Behind every rising industry star is a top adviser — from David Geffen to Sherry Lansing — who intimately knows the demands of the Hollywood hot seat.
Though he is one of the most effective consiglieres in town, the former Warner Bros. chairman bristles at the idea of being publicly outed as one. “I do it as quietly as possible,” he says. “It’s not about you. It’s about them. I don’t get paid. I’m not in it for the money. I simply do what I do to help people that I like.”
Those people include former Warner Bros. chief Alan Horn (No. 9 on the THR 100) and Walt Disney Co. chairman and CEO Bob Iger (No. 1 on the THR 100). Horn now is chairman of Walt Disney Studios. Daly also did some behind-the-scenes whispering to help put Brad Grey (No. 40) in his post as Paramount chief. Daly, a longtime advisor to Paramount, and Grey have been close friends since the late ’80s when Grey’s partner Bernie Brillstein sold part of Brillstein Co. to Lorimar-Telepictures, and Lorimar was subsequently sold to Warner Bros.
“I just come across people whom I’ve known forever,” Daly explains. “Sometimes they’ve been pushed out of jobs too soon. And sometimes they would be right for a job.”
A vote of confidence from the former mogul can jumpstart even the most fledgling career into the power stratum. Just ask Brian Grazer (No. 95 on the THR 100), who as a first-time producer benefited from the Geffen seal of approval.
After an early screening of Ron Howard’s 1982 comedy Night Shift, the lights came up, and everyone in the room was ominously silent. Geffen, a former vice chairman of Warner Bros., happened to be in the room. “He stood up and clapped his hands and said, ‘This movie is amazing. It’s brilliant,’” Grazer recalls.
“He basically anointed us. That validated us. David was good at starting my career. He didn’t make calls on my behalf, but he was the closest thing I had to a consigliere.”
More than three decades later, the behind-the-scenes power broker continues to quietly advocate on behalf of a new generation of talent and executives.
The former Paramount chair has been out of showbiz for 11 years now. But that has actually made Lansing a more effective consigliere.
“You have no agenda when you pick up the phone,” says Lansing. “If you’re calling to recommend someone and you’re at a studio, the first question will be, ‘Well, why aren’t you hiring them if you think they’re so great?’ It’s not quite the same now. I’m simply calling because I feel really strongly about somebody and feel like advocating for them. And you don’t do it every time you’re asked. And you have credibility because of that.”
Lansing advocated on behalf of Karen Rosenfelt when the latter left Paramount in 2005. At the time, Rosenfelt was trying to land a producing deal at Fox 2000 and had already won over president Elizabeth Gabler. But it was ultimately former Fox co-chief Tom Rothman (No. 32 on the THR 100) who would make the decision. Lansing made one call to Rothman, and Rosenfelt was in.
Though she is one of Hollywood’s female trailblazers, Lansing says she tries to be gender-blind in her role as consigliere.
“I will advocate for anyone I believe in,” she says. “But I’m definitely asked more often to advocate for women. And I’m happy to do so.”
Law firm Ziffren Brittenham represents half of Hollywood’s studio heads and a significant chunk of high-ranking executives. So it should come as no surprise that founding partner Ken Ziffren plays a key role in Hollywood career matchmaking.
“I’ll get a call from a headhunter who is trying to fill a job and will ask who would qualify, or I may get a call from the head of the studio or network asking for a list of names of people,” says Ziffren. “And then I get calls from people I don’t represent who want a particular job. They think I can be influential.”
There’s no question on that point. He helped put Chris Albrecht (No. 67 on the THR 100) in the top post at Starz and Frederick Huntsberry in the COO chair at Paramount. But he can be an equally effective consigliere and advisor to nonclients. Among his list of indebted is son-in-law Casey Wasserman, whose career path he guided. “The best advice I gave him was not to make a particular deal — but I can’t tell you which deal,” he jokes.