The other interview that had a strong impact on my potential career path actually came to me completely by chance.
I didn’t find the person through a work connection, LinkedIn, or even on set. Instead another friend from U of M who was also in LA for the summer found him through a mentorship program. Her mentor was a Michigan alum who did a lot of creative writing and even film work. When she told me this, I asked her if she could put me in contact with him. He was more than happy to talk.
The most fascinating part about his start in the entertainment industry was that he explained to me a completely new path that I had never heard about while studying film at Michigan, yet after doing some investigating, is one of the largest parts of the business — agencies.
Agents represent clients. They acquire talent (actors, directors, writers, musicians, etc.) and do everything in their power to find work for them. Hollywood often portrays agents as these ruthless, no time for your bull types who are always on their phones and reading scripts in a never ending scramble to find work and continue rising to the top.
The top is where we all want to go, but my interviewee explained to me that an extremely popular and this point legendary start on this career path was through what’s called: The Mailroom. This is where he started. In the mailroom you are the bottom of the bottom. There is no glamour to it. You literally deliver mail (physically), prepare the meeting rooms and offices every day, and perform any menial task told to you. Oh and script coverage, lots of script coverage. My interviewee said it is basically the boot camp of the entertainment industry.
Although the hours are long (in by 7am and out around midnight every day) and the work menial, he explains that there is a lot to learn from that position. You are at the center of all the shaking and moving that goes down in Hollywood. You learn all the big names, the big up-and-coming names, and the big pictures or shows that will be coming to life. In no time you either realize you are in love with the system or you can’t stand it, and whatever decision you make, you will be weeded out.
The other main point he made about the agency was that the cream rises to the top. The agency doesn’t have time for bull. You cannot show any sign of weakness. You cannot show any sign of hesitation. You cannot show any sign that you don’t want to be there. He says that they will scream at you, throw things at you, condescend you, and you have to know how to take it. He says they do this because in reality it is nothing against you personally, they just want to see who is tough enough to take the abuse, because only those will be able to succeed as agents. It’s all a mental game.
To me all of this was fascinating. After our interview I went out and bought a number of books about the various big time agencies (the first one I read appropriately being: “The Mailroom”).
Although this path doesn’t involve much on the creative side, I can’t help but admit how drawn in I was by the entire process. The madness of the whole thing. To me it’s the same madness of being on set. Move, move, move. Never enough time. It’s pandemonium and I love it.
At the end of the day, being an agent isn’t a commitment I plan on making just yet, but the mailroom has certainly opened my eyes to maybe a starting position I can find right out of college. After some time there, through the connections I’ve made with other mailroom grunts and those with more power, hopefully I can find something more to what I know I want.
In the end though, we all have to start somewhere.