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: Cara Goldman, 21; Elizabeth Pace, 22; Scott Nadler, 26; Ben Cohen, 21; Emily Sedaghat, 31; Kate Mitchell, 23; Roman Lillie, 31; Annie Belfield, 21; Caitlin Winiarski, 24; Talin Mazmanian, 22; Charles H. Smith, 23. Back row, from right: Kyle Jensen, 21; Kate Bilsky, 22; Ryan Tunick, 21; Josh Alvarez, 33; Jamie Weiss, 23; Aaron Brown, 32; Emmanuel S. Luppi, 23; Kale Walbridge, 22; Jason Schechtman, 23; Sonia Kharkar, 25; Maxfield Elins, 22; M. Andre Gary, 23.
Forged from the 2009 merger of the venerable William Morris Agency -- where everyone from David Geffen to Barry Diller to Disney's Rich Ross started in the mailroom -- and relative upstart Endeavor, whose leaders Ari Emanuel and Patrick Whitesell climbed the ladder from the bottom rung at CAA and the old InterTalent, respectively, WME selects its 20 or so mailroom workers from about 250 applicants a week (workers are paid a tiny hourly wage plus overtime as required by California law). But those allowed in the door spend time in an intense showbiz crash course, learning the ins and outs of the agency and Hollywood. "We view our mailroom as a learning tool, not a punishment," says human resources chief Carole Katz, who runs the program. "It's not hazing." Still, only about 30 percent of mailroom staffers will be invited to become "trainees" and get assigned to an agent's desk. And of those lucky few, only about 10 percent will eventually make the cut and become an agent.
In the Mailroom
Maxfield Elins, 22
Mailrooms are filled with USC graduates and relatives of Hollywood insiders. Elins is both, joining WME this fall on the advice of stepfather David Madden, who runs Fox TV Studios.
Cara Goldman, 21
The recent Syracuse graduate dove head-first into WME culture by interning for the agency at the Cannes Film Festival in May. "I was getting tickets for agents and doing whatever else they needed," she says. The experience convinced Goldman to move west and join the mailroom in the fall.
Kate Mitchell, 23
Among the bizarre tasks the recent USC cinema arts graduate has been assigned during the past four months: an impromptu candy run for agents and clients. "They had to be this specific type of gummy bear," she says.
Roman Lillie, 31
After studying at Wellesley and the University of Pennsylvania, Lillie built a career in the news business -- at CBS' The Early Show then as an on-air reporter in Florida -- before giving it up. "I knew absolutely no one in the industry," she says, recalling how she cold-called WME and landed a job in August. "I'm really impressed by the commercials department. That's where I want to be."
Adriana Alberghetti, Partner
"[Endeavor co-founder] Tom Strickler decided I didn't read enough scripts. So he drew a line on his wall eight feet high and said, 'Starting today, you have to read client scripts, and until your pile of scripts hits that line, I won't even consider you for a promotion.' Then he'd pull a script from the pile and make me pitch it to him. If I couldn't pitch it to him in three minutes, it was out of the pile. At the top, he taped an envelope that said 'The Prize.' When I got to the top, it was a first-class ticket to the New York Film Festival. I went with the partners and got a corner suite."
Josh Pyatt, Agent
"There was this agent who made me drive around Los Angeles trying to find a specific doggy door for his office. Mind you, this guy represented some of the biggest clients we had. So I went to 15 pet stores in this town -- I probably drove 35 minutes away looking for this thing. And then I had to do what few people do: I had to come back and tell him I couldn't find it."
Collin Reno, Agent
"Of the many 'interesting' things I was asked to do in the mailroom, the most memorable was being asked to deliver a gym bag to an unnamed client at a private gym during a training session. What I walked up to was a stunning Cindy Crawford on the Stairmaster in full mid-90s spandex attire. Not a bad morning."
Richard Weitz, Partner
"I started my career in the now defunct InterTalent mailroom, October 1991. My job was to deliver packages in two daily runs to the east side of town. This meant going to all the hard to find houses in the hills and all the studios. We were told, 'Take no breaks, eat in your car and get back to the office as soon as you’re done.' This job paid $300 a week and sucked. I had two rituals when I delivered packages. During the first run, I would time going to the Disney lot so I could eat lunch in the casual commissary before heading back to Beverly Hills. I would do this daily and every day the two chefs would say, 'Hello Richard, you want your regular lunch?' One of these times I was next to Chris Moore, who was an agent and head of the trainee program who said, 'What are you doing here? And how do these guys know your name and your order?' That was the last time I went to the Disney lot for lunch. During my second round of runs, I would go to Universal Studios, park the car at the back entrance (before Jurassic Park and the lot was gated) and walk onto the ET ride. I would go on this weekly, get back in my car (maybe have a quick snack) and finish the runs before heading back to the office at 8 p.m. to file scripts and video tapes. I delivered packages to up-and-coming stars Drew Barrymore and Jason Patric (who lived with his pet pig and then girlfriend, Julia Roberts) on a daily basis."