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
“The ratio of suits to nonsuits here is high,” says Nadler, as we walk down South Beverly. “It’s very suit-friendly.” There are young men in gray suits and light-blue button-down shirts with French cuffs; young men in white shirts and silver cuff links and dark slacks; men in pink shirts and black slacks; older men in navy blazers and matching navy pants; and every conceivable variation on the conservative power necktie.
“You’re looking tan today,” says Nadler, sarcastically, when he sees We Need Girlfriends’ television agent, Allan Haldeman.
“Thanks. You’re looking hip today,” says Haldeman.
Agents don suits like chainmail for another day of fending off the barbarians, but Nadler almost never wears one. Haldeman gazes warily at the other suited men stalking around in pairs and triads as the We Need Girlfriends guys shake hands with Marvel Comics genius Stan Lee (“It’s Stan Lee. It’s Stan Lee. Oh my God, it’s Stan Lee”) and Willy Wonka director Mel Stuart, who also happen to be doing lunch. You can never be too careful: Poaching is rampant. Competition is so ingrained into the whole agent culture that even if you have a nemesis, you could never honestly admit it, lest it make you appear weak or unfocused on the entire reason for your existence, namely the client. Nadler pauses to consider the power dynamics of fierce competitors. “A nemesis pushes you to be better and better,” he says. “My dad believed very strongly that we should each have a mentor and a tormentor. The mentor guides you and gives you advice and helps you along. The tormentor competes with you. Sometimes they are one and the same.”
We wind up at Rosti, a small, cozy Italian restaurant; sirloins at Ruth’s Chris Steak House are deemed too heavy for midafternoon, Mako is closed, and Chin-Chin has inadvertently given away their reservation. “I’m sorry,” the Chin-Chin hostess says meekly. “We can have another table for you in 15 minutes. Is that okay?”
“No,” says Nadler, eyes narrowing. “No, it’s not.”
“We’re not competitive with each other about how many clients we each sign,” he says later, devouring a plate of chicken Parmesan. “However, there are some agencies where you eat what you kill.”
When they’re not at lunch, or on the phone, chances are the guys are in meetings. At the weekly coverage meeting, Zimelis, Reber and Garese huddle around Nadler. He stands in front of a dry-erase board with a purple pen. Coverage, in agent-speak, means knowing absolutely everything there is to know about a studio, network or production company, especially what it wants to buy. He jots notes into four columns with each of their names written at the top. Zimelis is the TV expert — if ABC or CBS or Nickelodeon, for example, wants to buy a video for its Web site, he needs to know about it. Reber takes care of music. Nadler handles the major portals, like MySpace, AOL, Google, Yahoo and MSN. Garese handles techie stuff, which interests the guys affectionately nicknamed “The Nerdcore.”
There are meetings about meetings. At the Digital Media Group meeting, they talk about previous meetings, meetings they hoped to have, and whom they’d be having lunch with in the future. It is lemon Perriers all around. “It’s the classiest thing they’ve ever seen,” Nadler says about a project their client Dutch West is doing for Superdeluxe.com. “It’s called Robert De Niro Back in Time —”
“That’s it,” says Garese, holding up his hand. “I don’t need to know more. You had me at Robert De Niro Back in Time.”
At a given moment, there are any number of viral videos proliferating across the Internet, worming their way into computers: Two UFOs flying over Haiti. The student Tasered by a police officer at UCLA’s library. A cat playing piano. The online agent tracks that mass of videos, anticipating the ones that attain escape velocity. Garese pulls up a video of a chipmunk when I ask him what his favorite online video is. “Have you seen this?” The Dramatic Chipmunk turns to the camera, eyes wide with . . . is it horror? Surprise? Garese often has a startled, bemused expression not unlike that chipmunk. It is only three seconds long but got 8.8 million hits. Popular as it is, you don’t sign a chipmunk. You sign someone who is able to consistently produce compelling content. You sign someone who is able to roll out that chipmunk over and over again.
Aside from getting paid to watch the stuff that the rest of us watch at work on the sly, Nadler, Zimelis, Reber and Garese are having such a good time because their chosen medium is making new forms of storytelling possible. Characters can speak directly to the camera, and the audience can speak back. Shows can play out like “Choose Your Own Adventure” stories that leave you hanging on a cliff between two paths; viewers e-mail which action they want the characters to take, and the writers plot the next episode based on what the audience decides. Nadler, once trying to share his excitement, said to a film agent, “You have to watch it online to get the full experience.” The film agent responded, “That’s funny, because that’s exactly what I tell my clients: You have to watch it on the big screen.”