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.
Is the next David Geffen here? He started in an agency mailroom, as have countless moguls, as THR introduces today's apprentices.
Forget Harvard Business School. If you're looking to meet the next generation of Hollywood players, there's no better place to search than a talent agency mailroom. Countless moguls began their careers pushing a steel cart down a hallway, which is still considered the best way to learn the ins and outs of show business. Today's mailroomers are a far cry from the lower-middle-class New York kids who created the pay-your-dues ethos that permeates the agencies to this day. They're hyper-educated, ultraprofessional and fully aware of the opportunities their jobs provide. CAA, for instance, extends its culture of steely professionalism to its mailroom program. The agency, founded in 1975 by a group of ambitious William Morris agents -- Michael Ovitz, Ron Meyer, Mike Rosenfeld, William Haber and Rowland Perkins -- still requires strict attention to detail, as well as the traditional suit and tie (or business attire for women, who now join the mailroom in almost equal numbers). And the program is open-ended, meaning you get out when you're good enough. The competition is so stiff that trainees must work as an assistant for a year before even starting the program.
In the Mailroom:
Chelsea McKinnies, 28
The Bloomington, Minn., native studied drama and English literature at New York University and upon graduation in 2005 tried her hand as an actress. Three years later, McKinnies decided to delve into the business side of the industry and began working at CAA's New York office. After stints as an assistant in the theater and motion picture talent departments, the latter of which landed her with Dianne McGunigle (who focuses on comedy), McKinnies joined the mailroom program in June. She knows what her focus will be. "Comedy for me is very exciting," she says, "because most of the individuals that do comedy are self-generating. They have a spark that I feel, if nurtured properly, lends itself to a long-term career."
Clarissa Reformina, 25
Even before graduating from Boston University in 2008, the upstate New York native had a handful of music business internships under her belt, including stints at New York radio station Z100 and Sony BMG. Until she began the mailroom training program in August, Reformina served as assistant to CAA music agent Mark Cheatham, starting in June 2008 in New York. She'd like to continue on the music track. Reformina says she's enjoying her time in Los Angeles and connecting with other trainees. "I wouldn't even call them colleagues anymore," she says. "I would call them friends."
Peter Micelli, TV Packaging and Literary Agent
Micelli grew up in a family that loved hard pears and apples, so he picked some up during his daily 5:15 a.m. grocery run for the office. "An agent called down to the mailroom and said, 'Who the F is buying the hard fruit?' You realize in that moment, there is a challenge to a one-size-fits-all mentality. You have to make people feelheard and happy."
Jim Toth, Co-Head of Motion Picture Talent
"The first Friday, on the way home, I bought one of those Dr. Scholl's foot massagers. My feet were killing me," Toth told author David Rensin for his book The Mailroom. "I wondered if the knee surgery I'd had because of high school football might prevent me from becoming an agent. I admit it -- it actually crossed my mind."