Joel Stein: This Is How I'll Fire My Agent (Guest Column)
The TV comedy writer shares the 100 percent heartfelt letter he will send to terminate his WME rep if the WGA and talent agencies can’t make a deal: "You complete me — often with a director, producer and actor in a package, but still, you complete me."
Dear Richard Weitz,
The first thing I want you to know is that this isn’t about you. It’s not about me either. It’s about packaging, which is something I don’t remotely understand. The point is, I still love you. You know how Romeo’s and Juliet’s families tore them apart? That’s the way that packaging is tearing us apart. I’m not suggesting we kill each other over this, but I’m not suggesting we don’t either. Packaging is that big of a deal, whatever it is.
I remember the day we first met. I was only 28, and you, I now realize, were 30, which is strange since you look younger than me now. Did you have work done? I’ve always wanted to ask you that. And now it’s too late.
I’d spent two days taking meetings up and down Wilshire Boulevard, sipping bottles of Fiji with many handsome and beautiful agents, each dressed like Regis Philbin on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?. Every one of them told me they “wanted to be in the Joel Stein business” even though such a business did not exist. But you — you were different. You said you wouldn’t take commission on the job I’d already gotten. You said you were in it for the long term. You said, “Let’s make some money” several times, in a way that I could tell meant, “I love you,” but also, “I’ll love you way more if you make me some money.”
When I had a minor panic attack on the flight to L.A. the day before my first pitch meeting because I realized that despite hearing the phrase “pitch meeting” a million times, I had no idea what a pitch meeting was — Did I need a PowerPoint presentation? Do I act out the characters? Should I ask for points off the gross or the net? — I called you as soon as my plane hit the tarmac. You told me to come straight to your house. When I got there, you told me to get in your pool and loaned me a bathing suit. Not 90 percent of a bathing suit, but the whole thing.
After changing in your walk-in closet, I got lost in your house, which was significantly larger than my Manhattan studio apartment. I freaked out, trying to find my way back downstairs to your pool, passing a life-size Stormtrooper, a screening room and then, because I was lost, a life-size Stormtrooper and a screening room. I now suspect that house was bought with packaging money.
You gave me a can of Coors, got in the pool with me and calmed me down. You’ve always done that. Not the Coors thing, which was weird, but the reassurance. You took me to Craig’s to give me a pep talk about my career, caring so deeply that you even spent slightly more time talking to me than you did talking to everyone else in the restaurant. You invited me to a Super Bowl party at your house, and then your 40th birthday party, which had a bouncer checking names on a list even though it was a birthday party at a house. You invited me to moderate an event at the WME retreat and did not say anything when I kept going back for lobster tails at the buffet, which I now know were packaging lobster tails. You gave me one of the three-inch-tall vinyl figurines that Funko had made of you, which is weird and scares my son, but I keep it on my desk anyway to inspire me by reminding me of your faith in me. You got me so many blind script deals when I needed them that my lovely wife, Cassandra, calls you “God,” which is a huge deal because, as an atheist, she doesn’t even call God that.
After all we’ve been through together, breaking up is hard, partly because when this fight between the agencies and the Writers Guild is over in a few days, I’m going to ask you to take me back as a client, which might not go well because I don’t make WME much money.
If this week’s extension of talks doesn’t lead to an agreement, the guild is going to send us a breakup form letter to send to our agents. I couldn’t quit you that way. I wanted to write a personal letter because it’s another writing sample you might be able to use to get me a job. I considered saying goodbye in the form of a spec:
Chandler: Could the business of packaging be more deceptive?
Joey: Exactly! A box of Froot Loops is, like, half air.
But I had third act problems.
I want you to know that if I could go back 20 years to that day on Wilshire when you kept talking about making money, I would still choose you. You complete me. Often, you complete me with a director, producer and actor in a package, which apparently is not at all cool, but still, you complete me.
I know things are raw right now, but I hope that one day in the future, probably in two weeks or so when this thing is settled, we can be friends. At least friends enough where I can be one of the 300 people on the bouncer’s list for your 50th birthday party.
Love, your former client,
This story also appears in the April 11 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.