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FROM THIS EPISODE

Big Agent

This is Rob Long with Martini Shot on KCRW.

So, here's what went down a few weeks ago. Maybe you read about it. My agent, and his entire agency, were bought by another, larger, agency for a lot of money. Now, for years, they had been denying that they were even interested in such a thing. "Oh, no, never, we like our independence," they'd say. "Besides," they'd add, "we think our agency is worth a lot of money, and we're pretty certain there's no one out there with enough cash to make a deal."

But that was before this other agency -- this larger agency -- raised $100 million in private equity. Rule One in Hollywood: if you have $100 million, you're going to be able to make a deal. I'll tell you what Rule Two is in a moment.

So they did the deal, and it made sense. I mean, not to brag or anything, but I did sort of predict this. Months ago, when my agent was giving me warning little talks about how the business is changing and the economics are getting tighter and the opportunities more fragmented and competitive, I responded by saying "yeah, and it's going to get tougher for agents, too, isn't it?" And he sort of laughed ruefully -- you know, a kind of 'man it's tough all over' kind of laugh, which I took then to mean that it's tough all over, but what I now know meant... you stupid writer, we're going to do fine...

The story broke in the afternoon -- and it was broken by, naturally, the powerful and pervasive web of assistants who rule the industry. You see, assistants not only listen in on every one of their bosses' phone calls -- really, they do; it's considered totally normal and expected, and in fact one of the perks of the job, one of the ways they're supposed to learn about the business -- but they don't just listen to the phone calls. Then, after work, when they all gather at whatever place is serving cheap drinks and free apps, they... spread the news. This is actually an efficient system for getting things done -- a sort of backchannel intranet -- and it accomplishes an important mission -- things that people need to know to keep the business flowing get known leaving the important people to have nice, friendly lunches at the Grill. I mean, if your assistant hears you telling a client's lawyer that although the studio is offering two and they want six but will settle for three and some tweaked internals, and then goes to the Coyote Grill or somewhere and tells the assistant of the producer of the project that three and some tweaked internals will close the deal, the next day, the deal is going to close at three and a half and some tweaked internals.

So we hear though the assistant web that our agent and his agency are selling themselves to a larger agency, and that sets the clock ticking. Because at this point, every agent at both agencies are calling their clients to deliver the news directly, over the phone. But they don't call the clients in alphabetical order, right? They call them in order of... importance. In order of... .career momentum. So we hear the news at three o'clock in the afternoon. And our agent calls us at... .none of your damn business.

But when he calls, he explains everything. This is the right move for them, he says. And for us, things will only be better. Clients will have a larger pool of agents working for them, bigger access to talent, to projects, to new markets. A bigger agency is better. Hmmmm, I say. I've been a client for over 15 years, I say. And for 15 years, you've been telling me that smaller is better, that clients get lost at larger agencies. Now, suddenly, a larger agency is just the thing, is exactly where I want to be. What changed, I ask. The business, my agent says. When, exactly, did it change, I ask. Three o'clock this afternoon, he says. And then hangs up to call clients farther down the list.

I don't blame him for going big. It's the right thing to do. And the truth is, if it matters to your career where, exactly, your agent works, or if it matters to your career how big that agency is, then your career is in trouble. And that's rule number two.

That's it for this week. Next week, we'll answer questions about the feet. For KCRW, this is Rob Long with Martini Shot.

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