Tuesday, October 17, 2006

2: The Agent

On a warm summer night in 1966, two friends met for an evening of fun in Manhattan. This being the 60's, it was a good time for the Big Apple and the young men, one a writer who'd just landed his first job in advertising and the other an actor still waiting to land his first job in "acting", wandered around Greenwich Village doing what young men did back then - wondering if they should go to the Village Vanguard, sneak into Max's Kansas City or score a little weed in Washington Square and wander East to kick back a few beers at McSorely's.

Nothing had been decided when the young advertising writer remembered he knew some girls in the area. The young actor was up for anything and off they went to meet two fine young women living their own bohemian life. Little did the young actor know that this was to be the night of his life.

Was it good kielbasa? Was it love at sight? It doesn't really matter, because, you see, at some point, between pirogi and laughter at Vaselka's, the young actor - handsome, ardent, hopeful - got nailed by an arrow shot from the bow of a fat little baby hovering on angel wings over their table. That's right, he fell in love with one of the girls. Stupid in love.

At least that's how I imagine it when, 40 years later, I'm sitting on a patio couch overlooking Wilshire Boulevard because an old NY advertising guy handed me a yellow sticky and said, Call him when you get to LA. He's an agent. I introduced him to his wife.

I am also thinking about how incredibly efficient this actor guy has become since the days when he was free to wheel around New York City meeting girls in his plentiful spare time. My meeting was scheduled for 11. At 10:59 I'm hustled through the offices to the patio where my man in tinted glasses and a sports jacket is chatting with someone on the phone. It looks like the conversation is nowhere near ending when, at 11 on the dot, the guy hits the "end call" button on his Bluetooth headset and turns to me: So, _____ sent you to me? How is he? How do you know him?

I tell him about his friend. How I worked with him. What a great guy. I don't think my listener was ready for such a sincere and thorough answer, but he is patient. We have a standard chat about the difference between NY and LA for a bit followed by some back and forth about women. Somehow he ends up telling me he has a thing for French women and it briefly crosses my mind that the woman he met 40 years ago had an accent and exquisitely pouty lips.

I use this detail as a way into my writing. "I wrote a play about a girl who loves Paris so much she can't be with her man. Of course, he's screwed up too. He keeps buying her the same dress over and over again eventhough it doesn't fit."

This entices the response: "So, you write movies or..."

I go through the short history: MFA in playwriting with three screenplays to boot. Nicholls Fellowship quarterfinalist and Chesterfield semi-finalist.

He's not impressed, but it doesn't hurt either. He asks if I've had anything produced. I mention a few theatre things. He asks about movies specifically. I say no, nothing and he gives me the first piece of bankable advice I'm going to get from him.

"I think the answer to that should always be, Yes, I've been produced a lot - by Madison Avenue."

Then he goes on to say that it's very hard to break-in and wonders what I've been doing about it.

I say: visiting the WGA library, boning up on episodic television, preparing to write a spec script. He seems unfamiliar with the word "teleplay" which confuses me for a second since it's clear he's a fairly significant agent. He advises me not to waste my time at the library.

"You need an agent or a manager or lawyer to get anywhere in this business, though getting one of those isn't easy either. Honestly, we don't take on new writers. It's too hard to get people to hire them, use them. Our writers are all known quantities because that's easier and anything to make it easier, well... It's just too hard the other way. You understand?"

The tone is sympathetic and honest. I appreciate this. But I'm undeterred.

"Did you bring a script for me?"
"Yes. It's right here."
"What's it called?
"What's it about?"

For the first time, I detect a real downturn in his voice. I feel he's made a decision about me and it's not in my favor. But he's still polite as he stands.

"Well, I'll read your script. But I have to tell you, if I don't like it, I'm not going to critique it."
"I don't expect you to," I reply. "I read scripts for three years at the Public in NY."
"So then, you know how it works."

Indeed. I sadly do.

As we shake hands, he smiles at me through his tinted glasses. And that's when he says it, the thing that if I wrote it into a script it would be stricken by the rewrite guy as a cliche, the thing that I'm going to tell everyone at parties for the rest of my life about meeting a big time Hollywood agent for the first time.

He says: "If I don't feel the magic, I don't feel the magic."

Of course. Feel the magic. Just what everyone wants to feel.

And then I'm out, moving past the assistant who will actually read the script first - and may be the only one to read the script - and I'm into the elevator.

I look at the clock on my phone. 11:15. Exactly.

On my way home, I think about the meeting. He was nice to talk to me. To give me 15 minutes. And then I remember seeing his wedding ring and I think of all the meetings he's had in his life, and how mine is just one of a million.

But I think too about how my meeting with him was set up by that other meeting - a meeting between a then hopefull actor and a woman who might have had sexy pouty lips that came with a French accent 40 years ago.

That was a good meeting. And I'm sure it had magic. Lots of magic.

I'm lucky its spell was so strong.


AC said...

Funny story. Makes me think of another expression probably still bandied about: "lightening in a bottle." Good luck and hope you hear back from him.

Ted Bell said...

Love this agent story. Rings so true. Hope this all works out for you.
Ted Bell