All the right schmooze
From Cannes to Sushi Roku, the networking of a Next Gen'er knows no last call.Dean's List: Read profiles of this year's Next Generation class:
FILM: Alysia Cotter, Merideth Finn, Kira Goldberg, David Greenbaum, Jeff Katz, Irika Slavin, David Thwaites
TELEVISION: Jeff Brurstrom, Jason Clodfelter, Jocelyn Diaz, Jayson Dinsmore, Gina Girolamo, Chris Grant, Lisa Katz, Nicole Norwood, Lindsay Sloane, Jonathan Wax
AGENTS/MANAGERS: Jamie Freed, Jay Gassner, Joy Gorman, Alex Hertzberg, Adam Levine, Ryan Martin, Scott Schachter, Sarah Self, Brad Slater, Mick Sullivan, Jake Weiner, Joel Wright
LEGAL: Harris Hartman, Cheryl Snow
NEW MEDIA: Greg Clayman, Keith Richman, Adam Rymer, Brent Weinstein
The red carpet is beginning to fill up. Photographers jockey for position as a familiar tableau of executives, agents, actors and their handlers lingers on Wilshire Boulevard in advance of the premiere of MGM's "Lars and the Real Girl" at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences headquarters.
UTA's Jay Gassner, however, is nowhere to be found. The talent agent passes on the schmoozefest to sit inside on a comfortable couch, waiting silently for Nancy Oliver, the film's writer and Gassner's client, to make her way inside. "Jay!" she yells, her face lighting up as Gassner delivers a congratulatory bear hug. He imparts a few more nice words but quickly lets Oliver take the spotlight as a crowd of well-wishers surrounds her.
It's this loyalty to his clients that distinguishes Gassner and his fellow honorees in The Hollywood Reporter's annual Next Generation issue. Of course, Gassner, 32, also has the agenting skills to back up the emotion. He paid his dues in two agency mailrooms before being promoted at UTA in 2001. His writer clients include the "Lonely Island" troupe's Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone, as well as Oliver, who Gassner guided from a TV writing career on HBO's "Six Feet Under" to "Lars," her first film screenplay and a likely awards contender.
Unlike many colleagues, Gassner rarely goes to industry events unless he's supporting a client, and tonight he's surprised to see a familiar face -- Justin Levy of Film 44, director Peter Berg's production company -- on his way into the theater. "See, I actually do know someone here," he jokes.
Looking at his tickets, Gassner realizes he's been assigned two seats in two different sections. But he ignores them both. "I'm going to find Nancy," he explains. "I want to be there for her."
Just east of the Academy, Keith Richman, another Next Gen honoree, exhibits a similar devotion to his young career. He's the CEO of Break.com, the video-clip Web site aimed at an audience much more likely to spend a Saturday night playing beer pong than watching art house fare like "Lars."
But with 1.3 million unique visitors and 15 million video views a day, Break is one of the breakout successes of the Web 2.0 boom. The company offices match its college-party image: It has no receptionist, and the front door opens to an empty desk, a few collapsed cardboard boxes and some stacked trash bags. Around the corner, past a row of cubicles inhabited by employees who could easily be in the onscreen writers' room on NBC's "30 Rock," Richman's neat and clean corner office is a haven of normalcy.
Richman might not dress the part of his coveted 18-34-year-old male demographic (his plaid Faconnable button-down tucks into wide-wale cords), but at 34, he certainly knows their lingo. In an informal office meeting with his chief technology officer, Nick Wilson, he talks strategy in terms of "blocking" and "tackling."
Over lunch at Sushi Roku with colleagues, Richman propels the dialogue forward with questions asked in his fast-clipped cadence. He doesn't hesitate to trash-talk other online interfaces for slow page loads ("I thought I was using dial-up"), and when an associate recognizes a former co-worker from another startup, Richman pounces:
"Is he good?"
After a long, categorical "No," the group cracks up.
"Is he good?" is always Richman's first question because Break is growing quickly, and much of Richman's job is bringing in the right talent. He mines his contacts with his former employers -- Classifieds 2000, Excite, Billpoint and eBay -- and offers a plasma television to anyone who makes a good referral. But it hasn't been easy.
Eighteen months ago, he considered relocating his Beverly Hills-based company to Silicon Valley because of the dearth of prospective hires in Los Angeles.
"But then I talked to my friends up there and realized they were having just as hard a time," he says. So Richman and Break stayed put, growing the number of content partners significantly this year. "College kids are going to watch videos," he says optimistically. "The winds are clearly at our back."
Halfway across the world, the strain is starting to show on Chris Grant's face. It's 10 a.m. on a Wednesday, three days into the MIPCOM international TV market in Cannes. Grant, 29, a Next Gen'er and head of international television at format powerhouse Reveille, has the harried but determined look of a boxer entering the final round. His gray off-the-rack suit hangs loose over a pink open-collared shirt as he screens trailers for Reveille's new unscripted shows: Mark Burnett's "My Dad Is Better Than Your Dad" and a revamped "American Gladiators," both for NBC.
Suddenly he perks up, his eyelids snap open and he leans forward to begin another sales pitch. Over the course of the day, in some 30 meetings, Grant will switch styles and tactics dozens of times, often with the same client. He's pushy and direct ("You want it? How much?"), then pulls back ("I don't want to be a dick"). He's chummy and affectionate with a familiar U.K. partner, reserved and professional with a new Asian client.
Half the time, Grant just sits back and listens as producers pitch him their ideas. His laid-back attitude is a plus for international execs used to the haughty arrogance of Americans abroad.
"Chris gets the international market. He's not as pushy as your typical ugly American," says Grant's mentor Ben Silverman, who founded Reveille and now co-chairs NBC Entertainment and Universal Media Studios. "It's what sets him apart."
When Silverman started Reveille in 2002, the idea of tapping the global market for new TV concepts (rather than just backend revenues) was somewhat novel. Now, with adapted hits such as Reveille's "Ugly Betty" (ABC) and "The Office" (NBC), it has become gospel. And Grant is one of its leading missionaries, traveling around the world in search of ideas and business partners.
"We don't just want to sell our shows -- we want to start a relationship with these companies," Grant says. "We want to co-produce the show, help make it right for their market. Then on the other side, we may pick up a show of theirs and adapt it to get it on air in the U.S."
To maintain this global network, Grant and his fellow Reveille-ers (vp John Pollak and international distribution manager Matt Vassallo) sleep in shifts, ensuring at least one of them is awake if business goes down anywhere in the world.
"Keeps us from having to set up a London office," Pollak jokes.
But now it's midnight in Cannes, and sleep is a long way off. Having just bought dinner for another set of clients, Grant and crew are stumbling along the Croisette en route to the final night's party. It's been a long day, but Grant is bouncing on the balls of his feet, gripping his BlackBerry like a weapon. He looks like he's ready for another round.
Back at the Academy theater, "Lars and the Real Girl" has ended. The audience applauds as the lights come up. Gassner grins widely at the response. "This is why I do what I do," he says.
Gassner has a 15-month-old daughter at home, but his night's not over. A cocktail party ensues in the packed lobby, but Gassner ignores the bar and plants himself near the staircase. He works the room for an hour without having to move an inch. Oliver herself flutters by with an entourage of friends. She's happy, so Gassner is happy. It's nearly 10 p.m.
"Yeah, I think I can go home now," he says.