The Secrets of Hollywood Agency Mailrooms
UPDATED: With alumni ranging from David Geffen to Disney's Rich Ross, mailroom jobs at Los Angeles' most prestigious agencies provide aspiring moguls with a crash course in showbiz and the possibility of a future beyond cart pushing and coffee fetching.
Front row, from left: Matt Plonsker, 22; Evi Heilbrunn, 22; Josh Fagen, 23; Kathryn LaBouff, 22; Lauren Robinson, 24; Kate Greenway, 24; Olivia Neir, 22. Back row, from right: Daniel Coplon, 22; Rebecca Phillips, 27; Daniel Finlay, 23; Bette Bentley, 29; Shane Needham, 27; Joe Pirro, 25; Chris Hemerlein, 30; Rob Frohling, 31; Maxwell R. Kessler, 24; MacMillan Hedges, 24; Galen Vaisman, 25; Ian Smith, 21.
Created in 1991 when the Bauer-Benedek Agency merged with Leading Artists Agency, where current chairman Jim Berkus was a partner, United Talent Agency employs about 20 full-time mailroom staffers for its 122 agents. To interview for an agent's desk, each wannabe submits himself or herself to four weeks of training at "UTA University." It's a path followed by UTA partners such as Dan Erlij (TV lit) and Brett Hansen (alternative TV) as well as HBO Entertainment president Sue Naegle and producers Marty Bowen and Basil Iwanyk. "Tactically, it's important because you're able to observe the pressure, the passion and the frenetic environment," says motion picture lit partner Jeremy Zimmer, "which is not for everybody."
In the Mailroom:
Evi Heilbrunn, 22
The University of Pennsylvania grad flew out the morning after graduation, targeting independent film financing as a potential career path. "It teaches you how to react to any situation," she says of working in the mailroom.
Rebecca Phillips, 27
An MFA from the Yale School of Drama didn't prepare the New Yorker for her week-one delivery to an A-list actor-writer. Rather than allow her on the property, he made her toss the envelope over a garden wall. "I don't see this as paying my dues," she says. "It's an overture to an opera I've been prepared for my whole life."
Dan Erlij, TV Lit Partner
"The weekend before the 1996 TV upfronts, I got an angry call from [TV lit agent] Jay Sures' assistant: 'Dude, NBC hand-delivered all the invitations, and Jay's isn't here.' I was in sheer panic. I decided they might be in the HR head's office, but we didn't have a key, so I took the door off the hinges. The moment I got it off, I got a call from the assistant: 'Dude, my bad.' "
Brett Hansen, Alternative TV Partner
"A partner once handed me a bag of money to drop off at a high-profile actor-writer's house. I knocked on the door, and no one answered. When I called the partner, he said to keep trying, that the client was definitely home. I knocked for two hours straight. Finally, the client opened the door, grabbed the bag and slammed the door without a word."