Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The worst agent sales pitch EVER

Here’s another Hollywood agent story. I told one recently, and they are always crowd pleasers.   This is one of my personal favorites. 

It’s 1982. My writing partner, David and I are at William Morris. Several years prior we signed on with a young agent at a small tenpercentery (I love that expression), and as she moved on to bigger and better agencies we followed her. She and we were now at William Morris.

When clients get shows on the air their agencies can package them. In other words, William Morris gets a piece of the action.  That's really how they make their money in television.  It's not off the ten percent commission they collect.

For this package they’re supposed to help you get the show on the air, clear paths for signing talent, etc. We had a pilot the year before that was a William Morris package and it was not a pleasant experience. The only actors we had trouble signing were Morris clients. At this point I should mention that the William Morris Agency of today is completely under new ownership, management, and not even located in the same building. So no one in the current WMA should be held accountable for the deeds from those days.

One thing about mounting a pilot, you get to meet and deal with lots of agents. And you see how they operate. Who calls you back? Who is an asshole? Who never follows up? One agent in particular really impressed us. Bob Broder. Among his clients at the time were James Burrows and the Charles Brothers. Bob was extremely helpful and frankly did more for us than our own “partners.” But we were very loyal to our specific agent so we stayed with her and William Morris. She believed in us when we were nobodies and now that we were successful we didn’t feel it was right to pull a Broadway Danny Rose on her.

But now it’s 1982. We’re on CHEERS and our agent tells us she’s getting out of that end of the business and getting into producing. She was offered a great job running a very successful film director’s production company. We were thrilled for her, but now felt no pull to stay at the agency.

Instead of just taking free expensive lunches and letting agents from all over town court us, we called Bob Broder. He was interested in representing us so we decided to make the switch.

We told the fine folks at William Morris and one of their agents – who we had dealt with from time to time – asked if he could speak with us. Could we give him one last chance to convince us to stay? Although our minds were pretty much made up, we still felt it was the honorable thing to do. And who knows? Maybe there was some reason why we really should stay.

So this agent ushers us into his office. He was in his ‘30s, part of the young new breed that the agency was hiring. I must say, I’m always fascinated by salesmen. When I go to state fairs I make a beeline to the exhibition hall where all these huckers are selling miracle mops and titanium woks. I’m a sucker for a great sales pitch. At their best, those guys are artists. The mop is pretty good by the way.

We sit down on his couch, the agent closes the door, crosses to us and yells, “You guys are fucking ASSHOLES!”

Say what?

“If you leave this fucking agency you’re fucking assholes and fucking idiots!” He goes on for five minutes to call us stupid, immature, ungrateful, dickless, only marginally talented, and how we’re making the biggest mistake of our lives not letting him guide our careers. All of this laced with more expletives than a DEADWOOD episode.

Wow! What a masterful presentation. Who wouldn’t want to re-sign after that declaration of love?

Well, as shocking as it may seem, we did leave and began a long and happy association with Bob Broder.

Meanwhile, this agent left the Morris Agency himself in 1999. So I guess in the end, he too was a “fucking ASSHOLE!” I haven’t seen him in years. I don’t know what he’s doing today. I just hope it’s not eulogies.


Johnny Walker said...

"I just hope it’s not eulogies."


How did you react when he started hurling abuse at you? It must have been satisfying to listen to all that and then inform him that you planned to leave anyway :)

David Schwartz said...

Back in 1979 I'm in college in San Francisco and have written a spec Lou Grant script and a spect Jeffersons script (my writing partner knew Marla Gibbs), and my partner and I come down to Los Angeles to try and secure an agent.

We look at the addresses from the Writers Guild of different agents and see that a good number of them are located on Wilshire Blvd. Growing up in New York, I figure if they're on the same block we can walk to all of them. Of course, they're miles apart and we're out of breath as we approach each one. We walk into each of the offices to drop off our scripts. Some will take them, some will not.

One agent actually yelled at us and said how dare we presume that we can walk into his office and have him read our scripts. He literally yelled at us for daring to think that he, an agent, would want to potentially represent someone (or at least us)! My partner and I wrote down his name so that when we were famous we could say bad things about him when we accepted our Academy Awards. Unfortunately, 30 years and no Academy Awards later, I don't think I'll have the opportunity. Oh well, I lost his name anyway!

We did get an agent out of it. He never found us any work, but he did call me "tiger" on the phone when he said we wrote good scripts! "Good job, Tiger!" I've never been called "tiger" before or since.

Eduardo Jencarelli said...

It could only be an Ari Gold-type character. I imagined him saying these words the minute I got to them during your post.

The Curmudgeon said...

I'd like to know someone on whom that pitch worked, though, wouldn't you? On what bundle of insecurities would that pitch resonate? Woody Allen's most nebbishy character wouldn't be cowed by that... would he?

My guess is that that guy is now happily working in consumer collections....

John said...

Sounds like some of the stock broker pitches I've gotten over the years from some young Wall Street go-getters ... though usually they don't haul out the invectives until after you've turned them down, and they've decided they've got nothing to lose by telling you to your face what they've probably been saying already about you when you weren't on the phone.

PolyWogg said...

I don't know if he's doing eulogies or collections, but I bet he came into work one day and found sheep in his office.


YEKIMI said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
YEKIMI said...

Friday ?: You may have left an agent [or agency] but has an agency or agent ever dumped you & David? [Or on the other hand, say "We'll keep David but YOU have to go!"]

Tom Quigley said...

I'm sure there are all kinds of great agent stories from anyone who's had to deal with them, such as a couple of experiences I had;

(1) Dealing with an agent who considered representing me for TV who turned out to be blind (as in visually impaired);

(2) Having an agent tell me over the phone that he hadn't yet gotten the chance to read my spec when I called to check its status, and then receiving a rejection letter from him in the mail later that same day;

(3) Working on a pilot at Disney and having to round up all the agents who were attending and pen them in behind a rope because the producers were afraid that they would start to overrun the soundstage and shmooze with their clients during filming. If I had let go of the rope, it would have been like Walmart opening its doors to start the Christmas shopping season..

There's some positive stories too, but at the moment I can't recall any...

chuckcd said...

How did he last 17 yers?

Wendy M. Grossman said...

There's a wonderfully funny little book about agents I read years ago by someone I assume you know well, Ken, since he was a producer on Cheers: Conversations with My Agent, by Rob Long. (http://www.amazon.com/Conversations-My-Agent-Rob-Long/dp/0452277132).


Beef Supreme said...

"I don’t know what he’s doing today. I just hope it’s not eulogies."

He might be selling timeshares in the Bahamas, because a salesman I encountered there seemed to use a very similar pitch.

Me and my wife were there on vacation, and saw a notice about a free lunch (yeah yeah) if you sat through a presentation. We did, and a salesman was assigned to try and make an individual pitch afterwards. I told him right off the bat that we were not going to buy, but of course he had to try anyway.

And who knows, he might have been able to convince me, had his whole sales pitch not consisted of telling me how absolutely awful and shitty my own city is, and how great the Bahamas is. He kept giving seemingly endless variations on how nobody could possibly want to live where I live, so I would love being in the Bahamas.

I don't even care that much for my city (except I love the weather - golf season is just getting started here), but I felt ready to defend it against this idiot. I always wondered if that was an effective pitch in any situation. I just can't imagine that basically calling the potential buyer an idiot for living in a hellhole everyone hates is a good strategy. Then again, maybe those are the kind of people that are likely to overpay for a timeshare in the Bahamas.

Unknown said...

Friday Question:

How did you and David get around the catch 22 of obtaining an agent? Was the process different in the 80's and if so, has it changed for the better (I'd like to think not)? I always seem to get the same response from agents, that since I haven't written anything that has aired, I can't even send in a spec script. And because I don't have an agent, no one will hire me to write for a show on the air.

I've actually given up on finding an agent or even getting on to a writing staff by sending in a spec script and am now focusing completely on making famous friends. Well, famous in Hollywood, I know tons of politicians but the only reason they're here in DC is because they were too ugly for radio. The funny thing is, I have a friend who's on the writing staff of Bones... And even with that connection (which is a bit weak since I write comedy), has not been able to get me a meeting with an agent (her agent).

So, any advice or am I doomed to continue to cold call every agent from downtown to the valley?

DBenson said...

I never want to find out what happened to the jerks in my life. If things went bad for them, I'll feel guilty somehow. If things went well, I'll feel annoyed. If they effectively turned into different people I'll spend too much time deciding how I feel about it.

The Man in Hat asks... said...

Man, what's that agents name? I really want to know, because if he thinks you guys were assholes imagine what he thought of lesser talent. I want him to represent me because Im really insecure and need to be abused.

Unknown said...

Crowd pleaser is right. I can't even pretend I don't love a great story about an awful person.

Aldo Pisano said...

Thanks God you weren't swindled by his sugary talk!