography, directing, the value of a cut, and it gave me a little production background that I am very, very grateful for. It gave me a lot of filmmaking experience that feeds into my creativity today.
Lee Jessup: What was the journey from Harvard to L.A. like and how did you find yourself in representation?
Zadoc Angell: While I was at Harvard I was pretty sure I was going to move here, so I spent my summers [in Los Angeles]. I did five internships in two summers, I interned at places like Bunim-Murry Productions where they were doing The Real World and Road Rules so I got a taste of reality television. I also worked at The Bold and the Beautiful where I got a taste of daytime. I also interned at Carsey-Werner-Mandabach when they were still a niche production company doing That 70’s Show and Grounded For Life, which is a great window into the last gasp of Hollywood being independently owned. I am really happy I got to see a little bit of that. The internship that was probably the most helpful was the one that I did at Malcolm In The Middle because that was a writer’s room. I learned the value of ordering lunch and getting the lunch order right, and they loved having a Harvard kid run around getting it for them. Seriously, it was a very high-level room with a lot of CO-EPs and the show was taking off. I think it was getting this close to winning the Best Comedy Emmy that year. It was so educational for what I ended up choosing to do.
As far as representation is concerned, in college I really began to discover what my real strengths and weaknesses were, because I always enjoyed writing and directing but I don’t know that I am necessarily the most talented and uniquely gifted person to be pursuing that. By the end of college I kind of figured that out and realized that everyone loved me in the role of producer. They wanted me to produce their plays and their theater work. And my thesis film was one of the best produced thesis films that year. It seemed like that was the natural fit. Producing involved being great with people, coordinating all the elements, making things happen; that was where I seemed most naturally suited.
After I moved out to Los Angeles I started working for a boutique agency called Genesis that in 2004 was bought out by Paradigm. I started working for two TV Lit agents, one of whom was Ian Greenstein who is now at Gersh, I saw that they were so hands-on with their clients and with creative – they read their client’s scripts, they gave them feedback, they helped package their projects. I realized a lot of my skills that I thought were primarily found in producers are also valuable in agents, and so I really got excited about the idea of becoming a representative. I also liked, frankly, that there was a clear ladder: That if I could become a great assistant and a great coordinator I could then become a great agent. That was quite appealing to a goal-oriented person such as myself. After Paradigm bought Genesis I stayed with the company as a coordinator for two years in the TV Lit department and then I made agent about 7 months before the writer’s strike and was an agent there for 3 years before transitioning to management 4 years ago. I discovered in college the skillset that would make me successful in the industry today, and the best use of that skillset was definitely in representation.
Lee Jessup: What inspired your move from agent to manager?
Zadoc Angell: I spent 7 years within an agency culture, but the culture never quite fit me 100%. I was always super creative as an agent. I gave my clients notes on scripts all the time, I was very nurturing, very hands-on. I cared about my clients deeply – which is not to say that good agents don’t do all those things but you are within a corporate culture that values the bottom line over those kinds of things and so it never seemed like the perfect fit. After 3 years of being an agent I was seeking something different, something that would be a better fit for myself. My old friend from Genesis, Dave Brown, recruited me into management at a company he worked at for 3 years called Artist International. So I joined Dave and immediately it was the right fit. All those things I was doing as an agent that were seen as kind of extra but never really valued were suddenly essential elements to the job and it just felt like such a better fit for me.
Having said that, I think I could never have been a good manager without having been an agent first because I just got such great training from Paradigm, such access, such knowledge to information and relationships. I really was able to know all of the executives around town, get to know writers, build my own client list so that when I went into management I had a real expertise and a salesmanship. I transferred my agency clients into management clients so I was able to hit the ground running with my new business. I’ve been managing for 4 years now and I love it.
One of the great things about this job is that it’s always different, it changes constantly, and you’re always challenged. So you have to constantly fire on all cylinders and think in different ways every day so you’re always learning and growing. You really have to be smart about the creative. Writers don’t necessarily expect agents to get them creatively, but your manager should. Your manager should make your pitches and your scripts, and your material stronger; they should work with you in a collaborative fashion. I think I’m very strong at that. That’s a hugely important component of the job.
You also have to have an expertise in the marketplace. I came up in an agency and I didn’t lose touch with the marketplace. I still have to be out there and in the community and having a breakfast/lunch/dinner every day with different executives and showrunners and people in the business. That way I am in touch with the pulse of what’s going on so that I can advise my clients intelligently and accurately about the marketplace. You really have to maintain your relationships and build new ones all the time in order to give your clients great service. Certainly, I pride myself on selling my clients in the marketplace, which some management companies do proactively, others less so. Every management company is different. As a former agent, I just do it naturally. I am in the hunt for staffing jobs for my clients during staffing season and naturally of course now that’s all year-round. To me, what’s great about the job I have is that it gets to be this nexus of business and art. I get to be creatively hands on with my clients and help them to achieve the next level creatively, but I also get to be in touch with the marketplace and business and know what’s going on and know how to sell and get projects packaged and made — and that’s a wonderful spot to be in.
Lee Jessup: Is there anything out there you recommend writers do or read in order to stay on top of what’s happening in the business?
Zadoc Angell: There are the obvious answers like Deadline and The Nerdist podcasts. Writers should be savvy about the business but to a limit because if you’re just checking Deadline every five minutes as a writer you’re going to go crazy, because there’s just so much writer envy out there. So, on some level as an artist you have to keep in mind that your journey is going to be a unique one and that your path is going to be different from everyone else’s. That’s hard to remember when you’re seeing other people get staffed or other people get that dream job or other people sell a pilot and yours was passed on; it’s very hard to keep that in mind. I think the most sane writers do (keep that in mind) and part of that is by making sure that you have a healthy interior life, that you have a healthy personal life, that you have something other than the business going on. Otherwise you will just go crazy. I’m married, I’ve been in the same relationship for 10 years. My husband is not in the business; we have a lot of friends who are not in the business. I subscribe to TIME Magazine and when I get it I’ll flip through it and soak up what is actually going on in the real world. I think it’s important to keep in touch with things outside the business and fortify yourself that way because that will help you have fresh ideas and new insights, fertile ground from which to create and write and in my case advise creative people on what their next project should be rather than just focus in on what’s hot this second. What’s hot this second will change the next second. It’s hard to stay bottled up in that, and that is my job, so the writer should be a step removed. That way they can make creative that is good, that is refreshing, that is different. There is a reason why executives have a knee-jerk reaction against Hollywood insider content because we’re all sick of talking to each other. Let’s find someone who gets what’s going on in the rest of life, something that all of America could watch and participate in. It’s important.
Lee Jessup: What excites you about a writer and makes you want to get in business with them?
Zadoc Angell: It’s talent and personality. Particularly in television, you have to be great on the page and great in person. It starts with the page, which is important. You won’t meet with someone until you read a pilot that you love. So the person has to be talented on the page and then when you meet with them they should have an outgoing personality and be social and know how to talk about themselves and tell their life story — so that I walk away certain that this is a person that other people will want to be with, hang out with, and hire down the road. I definitely represented some very introverted writers in my career – a few of them spring to mind – and unfortunately their careers tend to be limited because this is such a social business and ultimately writers hire other writers. So, unless you are making those relationships in television, you are not going to get very far up the ladder before just being talented times out. You really have to have both sides of yourself.
One of the tests that I have is that I love asking people their story. Like you did with me asking about where I grew up. At Echo Lake that’s a major part of every writer meeting. We want to hear where you grew up, where you went to college, where your first job was, how you decided to be a writer and chase your dream, I LOVE that stuff and it shows me so much. It shows me how people talk about themselves and their lives. If they are a comedy writer, do they have funny anecdotes and jokes and stories? Are they interested in their own life? There’s nothing worse than talking to someone and asking them where they grew up and where they came from and they don’t even think their own story is interesting. That’s kind of sad. So one of the things I teach in my UCLA Extension class is being able to tell your story and having funny and interesting anecdotes at the ready and telling it in a way that shows passion about your own life. That gives a representative confidence that you’re going to be able to communicate that kind of passion and enthusiasm and energy to showrunners and executives and the people who do the hiring in the room.
Lee Jessup: Do you look for new clients? Are you very selective? And how often do you take on somebody new?
Zadoc Angell: I think that I’m getting to a point in my career where it’s harder and harder to take on someone who is totally un-credited, totally new. Because I’m established, I have clients who are creating series now so it’s harder and harder to take on people who are completely green because I just don’t have the real estate. Having said that, this is a referral business, so as long as someone that I respect in the business, say an executive or an agent or a showrunner, sends me someone that they like and they recommend I am of course going to read them and take them seriously. We sign in teams at Echo Lake so I will usually involve one of my colleagues to read too and then if two or three of us really respond to the material we will meet with the writer. The truth is part of the responsibility of management is discovering new talent because the agencies aren’t doing it. Most of them are very high-volume places that want clients who are already making money before the agency even starts working for them. And so one of the advantages that management has is that we get to find the diamond in the rough, and we get to start careers and we get to find people when they can’t get repped and they end up becoming the future showrunners in television, and that’s really exciting. So that’s something I continue to do but I have to be increasingly picky about who I take on in that space.
Lee Jessup: For any writers who are not signed yet, who are hoping to get signed by the likes of you, what’s your advice?
Zadoc Angell: My advice is to work in the business. I think too often writers will keep a day job in some other medium that affords them the ability to write and a lot of free time to write so they might be getting the writing done but they are not building relationships. And so, they are missing out on a huge component – especially in television – of jumpstarting a career. People will have a day job at Starbucks or something and write a lot and they might have a body of material, but they are hoping to be discovered by an agent or manager out of the blue who then will somehow single-handedly launch their career overnight, and that’s just not realistic. What happens more often is: you start as an assistant or a PA or a writer’s assistant or a script coordinator or agency assistant or whatever it is in our business, and you begin to build relationships and work with people. And you work long hours – because it’s a creative business. The compromise there is that you have to double down on being disciplined, on writing in your free time. That’s hard to pull off because if you work the hours this industry demands you are burned out and exhausted at the end of the day and you just want to drink. So, if that’s the case wake up at 5 a.m. and write before work. Whatever you need to do, find the space to do that. But you have to be there building relationships and getting to know people. The beauty of our business is that people rise up with their generation. My class of assistants are now co-executive producers on TV shows and Vice Presidents at networks and studios and now we have the pleasure of making television together when not so long ago we were nobodies. It’s the same thing in the writer community. You have to build your bona fides. You have to build your relationships You do that and then you create that connective tissue and establish that foundation for yourself to have a long-term career.
Lee Jessup is a career coach for screenwriters, with an exclusive focus on the screenwriter’s professional development. Lee spent 6+ years as director of ScriptShark.com. During her time there, Lee introduced hundreds of screenplays to entertainment industry professionals, and spearheaded a national Business of Screenwriting seminar series launched in partnership with Final Draft and sponsored by the New York Times Company.