Maha Dakhil, agent, motion picture, based in the literary department, CAA

Women's Impact Report 2012: Agents & Managers

Dakhil has played an integral role in building CAA’s roster of international and independent filmmakers, identifying and signing such helmers as Eric Toledano and Olivier Nakache, whose French drama “The Intouchables” ranks as the most successful foreign film of 2012. Other recent highlights include brokering deals for “Shame” helmer Steve McQueen to direct “Twelve Years a Slave,” Lee Daniels to direct “The Butler” and helping bring TWC’s “Lawless” to fruition with clients John Hillcoat and Nick Cave. Latter pic, along with Daniel’s “The Paperboy” and Jeff Nichols’ “Mud,” were among four films by CAA directors that preemed in competition at Cannes. Her client Gary Ross directed “The Hunger Games,” which grossed $685 million worldwide. Dakhil identified the book early on, and recently brokered a deal for Ross to develop “Peter and the Starcatchers” for Disney.

What we should know: “The business has evolved, so it has provided challenges, but it makes the most committed and talented people be here. I feel like if you have something authentic to say and apply your own personal philosophy, you’re going to enjoy your work a lot more and success will follow. But please have a sense of humor! There’s going to be some bad days, so be ready to turn those into funny stories, exaggerate as you retell them and keep going.”

Words of wisdom: “There’s something about the word or title of ‘agent’ that people have an immediate reaction to. It has a transactional connotation as far as dealmaking goes, but in today’s climate, agents can be true champions of our clients, advocating for them and their projects. We take their victories and defeats seriously and we all live to fight another day together. You’re in a role that goes beyond representation and making deals. It’s not just about the film getting greenlit now. We’re involved from release, marketing, publicity, awards campaigns. Each film has its journey and so much of it involves us educating, advocating and agitating on behalf of our clients.”

Work week: “It can be said we open our eyes, we open for business. The job is a lifestyle choice. I am inspired by the people I work with, so I don’t mind, but of course we are all trying to find more balance.”

Life-work balance: “I haven’t started a family of my own yet but I’m a daughter and a sister and an aunt, and every family dinner, I walk in late, BlackBerry in hand, ready with an excuse! I still feel like a bad kid. My family is Libyan so this business is foreign to my parents but they are very supportive and take me as I come.”

Charity: Partners in Health, which provides health care for the poor.”Charity is part of every agent’s life through our foundation, which allows you to dip in and out of great organizations without having to be on the board of one. It’s hard to pick one to devote yourself to, so you can get lost in a world of charity, because they’re all deserving. I visited Haiti, but I’m not so good with a hammer and a nail. You want to be there and do something, but I don’t necessarily think you have to be right in the debris. So my favorite charity is Partners in Health, which I became involved with after reading Tracy Kidder’s somewhat famous book about founder Paul Farmer titled “Mountains Beyond Mountains.” Partners in Health is particularly fascinating. I read Paul’s story and could relate to it. I’m attracted to the Robin Hoods of the world, and he was like that as a med student at Harvard. He would steal medical supplies from Harvard and go to Haiti on the weekend, getting resources to a population in need of medical attention. When he graduated, he started this charity, first in Haiti, but then it expanded all over the world. ‘Mountains Beyond Mountains’ is a Haitian proverb that essentially means ‘problems upon problems.’ The problems don’t go away; hunger, AIDS, sex trafficking. Hence, the title. Whatever you do, it’s not enough and solving one makes you realize another is there. The philosophy is to tackle each one as it comes along. Paul is apolitical, so he works with corrupt governments to get to the people. He’s oblivious to governments, because he wants to help people within the constructs of their government. It becomes about social work. I did rounds with the doctors, visited the community there. You really immerse yourself in society, not to usurp governments but to create sustainable models in these countries. I observed in Rwanda and it’s a beautiful thing to witness. It’s about education and creating jobs and building bonds of humanity.”