Tales from the Agency Mailroom. Still a Thing
The 'Entourage' generation is all grown up as reps and execs tell me nothing beats Hollywood’s decades-old hazing ritual for breaking-in: 'It's about humility'
This is second in our stories this week about the representation business. Yesterday, we featured the Big Managers of the Moment 2024.
At least two of the most enduring on-screen portrayals of talent agents over the last few decades involve screaming.
The first, of course, is Tom Cruise’s instantly iconic Jerry Maguire, desperately hollering “Show me the money!” into his 1996 brick of a cell phone in a bid to retain an NFL superstar client. The other is Jeremy Piven’s Ari Gold on HBO’s Entourage, the hilariously foul-mouthed, snarling power agent — loosely based on Endeavor CEO Ari Emanuel — who barreled through offices and threatened celebs and assistants alike, giving the average American a (perhaps only slightly exaggerated) glimpse of the agency life.
(Exhibit A: a scene where the fake Ari fires a mailroom employee.)
Nonetheless, the early aughts TV series in particular acted as an unwitting advertisement for a generation of industry aspirants, reinforcing the mythology of the streetwise, hustling Hollywood agent — and the rags-to-riches path it offered.
“Agenting is one of the only jobs where you can literally start in the mailroom and wind up owning the business,” talent manager and Entourage exec producer Stephen Levinson told The New York Times in 2005. (Just ask former plebians Ron Meyer, Ari Emanuel, Jeremy Zimmer and Bryan Lourd, who rode their early mail carts all the way to the C-suite.)
The representation industry has morphed over the years, with agencies and management companies diversifying beyond traditional TV and film. In doing so, some parts of the journey to breaking in have changed; others, stubbornly, remain the same.
The business continues to be relationships — the kind formed over Beverly Hills lunches or in tony glass-and-steel offices and, in the early arc of one’s career, in agency mailrooms.
Over at UTA, four out of five agents still start their careers in the mailroom, says UTA human resources exec Laura Roenick. It receives 4,000 trainee applicants a month — and accepts 200 a year. More than 80 percent will eventually use the training and connections to move on to other jobs in the industry; others will work at the agency for life. Which means the DNA of former mailroom employees is seeded through the entertainment industry.
Now, a full generation out from Entourage’s debut on HBO in 2004, I talk to some of the people who came of age in that era now populating today’s executive ranks. They tell tales, describe the “adrenaline rush” and yes, describe the bouts of abuse, as I also explore what has changed (and not) in mailroom culture.