Last weekend’s Golden Globe Awards saw Alexandre Desplat win Best Score (for “The Shape of Water”), and Benj Pasek and Justin Paul win Best Song (for “The Greatest Showman”). What do they have in common? All three are represented by Richard Kraft and Laura Engel, whose Kraft-Engel Management is one of Hollywood’s top music agencies. Kraft-Engel’s other clients include Danny Elfman, Moby, John Debney, Mark Isham, Henry Jackman, Alan Menken, Bear McCreary, Marco Beltrami, Christophe Beck and John Powell.
Kraft has been a film-music agent for more than 30 years, Engel for more than 20. They began working together in the 1980s when Engel was Elfman’s manager and Kraft was doing his film deals. Kraft started his own company in 1991; she joined him as an agent in 1996 and together they formed Kraft-Engel Management in 2005. They refer to themselves as “agents who give the attention to our clients as if we were managers.”
Variety caught up with the business partners on the heel of their clients’ Globe wins.
If you had to describe the essence of your jobs, what would it be?
Kraft: The main thing we do is career guidance. Our conversations with our clients are, ‘Where do you want to go? Here’s where we think you are. What are the next steps?” So it’s strategic thinking.
Engel: We are in partnership with them on their goals. We determine what their strengths are, the best way to achieve things. And by not having many clients, it’s easier to work closely with them.
How did you first sign Desplat and Pasek & Paul?
Engel: The first time I heard [2003’s] “Girl With a Pearl Earring,” I fell in love with Griet’s theme. I called [Desplat] at his home in Paris and told him, “I represent film composers and I love your music so much. I want to work with you because I think it is beyond exceptional. Can you come here and meet with me?” … The more I listened to his music, the more I was amazed and impressed. I met him here and talked about the work I had done in my career; Richard talked to him about what he had done with Jerry Goldsmith and John Barry and Georges Delerue. And once he got over the shock of my aggressiveness, he said yes.
Kraft: Pasek & Paul had signed with CAA Theatrical in New York, and I was consulting with them on the film side of things. They said, “you really should meet Pasek & Paul.” So we met at the Soho House [in West Hollywood]. This was before they did “La La Land.” They were doing demos on a movie called “The Greatest Showman” that wasn’t yet greenlit.
What was your immediate impression?
Kraft: That these were the most accessible, enthusiastic young guys I had ever met. Yet no one knew who they were. Lionsgate was developing a musical, and the director was referencing “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg!” Damien [Chazelle, the director] and Justin [Hurwitz, the composer] were looking for lyricists. Justin and Benj reminded me of Damien and Justin. So Pasek & Paul stockpiled “Greatest Showman,” “La La Land” and [Broadway’s] “Dear Evan Hansen” all at the same time. [Pasek & Paul won Oscars last year for “La La Land” and the Tony for “Evan Hansen.’] … From that point in time, they’ve been lining up jobs. They’ve written new songs with Alan Menken for the new “Aladdin” film; they’re going to do a new live-action “Snow White” at Disney; and they have deals at most of the studios to develop projects.
Do you strategize regarding awards and campaigns?
Kraft: Yes. There are decisions to make about movies with multiple songs: which one gets submitted? In the case of Pasek & Paul, it was putting the focus on that song [“This Is Me”] but also, because they’ve had so much success – they’re halfway toward an EGOT – to not overexpose them, choosing the right [events] that highlight their work without people feeling, “Oh God, here we go again.”
Engel: With scores, it’s making sure that everyone who has any say in the voting has the opportunity to see the film and listen to the score separately as well. Especially with films that come out late, a lot of the conversation is about making sure there are screenings, that people get invited to them, that mailings are going out.
Kraft: The most pathetic thing, that always backfires, is trying to pick films to win awards. It’s transparent and inauthentic. You get nominated because you wrote a really good score. It doesn’t change a career. Tom Newman’s never won, Danny Elfman’s never won, James Newton Howard, Alan Silvestri… and they all have rather good careers. … The best story I ever heard was when the Sherman Brothers won for “Mary Poppins.” They went to Walt Disney’s office the next day and put the Oscars on his desk. Walt says, “That’s lovely. What are you working on today?” It’s a joy to be recognized, but it isn’t the work, and it’s not the career.
What’s the biggest misconception about what you do?
Kraft: That the agent is just a rented asshole, a pirate to go in and kick everybody’s ass. That’s like an episode of “Entourage.” The studio, the director, the producers, are not the enemy. The largest part of our managerial side is the actual process of doing these films. There’s going to be some problem along the way. We are the diplomatic in-between the two sides.
Engel: I feel equally responsible for the filmmakers, the director and the producer and the studio, getting the best that they need for their film, and having the best experience. It’s not all about my client.
Kraft: Movies come and go, but we do remember the people and the experience. One day I was in the checkout line, and a movie that I worked really hard to get was for sale for 99 cents. And [the filmmakers] were all difficult people. At the end of the day they all end up at the same price as a casaba melon.
Editor’s note: Richard Kraft’s young daughter suffers from Coffin-Siris Syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that causes physical and mental developmental delays. He is actively campaigning to raise funds for a CSS Conference in Anaheim this September. More info can be found at GoFundMe.