Exec takes Gotham Group into new areas

Group leader draws talent | Gotham builds new model on tooned-up frame | Gotham builds slate | Kids stay in exec’s focus

Ellen Goldsmith-Vein will be the first to tell you she’s relentless. Once she believes in a piece of material, spots a director she wants to represent or finds a cause that touches her, she throws all of her energy behind it.

“I assume that if I love it, everyone else is going to love it, too,” says Goldsmith-Vein. “I know everyone thinks their child is the cutest, but I’m still shocked when people don’t respond the way I do to something.”

Goldsmith-Vein’s instincts have built her business. At the Sunset Boulevard offices of the Gotham Group — the management and production company she owns and founded more than 15 years ago — a staff of roughly 25 tends to the hundreds of clients repped by the firm.

Many of the artists with Gotham are among the preeminent names in family entertainment and animation, areas in which the company created its base.

Goldsmith-Vein was drawn (pun intended) to animation talent early in her career. When she left banking to pursue work in representation, she spent time at William Morris and Nelvana, where the focus on talent in animation was beginning to be nutured.

“I was really lucky,” says Goldsmith-Vein, who loved animation from an early age. “And I continue to be lucky to be involved with all these amazing people.”

In order to build her client list and find new talent, Goldsmith-Vein started going to festivals and art schools to get a look at the best work that was coming along and find the artists doing it.

“I was obsessed with representing (helmer) Henry Selick because I had seen some MTV spots he’d done and I was just in love with his work,” says Goldsmith-Vein, who says she somehow found Selick’s phone number and then proceeded to call him until he relented.

Those who know Goldsmith-Vein aren’t surprised she eventually won Selick over.

“She has always had an amazing ability to connect with people and a laser focus,” says Sander Schwartz, exec VP and head of children’s and family entertainment at Fremantle. “She has a way of making every client feel like they’re the only client.”

It’s that deeply personal connection that draws talent and then keeps them with Gotham Group.

“She was there when our child was born,” says writer-producer Emily Kapnek, who has been with the Gotham Group for about 10 years. “I think she was even in the recovery room with us.”

Of course, there’s also another important area that gets handled: “She’ll really find the best projects for your skills and keep you working,” says Bob Schooley (“Kim Possible,” “Hotel for Dogs”). “We ended one job on Friday and then went to work on ‘The Penguins of Madagascar’ on Monday.”

That connection extends to the people at her own company as well. Managers Peter McHugh and Michael Prevett have been with her for years and believe much of her success comes from her ability to show her support for them professionally and personally.

As Gotham Group created relationships with clients, the company also briefly merged with Michael Ovitz’s now-defunct Artists Management Group in 1999. Though the relationship ended in 2002, Goldsmith-Vein believes it was helpful in opening up new connections in publishing.

“I think we started to see what was possible in terms of having access to content,” says Goldsmith-Vein.

Now Gotham has relationships with five of the seven major publishing houses in New York. That access works so well because of Goldsmith-Vein’s instincts, believes Jen Bergstrom, veep and editor-in-chief at Gallery Books, a division of Simon and Schuster.

“She’s a great translator between the book world and the film world,” says Bergstrom. “She sees the cinematic potential in things that we might not otherwise see and she makes the whole process a lot of fun.”

Gotham also has a first-look deal with Sony Pictures Animation, which plays a major role in Goldsmith-Vein’s project slate.

“We were very keen to work with her because of her enthusiasm and because she brings such great ideas to the table,” says Hannah Minghella, Sony Pictures Animation president of production. “We have five projects set up with her.”

Though animation and family entertainment continue to be a core part of what Gotham Group does, Goldsmith-Vein is also moving into other areas that include smaller, darker indie films.

“We’re excited to grow and develop,” says Goldsmith-Vein. “It’s also about using what we have to continue to bring opportunities to our clients.”

“Ellen is tough, and she knows her business, but she doesn’t forget about the human part of things,” says Alli Shearmur, president of production at Lionsgate Films. “She cares about people, and that’s why people love to work with her. She has been an incredible partner on ‘Abduction.’ And she has great style, which I really appreciate.”

That people-centric approach to business — even with hundreds of clients and dozens of projects to manage — is still part of what distinguishes Goldsmith-Vein after years in the industry, say those who’ve worked with her.

“I’m an insomniac and oftentimes I will send emails in the wee small hours of the night,” says Jason Spitz, co-head of the motion picture literary department with William Morris Endeavor Entertainment. “Ellen is the one person in Hollywood that no matter what time I send an email — even if it’s at 3:30 in the morning — I will get a response quickly.”

Goldsmith-Vein laughs when she’s told this story.

“Sometimes my kids will get up and then I can’t resist looking and seeing my email,” she says. “There’s no way I can’t look.”

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