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
“I’m never not schmoozing someone,” says Reber.
In the year since their department went live, Nadler, Zimelis, Garese and Reber have amassed more than 50 clients. In the two short weeks I spend with them, they sign seven more: Barry Diller’s CollegeHumor.com, PicnicFace, Red State Update, Hot Chicks With Douchebags, Dateline Hollywood, Awkward Pictures and Spike & Mike. Oka eventually signs with UTA.
“We’ve been at this nine months, and we’re the old guys,” says Garese, back in the office. The rules are changing. People are getting recognized through their content, not through their connections. It seems only fair that those people, whose work is being downloaded to infinity, get a piece of the billions of dollars that will be spent in Internet advertising in the next five years. And that the online agent geek, for all his trouble, gets a piece of that piece. “There is a scale of celebrity,” says Nadler. “We’re not at the stage yet where the ‘Ask a Ninja’ ninja is Brad Pitt. But he’s close.”
“And just to clarify,” says Garese, “there’s no negative stigma to the term ‘geek’ or ‘nerd.’ ”
“Right,” says Zimelis, in an ergonomic swivel chair at his new desk. “If it helps you sleep at night.”
“I sleep like a baby. A baby hugging a keyboard.”
“We each have our own interests that slide into every deal we make,” says Nadler, smoothly armoring up their persona. “For Ryan, it’s music. For me, it’s comedy. For Barrett, it’s the nerdcore. For Jon . . . well, he looks good in a suit.”
Suddenly, a phone call comes in. A major Web portal wants to buy the Jetset show. The numbers are big. (In the coming months, Jetset will relaunch as Epic-Fu.) Again, they ask me not to name what that portal is. You hoard your clients and you tiptoe around deals as if they are soufflés in the oven — exhale and they fall apart. As for the money, “It’s not unexpected,” Garese says with something akin to awe after he hangs up. “What is unexpected is the timeline. Steve and Zadi have been working on Jetset for one year. Now they’ve got people offering them deals and companies offering to buy them. It’s a lot to wrap your head around.”
One August evening, Nadler reclines in his chair, staring blankly at an image on his computer’s desktop of a Coke can perched on a rock next to a swimming pool. The swimming pool is located in a Benedict Canyon mansion owned by a former agency boss; Nadler is housesitting. He stretches, pours himself a glass of water from a martini pitcher on his desk, asks his assistant to print out a list of current clients and begins to flip through a pitch for an online show he’ll be reading that night when he gets home after returning a few hundred e-mails. The pitch is a classic over-the-top hybrid of other shows, complete with criminal but cute animals. Nadler sighs.
“When we take on a new client, we’re honest with them,” he says, as Reber walks in carrying a bowl of cereal and a glass of milk. “Telling a client that they’re only viable in certain limited spheres? That’s the hardest sell. But we don’t want to promise them things they can’t do.”
Who your clients are, namely “The List,” has always been a closely guarded secret in traditional agency quarters. But UTA Online’s clients are listed plainly on its Web site for everybody to see. (It’s also the only division in the agency where aspiring clients can submit work directly to agents.) The clients they represent have a kind of intimate, gather-’round-the-campfire relationship with their audience. That audience for the most part doesn’t brook bullshit. Ergo, online agents must be prepared for some degree of transparency in their dealings.
When the We Need Girlfriends guys blog on their MySpace page that they will be flying out to Hollywood, hundreds of fans flood the comments section:
“You guys are going corporate, aren’t you?”
“I asked my psychic and she said you guys are going to be mazillionaires.”
“100 bucks says you guys are pitching We Need Girlfriends as a TV series.”
“If u guys do T.V. please keep the same actors :) ?”
Though they — the funny series guys, their rabid audience, the buyers, and the agents — don’t know it yet, in the very near future, CBS will buy We Need Girlfriends and turn it into a TV show. Darren Star, creator of Sex and the City and Melrose Place and Beverly Hills 90210, will executive produce.
In the meantime, Nadler scrolls through the comments happily. “This is great!” he says, smiling. “This is amazing!”