Hundreds of people have been affected by the strike... cameramen, grips, gaffers, assistants. But rarely weighing in on the strike and how it affects them are the agents and agencies: the slick, Armani-wearing salespeople charged with peddling writers' work to the networks and studios.
Agents are in a stickier situation than most... even more than writers and executives, their livelihoods depend on schmoozing and maintaining relationships with both artists and buyers. Thus, taking either side bites the hand that feeds them.
But agencies do feel the fallout. Which is why CAA agent Bryan Lourd has been instrumental in helping producers and writers get negotiations back on track. And William Morris and APA have been sending pizza, drinks, and donuts to the picket line. And Innovative was forced to lay off ten assistants last week and promises more to come (you know, because it's assistants-- not agents-- whose bloated salaries are keeping the company from skating through the strike). (Okay, that last sentence wasn't fair. The Innovative agents don't want to "skate" through the strike... they simply want to survive without reducing their own salaries or giving up the leases on their BMW's. And that would require them to take-- I don't know-- 20% salary cuts so the assistants who support them could keep their jobs. You know... like the UTA agents did so their assistants wouldn't have to starve.)
It's rare to get a glimpse into the agency world, especially at such a volatile, tenuous time. But here with today's guest perspective is one of Hollywood's top literary agents-- who, at their request, shall remain totally anonymous-- to give us a peek behind the Armani curtain...
IN AN AGENT'S OWN WORDS...
It’s very rare in a business that requires you to have ADD, because you’re expected to do ten things at once, that you find yourself with nothing to do. Let me rephrase that – it’s not that I have “nothing to do” so much as that I am not allowed to do anything.
I am a literary agent in the middle of a Writer’s Strike.
At first this seemed novel – I get a break from the exhaustion of going 100mph and my clients can go hold a picket sign for a couple of days to get their much-deserved internet revenue, etc. The first week of the strike didn’t even seem so bad. I could visit clients and potential clients while they could network with showrunners and other writers. Well, we’re now in to day 16 and the bubble hath burst.
Nobody thought this would be quick and easy, but I don’t think most people realized the slow torture we would all endure. After all, we’re not coal miners, or even the teamsters. We’re not a people who are used to hard labor, or even used to having to stand all day long. Writers sometimes stand on set carrying scripts. Now they’re walking back and forth in front of studio gates all day lugging picket signs. They’re not even very loud. It’s a victory if a car honks and bothers someone. This business was not designed for picketing people.
Agents – well, we’re even worse. We’re bred to look polished and busy and sit in plush leather chairs and talk for a living.
An analogy for the TMZ-loving set: Imagine you’re a young pop starlet/actress and all you want is a line of coke. But paparazzi are everywhere and you know that little baggie is sitting there but you just can’t do it. That’s what it’s like being a literary agent during a strike. My phone is sitting right in front of me and I’m not allowed to talk business with any executives. I can give script notes to clients (or rather, I can give them guidance on their thoughts), but I cannot make calls to people I’ve spent my entire career forging relationships with. So, what does that mean for a literary agent? BOREDOM.
What am I supposed to do now that I can’t do what I was hired to do? For some people this must sound great – get paid to do nothing. It was great for a day or two, but this is my livelihood. I live and breathe to be an agent. I enjoy helping my clients set up projects and get jobs. I now wake up in the morning to do nothing… and I hate every minute of it.
Let me walk you through my day so you can get a feel for the mundane…
7 a.m. – Alarm goes off. Hit snooze.
7:10 – Alarm goes off again. Check my Blackberry – the only email is from the spam filter informing me that I can resize my penis. Rethink what I am rushing into the office for and reset the alarm to go off at 8:30.
8:30 – Alarm goes off again. Hit snooze again… 3 more times.
9:00 – Finally get out of bed. Call the office “Any calls?” “Your mother and then your doctor calling to confirm your colonoscopy.”
10:00 – Debate leaving house. Is there something on TiVo I can catch before I go? The Real World. Guilt settles in and I get into the car.
10:30 – Arrive at office. Smile at valet who surely sees my sadness.
10:36 – Walk into office. Read trades… "Look at that, a full-page ad for a scab looking for work." Congratulations, IndieWriter2007@gmail.com, I’m giving you a free plug in hopes the denizens of Hollywood fill your inbox with emails bitching you out. Don’t help the studios let this go on longer!
11:00 – Call some clients because I miss them… a little. “You guys meeting good people out on the lines? Maybe tomorrow you should hit up Sony… they like you over there. Stay strong!”
12:00 p.m. – Think about what I should have for lunch for 20 minutes. It’s easy to get in everywhere since no executives are eating out. I feel bad for waiters losing money over this also.
12:20 – Check Chad Gervich’s blog.
12:40 – Check Nikki Finke’s blog.
1:00 – Leave for lunch and debate about how long the strike will go on.
2:15 – Head back into office. “Any calls?” “Your mom again. She wants to know what time you are coming over for Thanksgiving dinner.” Bang my head against desk for a few minutes.
2:18 – Start online Scrabble game and begin writing this blog. Having multiple things to do at once makes me feel better.
4:20 – The phone rings!!! Yes!!! Someone stopped toking up long enough to call!!! "Hey, uh… is there going to be a script for me to direct for that next episode of that show?" "No. Sorry. They’ll get you in as soon as they come back though."
4:22 - Bang my head on desk again for a few minutes.
4:30 – Realize I am so far ahead in Scrabble that I might as well stop playing. Debate going home. I know a bunch of studio executives have been seeing movies during the day. Maybe I should thang out in a dark theater so we can bond over having nothing to do.
5:00 – Stare at clock…
5:02 – Stare at phone…
5:02 ½ - Stare at clock…
5:03 – Stare at phone…
As an agent you’re one of the busiest people in Hollywood. You’re the center of a wheel and everything is going through you. What you don’t realize is how dependent your livelihood is on other people. I desperately want the phone to ring. I need the phone to ring. I need the validation of my job to know I am doing something worthwhile. To know I am not wasting my life away.
This is what I love, it’s what I live for. To sit and have no control over a situation and only hope that the people who are, or will be, talking to each other are doing everything they can to get us working again.
And then it hits me... this is what it must feel like to be a writer.