Two decades ago when Scott Harris headhunted Debbie Haeusler, Innovative Artists’ interest in below-the-line talent was already a key — if somewhat limited — part of its focus. Today, Haeusler heads a division that includes five full-time agents handling “production talent,” as she prefers to label it, a measure of just how far that side of the business has evolved.
Based in a separate Santa Monica facility, the division handles a wide range of talent that includes cinematographer Phedon Papamichael (“The Descendants,” “The Ides of March”), editor Paul Hirsch (Oscar winner for “Star Wars,” “Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol”), production designer Scott Chambliss (“Alias,” “Salt”) and costume designers Ruth Carter (“Sparkle”) and Oscar winner Deborah Lynn Scott (“Transformers,” “Titanic”).
“Our goal since the start was to rep talented people and bring them opportunities,” says Haeusler, who stresses that such opportunities are necessarily dependent on individual merit. “You can’t package production along with acting talent as any director or producer wants to choose their own d.p. or production designer.”
Accordingly, the division has aggressively pursued “quality rather than volume,” she says, “and clients trust our judgment. We’ve discovered and promoted a lot of new young talent, as well as having people like Phedon who’s been with us 19 years. And we work very closely as a team. Everyone here represents all our clients.”
The advantage of this strategy? “It’s very producer-friendly,” she says. “When they call, they talk to one person for the entire project, in all categories.” And if that agent is away or off sick, “someone else can pick up the slack immediately. It’s that whole teamwork spirit that Scott started that originally attracted me.”
Haeusler and her colleagues also take pride in adjusting to the rapidly changing entertainment landscape, particularly with regard to features. “The studios all have these boutique departments making $2 (million)-$5 million pictures now, which if they hit big like a ‘Paranormal Activity’ help finance their huge $250 million tentpoles,” she notes. “But just like with the economy, the ‘middle-class’ movie of $20 (million)-$40 million is disappearing — and those were the bread-and-butter of most of our feature clients.
“So you have to adapt and constantly reinvent yourself,” she adds. “You never know what little project might take off.”
Haeusler cites a film like “The Artist,” for which production designer and Innovative client Laurence Bennett was nominated for an Oscar. “When we took that film it had no distribution, so there was no guarantee it’d even be seen. And look what happened.”
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