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But the gap between television and Web-vision is closing fast: NFL preseason football on ESPN prime time had 6.2 million viewers. HBO’s Entourage typically gets about 3.8 million per episode. A recent video by the comedy duo Smosh — two 19-year-old guys who film videos in their dorm room — got 2 million views. In the year since it was uploaded, Smosh’s most popular video (basically, two guys kicking each other in the nuts to the Mortal Kombat theme) got 10 million views. Another Smosh video, a riff on the Pokémon theme, racked up more than 26 million views.
“There is going to be a major hit off the Internet someday,” Nadler says, looking out the window onto the rushing cars below, shortly after the Handsome Donkey boys leave. “It’s going to be The Simpsons, who are a global phenomenon that started as silly little cartoons that ran in between segments of The Tracy Ullman Show. It’s going to be huge and everybody will know about it.”
Nadler is wearing dark jeans, Asics tennis shoes (“though I’m really an Adidas man”), a belt buckle embossed with a ram’s head, and a brown hoodie sweatshirt. He is lanky, boyishly good looking, wears his hair in a close-cropped fuzz that makes him look bald, and is about as elegant as anyone wearing orange sneakers can be. “We’re a bit stylish, Jon and I,” says Nadler, sheepishly.
“Hey, Nads,” says Jon Zimelis, “I need a jacket that’s nicer than a warm-up jacket yet not as nice as a sport jacket. Something more casual. What would that be?”
“What you need is a sport jacket with pinstripes,” Garese says, without looking up from his computer.
There are four and a half players in UTA Online. With the exception of Nadler, none of them made a conscious decision to become agents — it was something that sucked them in. Nadler is the guy who sees the entire chessboard before making a move. He researched the job by reading the seminally bitchy books about Hollywood — David Rensin’s The Mailroom, Julia Phillips’ You’ll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again — while he was in college majoring in history and art history, around the time when the first iteration of the Web was self-destructing. Nadler is the one calling the plays. He’s the team captain.
Zimelis is the charm. He’s the prototypical agent, sans sleaze, who won’t, can’t give up wearing suits. His sentences are peppered with “yo”s and “what’s happenin’, fellas?” and “give me a holler.” Everything is “tremendous,” and he doesn’t get excited about something, he gets “hyped up” or “fired up” or “pumped up.” “Schedule” in Zimelis parlance slides down to “schedge.” Budget becomes “budge.” Nadler is “Nads.” Reber is “Reebs.” And Garese, lacking an obvious shorthand, is simply “Garese” but drawled out in a streetwise Chicago accent: “Yo, Garay-seh!” It’s a likable salt-of-the-earth mix of cocky, earnest and self-deprecating. You want to go out for beers with him, or play basketball.
Garese is the nerd. Which is saying a lot for a group of guys with a high proportion of nerd blood. Or rather, he is the wholesome, fresh-scrubbed, light-haired, good-natured nerd next door. He’s the one who as a college freshman built his own computer for fun. Twelve times.
Ryan Reber, who moonlights as a DJ, is the guy who gets lost in music, who laughs at odd videos that no one else finds funny and says the stuff everybody is thinking but no one actually says out loud. He’s the weird younger brother, if not in actuality — they are all either 26 or 27 — then in spirit.
The half of the four and a half is agent Christopher Pappas. He doesn’t recruit young emerging filmmakers. Instead, he represents emerging technology companies and corporate digital clients and helps bridge the gap between the agency’s traditional and digital wings. Pappas is tall, dark and handsome with glowing, tanned skin suggestive of a serious exfoliation routine.
UTA Online’s clients are the Internet’s A-list: Jessica Lee Rose, a.k.a. Bree from Lonelygirl15; Big Fantastic; TuFux, the makers of the Obama Girl video; Rednecks TV; Ask a Ninja; Smosh. The challenge for UTA’s online agents is greater than that for their film and TV colleagues: With no sure stars yet, who to sign and who not to sign?
“It’s almost always a judgment call,” says Zimelis. “You know what you like and what you don’t like. You know what buyers like, not just viscerally, but also based on what you know you can sell. It’s a marriage of an artistic decision and a commerce decision.”
“It’s a gut feeling,” Garese offers. “There’s no formula. No A plus B equals C.”
“If I get on the phone with somebody,” Nadler adds, “and they’re like, ‘Eh, you know, I made the video in my backyard, but I really love being a mortgage broker,’ it’s like, ‘Well, enjoy your mortgage brokering. I’ll go look for somebody who wants to create for a living.’ ”