No More Cupcakes

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This is Rob Long with Martini Shot on KCRW.

A few years ago, a friend of mine tried to fire his agent. It didn't go well. After a long, wearying phone call, in which the agent tried everything in his bag of tricks -– you owe me! This is wrong! I screwed up, I know! Gimme one more chance! This is a bad career move! --- all of them, my friend finally agreed to the thing he had been dreading -– the thing that every single one of his writer friends told him, under no circumstances, to agree to.

He agreed to a meeting.

So there he was, a few hours later, in a conference room of a sleek building in Beverly Hills, surrounded by agents -– his agent, other agents, there were cupcakes, you know. They turned it into a thing.

And in the end, after all of the we-love-yous and you're-important-to-usses and the cupcakes, he ended up staying put. My theory is, all he really wanted were the cupcakes.

That was, as I said, a few years ago. Back when the business was flush and fat, and clients like my friend, who I'm pretty sure was a real pain-in-the-butt, high maintenance client, a daily caller, a needy what-offer-do-I-have-today kind of client – was worth keeping, worth fighting for, because business was booming, because you could park him in a rich multi-year studio deal and ten percent of that was worth suffering through a little daily whining. As an agent friend of mine told me, in an unguarded moment, was his philosophy about clients: you don't have to be friends with them. You just have to think that they'll be good earners. Like pigs or dairy cows.

Back then, if you wanted to leave your agent, you had to prepare yourself for the meeting, for the big sequestration in the conference room with the cupcakes and the PowerPoint. You had to stick to your guns. You had to be willing to endure the painful, awkward, bad feeling in the air as you left the conference room, waited for the parking validation stickers, headed down to parking, drove out into the sunshine.

And then, more cupcakes! Every agency in town would start to court you -– it'd be all smiles in conference rooms up and down Wilshire, as other agents in different offices made the same calculation that your previous agent did: he's a jerk, and he'll call me all the time, but he's an earner. And they'd promise you a bigger career, more access, more opportunities. If you were in TV, they'd say, "Want to be in features? We can make that happen." If you were in movies, they'd say, "Why aren't you a director? We can make that happen." To everything, it was, "We can make that happen."

Well, as I said, that was then. I know a writer -– fairly well known, a good little earner -– who made the rounds of the agencies recently. When he called his agent to give him the news that he was leaving, he girded himself for the conversation. Just get it out, he said to himself. Say it and move on. Don't let them get you into the conference room. Just keep it short and to the point.

So when his agent came on the line, he had his speech down. Short, professional, generous, and composed. He paused, waiting for the inevitable.

"Yeah," his agent said. "I kinda see your point."

Oh. Oh, well. Great.

And when he went on the rounds of the other agencies, meeting agents who, a few years ago, would have staged elaborate conference-room love-fests, would have produced on-the-floor Lakers tickets, first edition books, back rubs and fancy pens, he found, instead, a couple of grim-faced guys in suits, telling him about the contractions in the business, telling him, "Want to be in features? We probably can't make that happen." And, "Want to direct? We probably can't make that happen." And, "You've got some money in the bank, right? Because there's like, no work out there right now." The happiest agent he talked to all day was the one he fired.

And of course, nobody gave him a cupcake. He had to buy his own, which he ate in his car. Times have changed. Cupcakes don't lie.

That's all for this week. Next week, we get cheer up. For KCRW, this is Rob Long with Martini Shot.



Rob Long