Monday morning, I had the great opportunity to meet with an executive at one of the leading talent agencies (I'm keeping his name secret for privacy's sake!). My dad's best friend golfs with him and so he arranged for us to meet.
He had a lot of great advice, that I thought would be good to share here.
He started out by telling me that in this business, there are two sides...
The business side--which encompasses agents, managers, lawyers, studio execs, producers, etc.
And the purely creative side--actors, writers, and directors.
He says that when you are going to go into entertainment, its good to figure out which side you want to be in. Not that nobody ever switches, but its much more difficult than say, switching from a manager to an agent. He says he does know agents that have turned writer and such though, so it definitely does happen.
He then explained that for the business side, starting out at an agency in the mail room and going through the agent trainee program can be a great way to learn about the business because agencies are kind of at the center of everything. They deal with actors, writers, directors, studios, lawyers, etc. This is actually something I have heard before from others.
Next I asked about graduate school....he didn't seem to think it was going to be necessary at all...unless you seriously want to be an entertainment lawyer. You have to start at the bottom and work your way up pretty much regardless of your education. This is something that I have definitely realized...when I was working on set, I was a PA and on the same level as the kid who didn't go to college at all. I knew what all the equipment was called and yet I wasn't allowed to touch it because I was just a PA. The more time that goes by, the more I have come to realize it doesn't really matter what you major in to get into entertainment...the best part about USC is the networking and contacts you build while at school. Everything else you can learn once you get out there and are working in the real world. I mean school definitely makes you a smarter assistant, but the english major, the economics major, and the film major are all going to start out on the same level.
The next thing I asked was about networking and how you build up a solid base of contacts, which is essential to being a good agent. This was one of the most interesting things I learned during my meeting. He said that the only thing that was important was to build contacts among the people in "your class" (i.e. the people you are in the mail room with, the people you go to school with, the people around your age)...these are going to be the filmmakers of tomorrow. Its not as necessary to build contacts with older people because these probably aren't going to be the people working when you are an agent (or whatever you want to be). So networking really not this ominous difficult task, as it might seem.
Next up, it was...what are the characteristics that you feel make a great agent?
1. Great social skills...this is all about building relationships with people...both clients and others who will can use your clients. You have to be a good communicator and be able to connect with people.
2. Extremely strong work ethic. You will never get off at 5PM--its very intense. You gotta be the one out there always going the extra mile in order to succeed.
3. Lastly, you have to passion about the business through and through. You have to be ready to have less time and less money than all your friends not working in film. But passion is what makes people go far in this business.
Noticing his family pictures on the mantle, I asked about how he managed to balance out family life with work. He said that it is very hard. He didn't get married until later in life. There are always people who are the exception to the rule and make it work. But its difficult to work super long hours and have a spouse/children...you miss out on a lot and that can lead to resentment, or you aren't going to at work and might miss out on opportunities for advancement.
He gave me a lot of good things to think about. He ended the meeting by saying that when I graduate to let him know and if I'm interested, he can set me up with the woman who manages the trainee hiring. That would be really cool if I could get started there! We'll see what happens though, this is a crazy business! I love it though :)