Premiering tonight on ESPN at 8 p.m. EST is Morgan Spurlock’s new documentary The Dotted Line, which pulls back the curtain on the secretive sports agent industry. Above, watch a clip from Dotted Line. Below, Spurlock tells us about his relationship with his own agent.
When I was growing up, I hated unions and lawyers. My dad, who was a small-business owner and consummate entrepreneur, hated them, so well into my twenties I too carried a healthy dislike for all things that demanded a mandatory 5-10 percent of my earnings. Now my dad never had to deal with agents, but when I told him I was signing with a big fancy talent agency, you can imagine what he thought. But when you’re a struggling filmmaker looking for work, and a man in a great suit tells you with a handshake how successful you’re going to be, a quarter life of irrational distrust quickly goes by the wayside.
Now, I’m at a place in my career where I have agents and lawyers. Actually, I’m even part of a union. But out of all three, over the years, my relationship with my agent has been the most unique.
The truth is, there are absolutely shitty agents out there, just like there are shitty people. I’ve been pretty lucky in my dealings with agents. But there are countless stories (many of them true) of actors, writers, directors, and athletes being lied to, manipulated, and altogether fucked over. It’s a peculiar experience; sitting down, being told something is in your best interest, and then you get up and realize that you’ve actually been stabbed in the back and had your wallet stolen. But like I said, I’ve been lucky.
Because sometimes you meet an agent who actually does everything they say they’re going to, and those agents, the ones who can blow open doors and present opportunities you never dreamed of — they’re like finding gold. You trust them. You believe them. It starts feeling like you’re in a relationship, and having an amazing agent can be like having an amazing spouse, sans the debates over china patterns. They can be your partner, your best friend, and your confidant. They can be a voice of reason and a foundation for growth. When it clicks, you feel like you can conquer or create anything together. But when it doesn’t, you roll along telling yourselves “how lucky you are to have each other” and that you’re in a “rough patch” and things will “definitely get better.”
But when things go wrong, that’s when it gets really bad and the lies get thick. Egos are fed an unhealthy dose of imagination, you think the worst of each other, and ultimately no one is happy or successful.
The biggest thing I’ve learned over the years is that agents are an easy scapegoat. It’s easy to point a finger at the shark in the suit who hustles through talent like a Ron Jeremy double feature. Take Rod Tidwell in Jerry McGuire. Rod was lazy, gifted, and skating through the pros, waiting to “get his.” Sports and entertainment are filled with Rod Tidwells, but the truth is that there are Tidwells on both sides of the desk. What I’ve discovered over the years is that the harder you work, the more an agent will work for you, even a Tidwell. But the more you sit around waiting for the phone to ring, the more you’ll be staring at a silent phone wondering why your agent isn’t doing more.
I love my agents. Right now, it’s still a blissful marriage. Probably because, like most successful marriages, it’s built on honesty — they tell me when my ideas suck, which is often, and I love them for that. But I’m also a realist and I know that neither one of us will be around forever. At the end of the day, my career, both my success and my failure, is ultimately in my own hands.
What you hope is, in this small window of time you’ve been given, that together you’ll be able to create something memorable, something monumental, or at the very least, something profitable. We all can’t win the Super Bowl, the World Series, the Grammys, or the Oscars. Luckily, I have agents that will never tell me that.