Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Hollywood Agent Musical Chairs

I had a problem with JERRY MAGUIRE. You’re probably saying, “You bring this up now? The movie’s fifteen years old. What’s next? Your rant on Walkmans?” I will tie it in to a current event. You’ll see.

I’m not the only guy who had issues with JERRY MAGUIRE. A lot of men I know went in thinking they were going to a sports movie only to discover it was a thinly disguised chick flick. In the words of one disenchanted friend: “You lost me at hello.”

I had no problems with that. In fact, I thought the central love story was the best part of the movie. Okay, the line “You complete me” makes me want to gag but by and large, the film is filled with great lines, astute observations, and wonderful moments. I haven’t seen it in a while so I hope the love story part still holds up. The film was made before Tom Cruise became such a clown over Katie Holmes. I imagine you can still watch JERRY MA (my cool nickname) and separate his real life romance from the far superior one on the screen.

No, my quarrel was this: the entire movie spun around a completely bogus premise. Since most people don’t know the world Jerry Maguire lives in, they weren’t bothered by the big conceit. But I couldn’t get past it.

My agent recently switched agencies. (Toldja it will tie in.)  He went from one biggie to another. My partner and I followed him. This has happened several times during the course of our career. And each time we were left with a choice – stay at the current agency or go with the agent to his new home. Usually, if you’ve established some relationship with the agent you choose to stay with him. It’s not so much the agency as the person you’ve entrusted to handle your career.

Sometimes the old agency will make a big play to keep you. They’ll take you to lunch and do a full court press – all the resources they have, the connections, their enthusiasm, the plans for you, etc.

Note: If they take you to breakfast instead of lunch just go to the new place. Breakfast means the agency doesn’t give a shit if you stay or go. Lunch means interest, which can be gauged by where they take you. Spago = they need to keep you. El Torito = they’d like to keep you.

But often times if you stay at your existing tencentery (an even cooler nickname, although one I didn't make up) you’re just reassigned to another agent and ultimately you feel inherited. The new agent doesn’t really know you and sometimes you get the vibe that what you call a career he calls an additional workload dumped in his lap.

So back to JERRY MA. He’s a big sports agent at a major firm. He does something that gets himself fired. In the movie he’s ruined, loses all his clients, has to completely start over. That’s great for story purposes – the harder you can make things for your protagonist the better -- but in truth, he’s not ruined. He just goes to another agency and takes most of his clients with him. Those other agencies would be taking him to Spago for lunch. Hell, they’d take him to Mr. Chow's.

So the whole rest of the movie seemed fake to me.  But again, that's because I'm closer to the subject matter.    On the other hand, one of my favorite movies is THE VERDICT, starring Paul Newman, written by David Mamet and Barry Reed.   I love that flick!  Bought every second of it. But lawyer friends of mine loathe it.  To them it's completely laughable from start to finish.  I don't care.  And if you love JERRY MA, you're probably saying, "I don't care either, and stop calling it JERRY MA!"   And that's fine, but as a writer you always run a big risk when you take major creative license.  Both of these movies were executed so well.  Cameron Crowe is one of my favorite filmmakers (my quibbles with this film notwithstanding), and THE VERDICT also had the advantage of being directed by Sidney Lumet.   But you plot at your own peril.

I always feel cheated by JERRY MAGUIRE.   Everyone else loves it (or at least every woman).  I wanted to love it.  But what can I say?   “You lost me at goodbye”.


Blaze said...

Well, could not a case be made that Jerry's former agency hustled fast in keeping clients? While Jerry's desk is being cleared out, might not smooth talkers be taking all of Jerry's client list to "Spagos"? Perhaps these clients are not as savvy and experienced as you and fall for the line of schmooze, staying with agency rather than following Jerry?

Walkman Enthusiast said...

What was the current event?

Phillip B said...

Sports fans have the wrong impression about agents that Jerry MA seemed to carry forward. They've watched a zillion films and TV shows where theatrical agents are referred to as "10 per centers."

Sports agents seem to take a great deal more. When the old Chicago Bears quarterback Jim McMahon went bankrupt (as so many professional athletes do) his agreements went public - his agent was getting a little more than 15% of his on field earnings, and a business manager was getting 5%, but that same agent was getting 50% of McMahon's off-field earnings.

So where did the agent put his greatest efforts?

The resulting Friday question is - Is 10% still the show business standard? Does that commission run forever on residuals? And who else gets a piece?

Roger Owen Green said...

W.E. - the current event: "My agent recently switched agencies. (Toldja it will tie in.)"

Jerry Maguire didn't bug me, or The Verdict, for that matter. But any story where you know the way it REALLY works are judged at a higher level. That's why the comic book scene in American Splendor worked so well for me.

DogsOnDrugs.com said...

Been a while, but didn't the agency let Jerry stay there the whole day and call all of his clients to convince them to come with him? Seemed to me they would've walked him right out the door.

Mike Barer said...

What interesting is the line the I took from the movie was "Show me the money!

Tom Quigley said...

I remember the movie MR. SATURDAY NIGHT in which Billy Crystal's character, an aging Jewish comedian now relegated to doing retirement home apearances and playing the borscht circuit, suddenly is able to get a meeting with his lifelong agent (played by Jerry Ohrbach), and begins to wonder if maybe his luck is starting to change for the better -- only to be hit with the cold reality that his agent is now passing him off to a new junior member of the agency (Helen Hunt) who doesn't even know who he is, or know that he was the biggest TV attraction in America back in the '50's.

Although the story as a whole could have been stronger, it did illustrate what many older performers (and I'm assuming also writers, directors and producers) must experience as a new generation comes along to take their places.

Weston said...

Love the bit about agents. Being an actor I completely agree. I was wondering if you could tell me, in your eyes, as a writer, what makes a great or even just a good actor? Would really love to hear your opinion. Or even read a blog you post on the subject.

Janet T said...

I’m not really a Tom Cruise fan. I do count the Last Samurai as one of my favorite movies, but I’m still pissed that I will never get back the hours of my life that watching Vanilla Sky and Magnolia stole from me. And I’ve always thought “you had me at Hello” was the worst line…………..
I’m sure that agent/client relationships are very similar in most industries. We have reps and companies that we do business with. Sometimes the rep will go on to rep for a competitor. If we like the rep more than we like the company he was representing, we will follow. Sometimes the company relationship is more important than the relationship with the rep.
Trying to explain your industry or your business to “outsiders” is difficult at best. It only makes some sense while you are living it. ( and sometimes not even then)

AlaskaRay said...

Ken Levine said: "On the other hand, one of my favorite movies is THE VERDICT... I love that flick! Bought every second of it. But lawyer friends of mine loathe it. To them it's completely laughable from start to finish."

That's pretty much the way I feel about most medical shows (especially House) and homeland security/terrorism based shows, because that's now the world I inhabit. An exception would be the new show "Homeland Security" which is right on the money in many respects, including having an agent on antipsychoic medications. Secret govenment agencies love highly paranoid (mildly psychotic) individuals because they never trust anyone enough to tell them any secrets.


Eduardo Jencarelli said...

There's something about Cameron Crowe films that usually turns me off midway through the story.

The way I see it, Crowe tries too hard to create a crowd-pleasing atmosphere in his films, and sometimes the character drama ends up diluted. At some point, you stop cheering and rooting for the main character. That's more of an Elizabethtown problem though.

Now, I'm no expert in agent/client relations, but in terms of drama, Jerry Maguire still did it better than all of Crowe's other films in terms of portraying Cruise's downfall and redemption. So the agent downfall process wasn't believable in comparison to the way it might happen on the real world. If the story and characters can keep a viewer glued in, I can easily overlook that aspect.

Mary Stella said...

I sort of liked Jerry Maguire. It's just that when I think sports agent I think Scott Boras, who convinced J.D. Drew not to sign with the Phillies after we drafted him,and Drew Rosenhaus. Hard to imagine the Jerry character surviving in that shark tank.

Brian Phillips said...

What you do for a living or for a hobby can affect many things. I enjoyed "Dances With Wolves", my friend Angela notices Mary McDonnell's feathered hair (I don't even know what feathered hair IS). I'm a long-time music collector and while the outlandish plot points of "The Playboy Club" TV show were certainly enough to make this a one-time viewing, the last scene featured actors performing as Ike and Tina Turner singing a song recorded about seven years after the fact. Now that isn't as undermining as the plot point in "J-Mag" (I can have cool nicknames, too), but it shows that the creators are being slipshod. I might have looked askance at the song wafting over the soundtrack, but having the "group" singing it was just silly on top of all the other silly.

Gerry Gamuire said...

American Indians were the "stylists" of the future...they always wore feathers.

If your agent goes to another agency and the 'old' agency takes you to lunch at a drive-thru, is that a negative?

Any news from the M's? Are you packing for spring training yet...and Japan?

Rich said...

Valuable insights, as usual. I guess I bought the Jerry Maguire premise because it happens early in the film. Crowe is a fan of Billy Wilder -- one of the best farce set ups of all time is "Some Like It Hot" where you ABSOLUTELY BELIEVE that our two heroes have no other possible choice but to dress up as women and go to Florida as part of an all-girls band.

My pet peeve in terms of bogus film construction is "Broadcast News." Great dialogue, interesting characters -- and the largest cop-out in film history at the end. The question "Broadcast News" asks is, "Which man will our intelligent, empathetic heroine choose -- the one that appeals to her head (Albert Brooks), or the one that appeals to heart (William Hurt)? For the first 2/3 of the film this question is developed...and then the filmmaker drops in a 'deus ex machina' about the news division having a crisis, and so she doesn't have to make a choice at all, and so...the point of the film was....???

Tim W. said...

Absolutely loved Jerry Maguire,as I do most Cameron Crowe movies. For me, basketball movies are often difficult to watch. I know too much about the sport and very few basketball movies pass my eye test.

Steve Zeoli said...

Yeah. I know what you mean, Ken. That's the way I feel whenever I watch Planet of the Apes. I was once stranded on a planet controlled by intelligent apes, but it wasn't anything like they depict it in the film. First of all, the apes on my planet wore togas, not tight-fitting leather! Come to think of it, the experience was more like Animal House. Actually, I'm confused. I'm thinking of my college days. Never mind.

Grubber said...

Been a while, but I thought Jerry Ma was only able to retain one client, Cuba Goodings character. With that one client he was starting his own agency.

Wasn't that the result of Jay Mohr and Jerry Ma on the phone with those great cuts showing them both try to save or steal the clients?

Am I remembering correctly? I thought that was the challenge, so to speak, but also to run his agency with his vision(that got him fired).

Can anyone verify, not in a location where I can easily rent Jerry Ma to check.
WV: Cometa - A Russian comedian?

Lou H. said...

I realize being true to life is even less of an issue in comedies, but... what did Korean War vets say about MASH?

Max Clarke said...

Ken, what does your agent do for you?

He changes agencies and you follow him to the new one. What does he do that engenders that loyalty? You wrote about following the man you've entrusted to handle your career, that's high praise.

The only agents I know sell houses, so perhaps you can write about that sometime.

Lou H. said...

The tropes I hate the most are
(a) the phone trace where they have to keep the bad guy on the line for 3 minutes or whatever. You think the phone company doesn't know exactly what the calling and called numbers are so they can bill you, no matter how short the conversation? With the exception of some cell calls, every call that's made is logged to the phone companies' databases right after it ends, and can be accessed almost immediately with an appropriate warrant.
(b) the Internet address lookup that takes minutes to do because they're apparently searching all 4 billion possible numbers, one by one. As anyone who's used a web browser can tell, lookups only take a fraction of a second.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of MASH in those terms, I always wondered where Klinger got all those fabulous dresses and costumes in the middle of Korea.

Cap'n Bob said...

Can't abide Cruise in any way, shape, or form.

What always bugged me about MASH was the closeness of the officers and enlisted men. The Army I was in had a huge gulf between the two, and most officers acted like their feces were odorless.

WV-Wardies: Hugh Beaumont fans.

Harold X said...

It's "tenpercetery," not 'tencentery."
A Variety coinage, as I recall.

HogsAteMySister said...

Our Prime Minister's big 'gotcha' line last week on the campaign trail was "Show me the money!" For that, and the general Scientology weirdness, Jerry Ma is off the list.

Anonymous said...

The conceit isn't that Jerry was simply leaving one agency for another---it was that the perception within the industry was that he'd had a nervous breakdown, and that if you were going to entrust your multi-million dollar career to someone, it's unlikely to be the guy who made himself a pariah by seemingly going batshit overnight.

Now, as you pointed out, clients often follow agents based on relationships they've forged over the years, but in this particular case, remember, it is established that everyone in Jerry Maguire's life knows that they are essentially meaningless to him except as commodities. Most are pretty pragmatic about this, as they likely regard him similarly. However good he is at his job, he is shown to have absolutely zero personal investment in his clients, and so when the perception starts to spread that he is perhaps losing his grip and his "edge", if you will, the lone reason for any of his clients to remain with him...is gone. He has no personal relationships with his clients. Not only does Cameron Crowe establish this early (and beautifully), *it's the entire point of the movie*, Ken.

Quibble if you will with the idea of Jerry's reputation disintegrating overnight---it's the one aspect of the premise in which a bit of obvious artistic licence is taken. I mean, Christ, he isn't caught in a motel room with a dead girl and a live boy. He just wants to focus more personal attention on his clients. If anything, that would substantially elevate his reputation, not destroy it. No, the only way it becomes plausible is if we take it as read that Bob Sugar (Jay Mohr's character) is simply a much better agent than Jerry is, and his explanation of Jerry's epiphany being a sign of dementia rather than inspiration simply seemed more plausible to his clients. Put it this way: if Scott Boras isn't putting the screws to team owners for you, do you really want to have Scott Boras in your life? The general consensus would seem to be "no". That's what "Jerry Maguire" uses as its starting point. The "how" may require the suspension of disbelief to some degree, but the "what" rings absolutely true to me.

I think your perception of it may simply be coloured by the agents you've had. If you'd ever been personally repped by a Scott Boras or a Mike Ovitz (and apologies if you actually have been, and my assumption to the contrary), a complete fucking shark, in other words, you might see the story with a bit more clarity. As it stands, I think Cameron Crowe was a few steps ahead of you (and the rest of us) all along.

Pat Reeder said...

My late father was a Korean War vet, and he liked "MASH." He didn't think it reflected his personal experiences exactly, but then, he was in the photo corps (he'd hang out of helicopters shooting at enemy positions with a camera while they shot at him with guns). But the jokes about the contradictory insanity of the military bureaucracy really hit home with him. And oddly enough, he said the the scenery was perfect. It was shot in California, but he said all the craggy rocks and gravel and scrub brush looked exactly like the ass-end of the world he was stuck in when he was in the Army in Korea.

Becky said...

For me, I'm totally thrown out of a picture when someone is (*not*) playing a musical instrument. (No comments on the relative worth of the movies listed below; just the believability of the actor as musician.)

The worst example I've seen is Kirk Douglas playing the trumpet in Young Man With a Horn. It was obvious that he had no clue how the instrument is actually played and it pretty much ruined the film for me.

Alan Alda did better in The Mephisto Waltz -- I heard a story that he had the strings of the piano silenced so that he could actually play on the keys, and they dubbed the music in later. Too bad, though, he still moved on the bench like he thought pianists moved, rather than having the movements driven by the approach to the keyboard required by the music.

And how many times have we seen singers not singing, guitarists fingering the same chord for an entire song, and violin bows moving with no relationship to the notes?

Of all I've seen, the one that actually worked for me was, of all things, Mark Hamill in Earth Angel. If I hadn't known better, I would have believed he'd been playing the saxophone his whole life.


HogsAteMySister said...

And I could never understand why a football agent got to fly a navy jet. Wait.

Anonymous said...

I saw it a couple of weeks ago. Yeah, "You complete me" and a few others were sort of dropped in. The player who stayed with Jerry, his one client, was interesting than the big . . . uh, than Jerry.

404 said...

I'm right there with you Becky. I mean, they have consultants and advisers for every aspect of the film, spending thousands of dollars on these people, and at no point did someone think to tell them how to hold the stupid instrument in the first place? How hard is it to move a finger or hand or whatever with the notes?

And if the argument is that they don't know at the time what music is going to be playing, well that sounds like poor planning to me on the part of the director.

Kathy said...

Yes, what Becky said.

Closely related: when they pretend they're typing, banging their fingers against the keyboard. Frequently hitting, like, five keys at once. All on the same row. "It sounds like I'm typing fast!"

Anonymous said...

Some GOOD examples of actors fake-playing the piano were in The Competition and The Fabulous Baker Boys. (Of course having Michelle Pfeiffer as a distraction certainly helps...)

Jim S said...

As corny as the "you complete me" line is, it's totally worth it just hear the Joker say it to batman in The Dark Knight.

My pet peeve is politics. Having worked in Washington as a congressional aide, Aaron Sorkin's The West Wing drove me crazy. The way those people acted was pure fantasy. Think about it. The President has MS and doesn't tell anyone?

Remember it was established that Leo approached Bartlett to run for the job. Bartlett had been diagnosed with the disease by that time, but NO ONE knew? It's been my experience that when someone is diagnosed with a serious illness they tell their best friends. Bartlett wouldn't say, Leo I can't run, I have MS, thanks for thinking of me? No, don't buy it.

When Sorkin left, I found the plots to become far more realistic. People acted like people. Friends fought, enemies cooperated. I know I am a minority, but that's the way I roll.

D. McEwan said...

If it's any consolation, Jerry Maguireboird the crap out of me. (And I'll bet the Academy really regrets that Oscar to Cuba Gooding Jr now, just for getting excited and jumping around while on the phone. 10 or 20 small roles in direct-to-DVD movies later, Cuba's acting reputation lies in tatters.) And I rewlly enjoyed tThe Verdict, even if I am always predisposed to like James Mason.

Barbara C. said...

I really want to like Cameron Crowe. I LOVE "Almost Famous", but maybe that's so good because it was based on his own reality. And he had Peter Frampton teach everyone how to play their instruments. ;-)

Having grown up in Louisville and passed Elizabethtown (or E-town as EVERYONE calls it) a billion times to and from college, it drove me crazy when he's supposed to be getting lost on his way south to E-town and the road shot is a section of I-64 east of downtown Louisville. All Kirstin Dunst had to say was "hop on I-65, that interstate you can see out the airport windows, and head straight south. You'll be to E-town in 30 minutes." Instead she gives him some convoluted directions even though she is perfectly aware of how to give exact driving directions to a variety of locals around the country.

Jerry Ma=romantic drivel & Vanilla Sky=great Paul McCartney song, sucky movie

David K. M. Klaus said...

I worked in a hospital stroke/traumatic brain injury rehab ward through part of the run of ER and it was always interesting to see what they got right and what they got wrong -- like the spinal anesthetic given in the wrong body position which wouldn't work as anesthetic but would kill the patient which I saw in one episode.

The prop and set decorations departments usually got things right -- they had the same brands of boxes of rubber gloves as we had in our supply rooms, and their admin desk telephones were identical to ours, but way too much license was taken with certain medical procedures for dramatic purpose.

Some variation for dramatic license I understand, but when they botched the depiction of a procedure and showed someone dying from it on top of that, it made it extraordinarily difficult to convince some patients to consent to what in some cases were life-saving procedures because of what they saw on the screen. The episode "Love Labour's Lost" from the first season has given thousands of expectant mothers unnecessary nightmares over the years over a depicted concatenation of events which while technically medically accurate were in reality almost impossible to happen in sequence without utter inexperience (which Mark Green had) and utter incompetence (which he didn't) on the part of the physician.

And don't get me started on their notion of what safe physical therapy was supposed to be...!

Paul Gottlieb said...

But what about Broadway Danny Rose? He busted his hump for those clients and got them all kind of gigs, but they all dumped him

jcs said...

I have similar thoughts about "Outbreak". In the film a small monkey provides antiserum to save the lives of hundreds of virally infected patients.
If you're an immunologist like me, this denouement kind of ruins an otherwise very entertaining movie. It takes usually months of hard work to end up with a therapeutic agent like this. And then there's the upscaling to provide larger quantities.
But who wants to watch scientists pipetting and ethics boards discussing compassionate use?

Daddy Background said...

I watched The Rum Diaries this week and even though I don't have any real-life experience with Amber Heard, the scene where she and Johnny start making out while he is in the shower? Have you seen it? And the scene cuts to them lowering themselves on to the bed and Johnny is ... what? Johnny is suddenly wearing a bath towel around his waist??

Oh, no way, man.

Johnny Walker said...

This is how I feel about the glut of police procedurals that swamp our TVs. Once you've seen (and loved) The Wire, it's very hard to go back to the ridiculousness of CSI.

Personally I really hate when shows/films do something that's not realistic. With regards to JERRY MA, I have to wonder how hard it would have been for the writers to drop something in to appease the more savvy audience members?

Angie McCullagh said...

I'm a woman and I thought it was lame. I didn't buy the love story AT ALL. And I didn't even know about the bogus agenting stuff.

I thought it was horrific how what's her face's character just LOST herself in such a jerk. The "You complete me" shit came way too late.

Little Miss Smoke and Mirrors said...

I loved Jerry Maguire back in the day, but I tried to watch it recently, and was sad to see it doesn't hold up at all. That said, I was surprised and happy to see Donal Logue was in it. He wasn't on my radar back then, but after Terriers, I totally love that guy.

Little Miss Smoke and Mirrors said...

But more to the point, I'm in healthcare and have a hard time with medical shows/films (especially TV) with House M.D. being the worst. The entire setup of that show is pure fiction starting with the imaginary "diagnostic department" with licensed physicians doing nursing and lab tech work, nonsurgeons performing surgery, and basically no one actually doing anything that resembles the practice of medicine. It drives me insane.

Unknown said...

Jerry Maguire is a special case. It was the first Movie I owned on DVD - I wasn't able to buy a DVD Player for another three or four years so I could actually WATCH it but still...

The only reason the movie holds up is because I am able to tune out everything Cooba Gooding made after this and that Renee Zellweger stalked George Clooney.

What I can't get past is this


and the fact that the kid in the movie is obviously handicapped or has a birth-defect and they NEVER ADDRESS IT. That annoyed me to no end back then but nowadays it gets pushed to the back because of the idiocy that is scientology.

If you don't want a ton of movies and TV Shows to get ruined for you then don't visit that Wikipedia page. I mean when I read that hald the cast of "That 70s Show" is now in Scientology it makes me want to do hurt someone...

The whole "Religion" is so clearly a scam. Every time I hear someone complain how the Jews run Hollywood it makes me wonder if that person every heard of that rotary club that is Scientology.

You know, that rotary club with its own group of secret agents.

Baylink said...

Lou H doesn't understand how phone switches work (even today, logging takes up space: if the carrier isn't billing you for it individually, they're not logging it.), and I think Rich misunderstood Broadcast News: in the end Jane goes with her head... and then discovers that it's too late; Aaron can sing while he reads, but she couldn't; so she gets neither of them.

Mean to say: BN was a *character study*, not a plot-driven film.

Gregory Chairs said...

What interesting is the line the I took from the movie was "Show me the money!
Thanks for sharing with us..