Funny or Die Presents: Superagent Warren Klein's Best Advice to Hollywood Reporter's Next Gen Class

Illustration by: Kyle Hilton

THR invited Klein — one of the most powerful sharks in Hollywood during the 1980s — to pen an advice column to 2014's young and hungry honorees

This story first appeared in the Nov. 14 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

In my day, there was no list of promising young execs. The closest thing we had was a coveted dinner invite from Swifty. I got mine on the way home from the Same Time, Next Year premiere, a fax in the car telling me to join him at Spago. When I arrived, there he was, sipping a Shirley Temple with Shirley Temple Black! He waved me over, and for the next few hours, I feasted on Wolfgang's envelope-pushing entrees and Swifty's sage advice. We ended up watching the sun rise in Katie Helmond's hot tub, and I knew I'd been invited into something bigger than myself.

Dear Warren, You've been a power player for so long, any tips on how to keep my Next Gen heat alive?

— Burning on Beverly

I'm glad I never had to deal with these expectations. When I was your age, the only "Next Gen" I had to worry about was when Jennifer Beals dropped out of Flesh + Blood. Luckily, I had the "Next Jen" in my client Rolodex. Her name was Jennifer Jason Leigh, and boy did I calculate that one correctly: Flesh + Blood – Beals + Leigh = $2.6 million on 428 screens.

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I'll give you the same advice I gave Sandahl Bergman when she won the 1983 "New Star of the Year" Golden Globe. She stood up, handed me her champagne bottle, and I whispered in her ear: "Sandy, this isn't for Conan the Barbarian. It's for what you're gonna do next." Same goes for this list. It's not a trophy to put on your mantel, it's a key to every door you've ever wanted to open. And the key to staying hot is to keep moving. This business is a lot like playing racquetball with Donna Dixon. If you stand still, you'll be destroyed.

Dear Warren, Your era's executives seemed to rely on personal taste and raw instinct. How do I navigate today's risk-averse Hollywood without bowing down to the number crunchers?

— Bummed About Kowtowing

It always surprises me when people talk about the '80s like it was a run-and-gun free-for-all. We had number crunchers, too — and not one of them wanted to make a little picture called Tank. The tracking was horrible; coming off Grandview, U.S.A., there was no evidence that C. Thomas Howell could open a picture; and Jim Garner was a TV actor! We tested Tank in Agoura Hills, and when the lights went up, so did the crowd — a six-minute standing O! Turns out the tank in Tank was a 30-ton, diesel-powered charm machine. It wasn't until Best Defense debuted three months later that Tank dropped off the No. 1 spot on the Military Light Comedy chart. The number crunchers' job is to tell you when you're taking a risk. Your job is to take it.

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Dear Warren, Technology is changing the way we produce and consume entertainment. Where do you see the business heading?

— Morphing on Melrose

Hollywood and technology remind me of Burt and Loni: The relationship is always on the brink of collapse, and just when you think you know the rules, everything changes. What remains constant is that they're willing to adapt because they know how beautiful their union can be. I've seen Sweet Liberty on 35 mm, laser disc and an iPhone. And guess what? I cry every time.

An archive of Warren Klein's voicemails recently was discovered in a foreclosed storage unit in Brentwood, Calif. They are being restored by Dr. Jody Lambert and professor Matt Oberg. To listen to Klein's conversations with Rob Lowe, Andrew McCarthy and more, visit funnyordie.com/warrensvoicemails. He's on Twitter @80sAgentWarren.

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