THR's Agent Roundtable: 6 Top Female Dealmakers Talk Industry Diplomacy, Clients and Competition

10:00 AM PST 12/07/2012 by Stacey Wilson, Lacey Rose
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Austin Hargave
From left Jackson, Siebert, Dakhil, Kohan, Klein and Bartlett were photographed Nov. 16 in Penthouse 37A at The Century condominiums in Century City.

UTA's Blair Kohan, WME's Sharon Jackson and Gersh's Leslie Siebert on being hired, fired and ultracompetitive in a man's world.

THR: What current trend in the business worries you?

Jackson: The future.

Kohan: The biggest threat might be the greatest opportunity -- different revenue streams, sources of distribution, financing opportunities. It demands that we each do our homework.

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THR: Are new platforms such as Netflix being embraced by your clients, or are they terrified of them?

Klein: They're not quite sure how it works or how to monetize it, nor am I at the moment. But they're intrigued because it's another avenue for them -- another opportunity to get their stuff out -- and they'll take full advantage of that.

Bartlett: If it's creative, you have to explore it.

Klein: I actually have more clients who'd like to see some of their product go to graphic novel. That pays about $2! And maybe they'll do something with Hulu. They do want to take those chances.

THR: Was there a mistake you made early in your career that you learned from?

Jackson: When I was an assistant, I sent an e-mail to my second assistant, saying not to bother me because I was really hung over and was taking a nap under my desk. He forwarded it to the whole agency. That was a huge blunder but also career-defining.

Siebert: Yes, for that second assistant.

Jackson: My sleep is important!

THR: What was the fallout?

Bartlett: She was running like Rocky through the hallways. (Laughter.)

Kohan: A mistake I made in my 20s was not being persistent. I was too antsy. If I could do it all over again, I would have stayed at the agency where I started -- I'd probably be a lot more successful financially. But I jumped around a lot. That's why I tell young people: Stay rooted; don't get distracted.

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THR: What is the biggest misconception about what agents actually do?

Klein: I don't think people understand how important you are to the success of that show or that movie. The average person thinks you're just a dealmaker. They don't understand that you're finding the talent, nurturing the talent and packaging.

Kohan: When a client has a big hit, somehow it's perceived that it's been an overnight success. But we've been in the trenches with them eight, 10, 12 years!

Siebert: People who don't know the business think it's a fantasy job. It's like: "Oh, my God, it's the best job ever. You get to talk to movie stars and go to premieres." And it's like, "It's really not that fun."

Kohan: I've been an agent at UTA for almost 16 years, and my husband still asks, "Do you really love what you do?" I really do. I still get starstruck.

Siebert: In case any of my clients are reading this, I still love what I do. But it's not a fantasy. It's hard work.

Bartlett: It can be tedious.

Klein: Yes, but every so often you get thanked. When Marc Cherry came to me, he had a little sitcom script called Desperate Housewives. We married him with another client to turn it into this hit show. He sent me a picture in a Tiffany frame of him in front of his condo 10 years ago in North Hollywood: "Before Debbee" and "After Debbee."

All: Aww.

Siebert: Did he fire you? (Laughter.)

Klein: That doesn't happen too often, and we don't expect it -- though I represent [Robert and Michelle] King, who created The Good Wife, and they're pretty generous about thanking us.

Siebert: When Kyle Chandler was nominated for an Emmy for Friday Night Lights -- I shouldn't be saying this -- his manager and I decided that because the show wasn't picked up for another season, he wasn't going to win and we should just stay home. So we did, and he wins and thanks us. My first phone call was to his manager: "We are in such big trouble. Get dressed! We've got to go now!"

Klein: Did you?

Siebert: No. (Laughter.)

Bartlett: But the 20 years you spent representing him made up for it.

THR: To be fair, that was the big shock of the night.

Siebert: Exactly! (Laughter.) He was very grateful and thanked both of us, but we felt like asses.

THR: Much is made these days about the fact that there are not as many women agents as there are men. Does this disparity affect the way you do your job?

Klein: I'm the only woman in my entire division. It's 12 guys and me, which is terrible, actually. There are 122 agents [at Paradigm], and maybe about 15 percent are women? I don't know how to fix it, unless all of you want to work together with me. … It's hard. I don't know where the breakdown is.

Siebert: I never look at it and think, "My God, we really don't have a lot of women," until someone brings it to my attention. We hire and promote the best people regardless of gender.

THR: A prominent agent, a woman, recently said it was harder as a female to sign clients than it would be for a male agent.

Bartlett: I totally disagree.

Klein: I think it may be easier.

Kohan: I agree with you.

Klein: Maybe it's our nurturing side? I've never run into that problem once.

Dakhil: I notice that the male agents console themselves when we sign people by saying that they wanted a woman, and I think we let them think that. Maybe they do; maybe they don't. I think there's an extra power being women and being able to express ourselves, the way we dress and can be more individualistic.

Klein: I have clients for whom I literally pick out anniversary presents for their wives because they don't want to be bothered. They would never ask my male counterpart to do that. There's a level of intimacy that I like to offer.

Kohan: It surprises me that we're still having this conversation. I know it exists, but in my day-to-day life I don't feel it.

Dakhil: But there's something wrong with the numbers. So somehow, on an individual level, there's something we each could take more responsibility for.

Bartlett: It's incumbent upon us to mentor younger women in our companies.

Jackson: The typical idea of an agent is extremely masculine. It's hard for women to break through because we're not permitted to have that behavior -- and if we do, we get punished for it. So it's hard for women to come up in that and be able to shine without mimicking behavior.

THR: Why are men still paid better than women onscreen?

Jackson: No one gets paid better anymore.

Kohan: It's not so much that women are getting paid less; it's just there are more men in the franchise movies. That's where the money is.

Siebert: But in TV, it's certainly changed -- women are getting paid a lot of money to star on TV shows.

Kohan: Female-driven content is more popular than ever, and I think that will be a much stronger balance moving forward.

Klein: The hottest comedy stars right now are women -- Kristen Wiig, Julie Bowen, Melissa McCarthy, Lena Dunham. They're who everybody's talking about right now, more so than, say, Adam Sandler. A lot of agents are at Upright Citizens Brigade a couple times a week looking for the next Tina Fey.

THR: What was the moment when you felt, "Wow, I've really made it!"?

Klein: My first client was Melanie Griffith. I didn't know what I was doing! I remember they offered me top-of-show [a television pay rate]. I thought that was fabulous. We were about the same age. She was very patient. I felt "arrived" when I handled her.

Siebert: One of the first deals I made was booking Anthony Perkins in some awful B-movie. I was so proud, I took the deal slip to my grandparents' house and put it on their bulletin board like, "Look what I did." Looking back years later, it's like, "Oh, my God, what did I do?"

Klein: At least you didn't accept top-of-show!

Kohan: (To Jackson) I remember we bought our first houses around the same time. My mom never bought her own house, so when I bought mine at 30, it was a real milestone.

Dakhil: One pinch-me moment was when Al Pacino raised his voice at me, and it sounded just like it does in the movies. (Laughter.) So cool. It got throaty and loud.

THR: Who would be your dream power-women dinner party guests, dead or alive?

Klein: Hillary Clinton.

Siebert: I've had dinner with her. She's not that [exciting]. (Laughter.)

Bartlett: Oh, don't rain on her parade.

Klein: I was a big supporter. I've met her -- not dined with her -- and I thought she was fantastic, and I'd like the opportunity to sit with her and with Diane Sawyer and Barbara Walters.

Jackson: I'd invite Dorothy Parker, Shirley Temple and Judy Garland.

Bartlett: Crazy, crazier and craziest! Shirley Temple as a child or as an adult?

Jackson: No, as a child. I'd say, "Ooh, sing 'On the Good Ship Lollipop'!"

Kohan: Eleanor Roosevelt. I read a biography of hers, and I think she's fantastic. Also, the queen of England. I'm slightly obsessed with the royal family.

Dakhil: I'd have Helen Keller, Tupac, Malcolm X and Gandhi.

Bartlett: I'd pick Billie Holiday, Martin Luther King and Michelle Obama, who I think is articulate and phenomenal. From the really-screwed-up to the really-put-together.

Siebert: Gosh, I was just going to say Kris Jenner, but I don't know now … (Laughter.)

THR: And don't forget Kyle Chandler.

Siebert: Oh, that's right!

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