The Big-Time Hollywood Agent on the Depths to Which His Fellow Agents Will Sink

Note: Individuals pictured are not the sources of these stories.Photo: Photo-illustration by Christopher Anderson/Magnum Photos/New York Magazine; Source Photograph: Tom Merton/Getty Images

I chase big names in all different avenues. Broadcasters, writers, showrunners, performers. Recently, I was chasing a huge hip-hop star. I was working his managers for months to get the meeting. He had kind of gone insane in the last year or two. So I finally get a meeting with him at his house. Nondescript place, but it’s all this crazy security—guys with earpieces outside. Finally, I get waved in. When I get into the house, he’s sitting there and eating KFC on a table that’s covered in sneakers. He’s on a conference call discussing the design of a new shoe he’s helping develop.

He’s like, “I’ll be with you in a minute, man; I just gotta figure out a way to eat and do this call. Go hang out on the balcony.”

So I do. I’m out there for three hours. I have to keep calling my office: “Cancel that, cancel that too.” Mind you, the balcony is three feet wide with no chair. And meanwhile, I hear him inside, talking about, “I don’t like the strap here; can we make the strap, like, a millimeter higher?”

Finally, I get the twenty-minute meeting. And he’s just going hard at me: “Why can’t you fucking get me this? Why can’t you fucking get me that?”

This guy has literally never met me before, and he’s screaming at me. But that’s okay. It’s like riding a horse. In the first twenty minutes, the horse will try to throw you off. If they throw you off, you’ll never get them. So I stand my ground.

And that’s the greatest skill someone can have in being an agent: the ability to make someone hear what you say. If you can’t? You will not work as an agent.

I know it’s time to get rid of a client when they’re not listening, when they’re just off the fucking rails. I’m not interested in riding some fucking train. There’s no point in doing the job if you can’t be a creative partner. Because that’s where you make the big money, when there’s a working creative partnership.

Not every agent can do everything well. There has to be a mix of talent. In investment banking, they call it the “finders, minders, and grinders” principle. You want people who can sign, people who can service, and people who can do the work of selling. Yesterday, I got to the office at 8:30 a.m. and got home at 11 p.m. There are always two or three things after work you have to go to: an opening of a store; that premiere; this screening; those drinks; this dinner. I try not to do that too often in a given week, because I like to see my family, my wife, my kids.

Finders, minders, and grinders: The greatest agents are all three. Some are golden retrievers and are out all night. But rarely are all those functions in the same person. Once you get to be a senior agent, you also need to know how to develop a client list—to take that person to the next level—and know how to hold that list.

The best agents make you feel as though you’re the most important person in the room that they’re working. I remember this one time, I took an actor client to the premiere of this movie. He wasn’t in it, but he’d done a movie with the director recently, so he wanted to go and support him. Anyway, I was saying hi to too many people at the premiere. I was saying, “I’ll be back in five minutes. I just need to go talk to this studio guy or that director.” A few days later, he fired me for it. I learned a good lesson from that.

Here’s what’s been changing about the job: You have high-level agents now trying to sign even a low-level actor. Back in the day, they’d only represent a rarefied group of people, with only one or two clients they’d take on as their “project.” Like when Ed Limato represented Mel Gibson and Denzel Washington, he took on Paul Walker, just to see if he could make something out of him. Now clients’ careers change on a dime, up and down, so an older, established agent who used to carry one or two babies? They’ll sign ten of them now.

Today, an agent will call up a client and say anything to them. “I heard your agent was selling two other clients against a job and recommended that they not hire you.” Or, on something that is ice-cold development, “I know it’s a ‘go’ movie because my director is signing on to it tomorrow, and if you were with me, you would be, too.” In the past, sure, an agent might make some shit up to embellish, but it always had a shred of truth to it. Now the abject lying is crazy.

As told to Claude Brodesser-Akner

The Big-Time Hollywood Agent on the Depths to Whi […]