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FROM THIS EPISODE

The Raise

This is Rob Long with Martini Shot on KCRW.

One of the pleasures of being a writer in Hollywood is sharing particularly egregious agent stories. Here's one:

Once, on the staff of a show we had on the air, there was a young, talented writer. He was a real find: funny, polite, literate, and saddled with enough personal eccentricities to make talking behind his back interesting. He was good enough at his job, in fact, to have stirred our sympathies (first-time staff writers make very little money) so we raised his salary a pinch.

In Hollywood, of course, you don't just call the hireling into your office and bark at him, gruff-but-lovable-style: &quotHey;, kiddo, you're doin' a great job. The pay packet's going to be heavier from here on out." Instead, you must telephone a reedy-voiced bureaucrat who works at the studio in a department called, with ominous vagueness, &quotBusiness; Affairs," tell that person to call the writer's agent, have the writer's agent call the writer, and then, after the agent has called the writer with the news, drag the writer in your office before he can blurt out &quotThanks; for the raise!" in front of the other writers on the staff who didn't get a raise and aren't getting a raise until their contracts specifically call for it, because, after all, you're not made of money, are you?

Here's what happened: the day after we made the call, the writer sauntered into work, full of praise for his agent, who, we were informed, had called the writer the day before to tell him that after some &quotsecret; negotiations" and &quotmajor; arm-twisting," the agent had wrangled some extra money for the fledgling writer - &quotwe;'ve sweetened the pot for you, kiddo," the agent told the client, &quotwe; went to the wall for you, and guess what? They blinked."

I was out for a drink with an agent who represents me and I told him this. He was outraged. AGENT
I think that's-that's-immoral. And I'm an agent. He cheated his client out of knowing that he was doing a good job. What a creep. The kid should dump that agent.

ME
I agree.

AGENT
You know, the business, it's getting so sick. So cutthroat. Used to be, you wouldn't lie to a client and you wouldn't hit on some else's client.

ME
&quotHit; on?"

AGENT
Yeah. Try to steal. You know, &quothit; on," &quotflirt; with," &quotseduce.;"

ME
Interesting terminology.

AGENT
If someone else's client called you first, then you could go to bed with him. But only if the guy called you.

ME
&quotGo; to bed with?"

AGENT
Sign as a client. The agent waves to a few men in suits at another table. AGENT (CONT'D)
Look at this place. Filled with agents. It's a real pick-up place. You must get &quothit; on" a lot.

ME
Well, yes.

AGENT
But you're happy with your representation, right?

ME
Yes, of course.

AGENT
If you weren't, you'd tell me. A long pause. AGENT (CONT'D)
Right? A few days later, we're shooting an episode of our series. As the cameras reload, the audience warm-up guy goes into his act. I'm standing on the stage floor. A young agent at the agency that represents me approaches. YOUNG AGENT
Hey, man. How's it goin'? All young agents speak fluent &quotguy.;" ME
Fine. You?

YOUNG AGENT
Cool. Because I don't speak fluent &quotguy;," the conversation falters. A long pause. YOUNG AGENT (CONT'D)
Heard about what that dude did to that dude you have on staff. That is totally messed up, man.

ME
Yes, I agree.

YOUNG AGENT
(surveying the knot of writers hovering nearby)
So which one is he? I point him out. YOUNG AGENT (CONT'D)
-Scuse me. He canters over to the writer.

Later that night, we've wrapped. I walk to my car. At the far end of the parking lot, through the gauzy evening mist, I can make out the twin silhouettes of the young agent and the staff writer.

The writer is standing by his open car door. The agent is leaning against it, talking with animated intensity. The writer is being &quothit; on."

It's like a Hopper painting: lonely, sad, funny, and a perfect snapshot of Hollywood. One guy wants to make a sale; the other guy just wants to go home.

Actually, that's a perfect snapshot of life in general.

That's it for this week. Next week we'll go to New York. For KCRW, this is Rob Long with Martini Shot.

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