Agenting’s altered egos

If there’s one trait that talent agents have in common, it’s this: They like to talk. Agenting is a garrulous business.

That’s why it’s almost eerie now that agents have decided to surround themselves with the sounds of silence. At least insofar as the press is concerned.

The town’s top agents have had time to digest the events of recent weeks and have come to the following conclusion: Practitioners of their craft should be seen but not heard.

This is not exactly an original concept. It was an axiom among agents of old that it was dangerous to encroach upon the ego space of clients. Stars like to get their names in the papers; they don’t like to see their agents’ name in the papers. Stars like to get the best tables; they don’t like to see their agents get the best tables.

The Ovitz era brought an end to agent anonymity and for some years it seemed as though the community had accepted the notion of the agent as Uberfuhrer.

Recent events involving the William Morris Agency served as a reminder, however, that we are now living in post-Ovitzian Hollywood. The New Yorker profile of David Wirtschafter and missives in the New York Post’s Page Six column demonstrated anew that what agents do is behind-the-scenes stuff and probably should remain that way.

Hence a reporter for Variety who was working on a story involving UTA was suddenly advised by a senior partner, “We’ve decided not to cooperate. Agents are too damned visible these days.”

All this reminded me of the many conversations I had with the late Lew Wasserman, who relished reminiscing about his years as an agent and about his ferocious dealmaking sessions with studio moguls of old on behalf of superstar clients. Even in his later years he could summon up precise terms of the deals and the threats that were exchanged in the process of closing them.

When I would periodically suggest that Wasserman commit some of his stories to a memoir, he would freeze. Agents don’t talk about their achievements, he would say; they talk about their clients’achievements. I could never get him to budge.

Is the agenting community over-reacting to recent events?

Sure they are. The top agencies have too important a profile in the industry to vanish from view. They represent too many major corporate clients; the superstars make too many headlines. They’ve become part of the news.

But as the New Yorker article reminded us, talent agents are like reporters in one important way: They can propel a story, they can even be part of a story, but things get dicey when they become the story.

I guess that’s what Wasserman was trying to tell me back then.

* * *

Not one for small talk

Just as agents prefer to keep their names out of the press these days, the same can be said for Jerry Bruckheimer.

When a producer has such a profusion of films and TV shows in his pipeline, he understandably yearns to duck for cover. Every story that trumpets the fact that he has 10 TV shows and 15 features cooking only increases the paranoia among TV networks and studios that perhaps he’s not paying enough attention to their particular project. Can even Mrs. Bruckheimer get Jerry on the phone?

Personally, I’ve never had trouble reaching Jerry, but a typical Bruckheimer phone conversation lasts 45 seconds. And that’s only if it includes small talk. It’s not that he’s abrupt; it’s just that he talks in coverage. Most people speak in sentences, but Jerry does fragments.

My favorite Bruckheimer fragment dates back to the days when he was a partner with Don Simpson. It was a very successful partnership and one reason it worked for them was that Simpson was intensely voluble while Bruckheimer was concise. Simpson had a huge ego; Bruckheimer’s was invisible.

Simpson once told me, “The way we work is, I’m the creative partner and Jerry is a great follow-up guy.” I looked at Jerry and he just smiled and said something eloquent, like “mumph.”

Well, Bruckheimer has proven persuasively that his talents stretch beyond “follow-up.” Ask him about it and he will respond with a burst of eloquence. Like, “works for me.”

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