By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
In the afternoon, Nadler and Reber take a meeting with two young women — both television writers — their manager and their TV agent. The writers, cute and funny, curl up on the couch with Diet Cokes and their knees tucked under them. They’d need cameras to make Web videos, people to help with production. Their friends would act in the videos. Nadler listens thoughtfully as they talk and scribbles everything down on a piece of paper in a miniscule script.
“I don’t usually sit down with people who have no idea where they want to go,” says Zimelis afterward. “That would be unappealing to me, because we’re talking about content creators. They should have a sense of where they want to go creatively.”
Later, Garese walks over to the Beverly Hills set of his clients Steve Woolf and Zadi Diaz to watch them film a live podcast for their pop-culture variety show Jetset. Garese seems oblivious to the heat, despite his dark suit. He walks at a fast clip. “They have big dreams, Steve and Zadi,” he says. “They look at digital media not as a lesser media, but as a nascent media. Digital media will grow to be the equal of TV or film, and that’s how they approach it.” The “set” turns out to be Steve and Zadi’s living room, where guest speakers such as hip-hop violinst Paul Dateh are hanging out, waiting to be interviewed on camera. Steve, Zadi and the guests eat pizza and chat with people online — some of whom have tuned in from as far away as Korea and South Africa. Garese wanders around the living room, looking reserved but proud.
“Every negotiation I go into, it’s my job to get the numbers as high as possible,” he tells me on our way back to the office. “It’s the buyer’s job to get the numbers as low as possible. At the end, concessions will have been made on both sides, and both sides will declare that those concessions are totally preposterous.” Garese sighs, then smiles conspiratorially. “But it’s always better to have negotiations remain amicable. If you keep it friendly, the buyer doesn’t feel bitter about your client.”
I ask him how he learns this stuff.
“You pick it up by listening and watching. Assistants learn to negotiate by listening in on senior agents’ conversations,” he says. It is common practice in Hollywood, the silent second listener on the other line. “Chances are, if there are two people talking on the phone, there are four people listening. That’s why assistants know everything.”
The business of agents infiltrating the online space is practically as old as the Web itself, which is to say not that old. Agencies had made runs at online entertainment in the past, but the Web wasn’t ready yet. It bombed. Now, in the era of Web 2.0, the big agencies all cover the online world. They take the talent and funnel it into mainstream media. But UTA is the only agency so far that’s betting there is money to be made by keeping Web artists on the Web. You find the talent you want to sell, then you invent the environment in which you’re going to sell it.
“That marketplace is very undeveloped,” United Talent Agency founding partner and board member Jeremy Zimmer tells me. He happens to be away from the building when we speak by phone. (And, really, who knows how many people are listening in on that call?) It was his idea to start an online division. The exciting stuff, he says, is “to help the buyers figure out how to be buyers; to help the sellers figure out how to be sellers.” Last July, Zimmer was having lunch with former Disney chief Michael Eisner and UTA chairman Jim Berkus. They started talking about different ways for the agency to do stuff online. “I’m happy to give Michael the credit for it,” he says. “If you’d asked me three years ago, I would have told you no one would ever spend any time watching anything on an iPod. And on a recent vacation, I found myself watching lots of stuff on an iPod. I definitely started to spend a lot more time paying attention to what people were paying attention to on YouTube and Revver.”
The lines will start to blur, he says finally. “Ultimately, there are some fundamental choices that people will make. Where you say to a friend or a wife, ‘Hey, do you want to go out or do you want to stay home?’ I think that when people decide they want to stay home, one of the key choices will be what they can watch online.”
While the people are deciding whether to stay in or go out, the agents are out — at lunch. At 1 on any weekday, South Beverly Boulevard between Gregory and Charleville teems with agents. The headquarters of three of the Big Five most powerful Hollywood agencies, which represent the vast majority of the industry’s top talent, are located within a half-mile radius of each other. The William Morris Agency has offices a few blocks away. Endeavor is similarly within striking distance. On a recent sunny afternoon, we stand at the intersection, waiting for the light to turn. The clients, yet another set of three best friends — Angel Acevedo, Brian Amyot and Steven Tsapelas, makers of the We Need Girlfriends Web series, in which three recent college graduates are simultaneously dumped by their girlfriends — had flown out from New York to take meetings. Nadler, Reber, Garese and Zimelis believe that the We Need Girlfriends content would be well suited to television.