Good Agentry

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This is Rob Long with Martini Shot on KCRW.

True story:

A writer in his late 50's, who hadn't worked in a long, long time, but who at one point was well-paid and in-demand, found himself facing what we'll call Typical Hollywood Career Ending Number 3: private school and college tuitions paid, barely; 401k plan ransacked; home equity tapped; savings dwindling; cars, one; supermarket, Ralph's; area code 661. (Look it up: it's Palmdale.)

So, with a month or two left before the house goes back to IndyMac and he starts puts the baggies on the hands and heads off to Quizno's to make the subs, he calls his old agent and lays it out. Anything? Anything at all for me?

(I promise. This story has a happy ending. Sort of.)

His agent, who's represented him for almost 30 years, has in that time gone from young guy out of the mailroom to Major Player in the business, and like a lot of agents, is sentimental about his longtime clients, in that he still takes his phone calls.

I don't know what I can do for you, he says to his old client. Most of the people in the business now have never heard of you. It's been a long time. Also: I only work about two days a week now. Let me put you in touch with one of our young guys here.

So the old agent calls in his assistant and says, look, do something for this guy. I don't know how – he isn't actually very good; never was – but do, something. And if it works, I'll make you an agent.

So the young assistant calls the old writer in for a meeting. Bring everything, he says. Every script, every idea, every notion, everything. Bring it all in.

Which the writer does. In a giant carton – remember: it's thirty year's worth of material. And the assistant sifts through the piles. And it's all pretty bad. But the assitant discovers an old spec feature script of the writer's, never sold, that's basically a version of a script that was just bought by a major studio, and which is on the fast-track to production. The young assistant knows that that studio will pay a lot for the script, just to take it off the market. Just so no other studio beats them to theaters with a similar project.

So. The assistant then calls all of the studios, ostensibly for his boss, and tells them this: a veteran client of the agency – a guy rich and retired, an artist – has written a wonderful feature script. He tells them the basic premise of the script, and to expect it by messenger on Friday, and be prepared to make an offer on Monday morning.

The studio with the similar project instantly freaks, and offers – script unread – a lot of money to take it off the market. No deal, says the assistant, pretending to speak for his boss. Our client is a veteran. He's a elder statesman. And he's too rich to let you buy his script and bury it. Okay? This guy is not motivated by money.

So they offer more money. A lot more. And an additional two-script deal besides. And suddenly, the old writer is motivated by money.

And that's the happy ending. The assistant is promoted to agent. The writer gets to keep his house and health care. Everybody wins.

Well, that's it for this week. Next week --

Okay, I'll tell you the real ending to the story. The writer does takes the money but he forgets the second part, which is the “and run” part. He takes the money and stays. Moves back to the 310 from the 661. Gets the BMW 7 series. Hires an assistant. Interprets his last-minute save, third act deus ex machina, one time only get out of jail free card as his “comeback,” and he's spent the past two years – and most of the money – trying to do just that. Maybe it'll work. It all depends on how resourceful and aggressive his agent's assistant is.

True story.

That is it for this week. Next week, we'll get snippy. For KCRW, this is Rob Long with Martini Shot.



Rob Long