View Full Version : LA Times New Book Article: "The Mailroom..."
02-10-2003, 08:52 PM
In his book "The Mailroom: Hollywood History From the Bottom Up," just published by Ballantine, writer David Rensin has compiled an oral history of that classic Hollywood proving ground -- the talent agency mailroom. There, as high-profile alumni describe it, generations of would-be agents and execs have honed the work ethic, survival skills and ability to climb and connect that became the foundation of their careers. The stories sometimes have the almost apocryphal ring of tales told by survivors who know they're burnishing a legend: tales of unknowingly carrying an agent's stool sample to a doctor's office; being invited in by a megastar in her bathrobe; sex and drugs in the office. But most are about character -- the storyteller's or the subject's -- and the way it was revealed in the low-glamour, high-pressure world of the mailroom and the talent agencies' lowest rungs. Some excerpts:
(Creative Artists Agency mail room, 1984), founding partner, Endeavor talent agency: "My first Christmas at CAA I had to deliver [Mike] Ovitz's gifts. It took six or seven days, and the gifts were quite elaborate. I delivered a brand-new Sony television to Wolfgang Puck, an expensive stereo to Ovitz's litigator.... Typically you would go, 'This is from Mike Ovitz,' and they'd say, 'Oh, great -- put it over there.' Very late one evening I got a gift basket and an address with someone's name I didn't recognize.... I realized this was Ovitz's driver. I said, 'Hi, I've got a delivery from Mike Ovitz,' and I handed him the gift basket. 'Oh, that's great,' he said. 'Wow, that's so nice. Tell Mike thanks.' Then he said, 'Hold on a minute,' and came back with a ten-dollar bill. I said, 'I can't do that. Mr Ovitz wouldn't want me to take a tip.' He insisted, but I wouldn't take it. On the drive back to the office I realized that I'd delivered to two hundred people, most of whom were multimillionaires, and nobody -- nobody -- offered to give me a tip except the one guy who probably couldn't afford to do it. I was very moved. It was an O. Henry Christmas moment."
For the full story: www.calendarlive.com/prin...eb09.story (http://www.calendarlive.com/printedition/calendar/suncal/cl-ca-mailroom9feb09.story)
And if interested here is a link to the book at Amazon: www.amazon.com/exec/obido...donedealA/ (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ISBN=0345442342/donedealA/)
02-11-2003, 06:07 AM
I love David Geffen's: "I kept hoping more people would quit. Because, the more who quit, the higher up the list I would get." He's obviously met a few quitters... :)
02-11-2003, 09:34 PM
Rensin is at BookSoup in about 20 min. I was going to go, but couldn't make it.
Did anyone else go or read it?
02-12-2003, 10:17 AM
Will - just had to do it, bought the book yesterday. Lots of fun stories - bet you the first writer who compiles it into a "Mailroom Stories" film has a sale...!
02-12-2003, 11:42 AM
LOL... I can only hope so. Let us know if it's a good read.
02-14-2003, 06:22 AM
Well, halfway into it now, actually, and it is a movie. Sure it's been optioned already.
There's material in the book for a TV-series. The Mailroom - probably something Gavin Pollone should do, in the style of Curb your Enthusiasm.
I'm not going to write a full review. The article Will refers to gives you a good idea of what this book is all about.
The terrible thing about this book is that you actually start feeling sorry for agents! You'll even wonder whether they don't deserve more than a 10 percent cut off whatever you make - I hope this feeling passes fast!
It's got lots of flat out funny episodes in it, while also reinforcing your belief that when given the chance, a lot of people enjoy playing concentration camp guards ruling over other people.
On another tack, here's another entry, which tells you what they think of writers:
Matt Tolmach (Now Executive VP of Production, Columbia Pictures).
A week before I graduated, my mother, who grew up in Los Angeles, called and said, "Matthew, what are your plans?"
I said, "I'm going back to D.C." - where I'd grown up - "and I'm going to paint houses and write."
"Over my dead body," she said. She called my grandfather, Sam Jaffe, who had retired from Hollywood in the sixties, and said, "You've got to take Matthew under your wing. He's threatening to become a writer."
My grandfather was a great, gruff character. Larger than life. A legend. He produced Born Free. I revered him. He said, "What's this @#%$ I hear about being a writer?"
"Well, Poppy, I love to write."
"Ah, that's crap. Come on out to the coast. You like writing? You can be a literary agent."
HEADS UP - if I was smart, I wouldn't give away this tip, but:
It's a big book, lots of pages, it's filled with anecdotes and stories told by people who today are agents, managers and producers in H'wood. It tells the story of how they got started in the business, in their own words - AND, at the end of each chapter, a list is provided, telling you where these people are now, and what their responsibilities are at various agencies, etc.
SO - if you're looking to find out more about the person you now only have a name to, but that you'd like to have representing you - get this book.
02-17-2003, 07:22 PM
Just picked up the book last night - this book is an absolute riot. The stories are hilarious and really give a behind-the-scenes feel to what's going on at the agencies that reject our queries.
Body shots off of the pregnant boss, apparently...
The absolute best part of this book is to see the motivations and the behavior of these people who are willing to put up with all sorts of horrid treatment because they really really want to be - of all things - agents.
Great read. Highly recommend it.
02-20-2003, 08:34 AM
The book gets a little redundant. By midway through the book we understand that being in the mailroom sucks. Certain situations and attitudes are repeated throughout the book. I did not find it as enjoyable, but thus far I am the only one who completed reading it (posting that is)
A few things I took away from the book:
1. I could not get over the powertrips some of these agents have and how badly a mailroom person is treated. This gives me pause now when I do indeed talk to an agent.
2. How insane the hours are - some of the lower level people work from 7AM to 11PM for like 200 dollars a week.
3. I, myself, could not work in such a cutthroat environment where people sabatoged others and kissed butt like there is no tomorrow. Also most of the mailroom people (not all) were from wealthy families to begin with so I'd hate scrapping by on such low pay while the person next to me drove a brand new BMW.
4. I did enjoy the few table spoons of gossip that were given and wanted more. I liked especially when they mentioned run ins with celebrities.
I'm not sure I could have handled it (working in the mailroom), but then one now agent put it in perspective and said, "all we were doing was delivering mail. It was simple." I have a feeling those of us who have worked real jobs would not have found it all that bad. Some of these rich kids were not used to working and found it taxing - however those hours in such a fake environment would bother me after a while.
There you go. While I found it interesting, it was more often boring and as I said the themes were repeated a hundred times. How many times can you hear someone talk about crying because they had to drive to a star's house and deliver a script late at night? I came away with a fresh perspective about the big agencies and their staff, but it was not worth the hardcover price.
02-20-2003, 07:56 PM
Sure it's been optioned already.
'Mailroom' docu at HBO
Pic to show how entry-level jobs instill showbiz values
By MICHAEL FLEMING
HBO and Brad Grey have made a deal to give documentary treatment to the David Rensin book "The Mailroom: Hollywood History From the Bottom Up."
Grey will produce the film with HBO exec veep of original programming Sheila Nevins. Grey plans to push the envelope with Rensin's collection of Hollywood talent agency mailroom war stories. He also has plans for a scripted weekly series, in the vein of "The Larry Sanders Show," the sitcom Grey exec produced for HBO.
In Resin's book, just published by Ballantine, industryites describe how their mailroom experiences instilled the basics of showbiz, along with a high threshold for abuse. Grey wants to tell an "Upstairs, Downstairs" story, and he will enlist on-camera appearances from the likes of David Geffen, Bryan Lourd and Barry Diller, who were among the 150 mail-sorters-turned-dealmakers who took part in the book.
"I am either friends with or know almost everyone in that book and wanted to find the best way to truly illustrate what they went through, in a way that would show the perseverance, human behavior, all the elements of character that you find in good stories," Grey said. "What better way than to get the real people to tell their own stories?"
In addition to exec producing "The Sopranos," Grey reps former Gotham Mayor Rudy Giuliani and put him together with HBO on the docu "In Memoriam," which told the story of 9/11 through the eyes of the mayor and his crisis team. That experience with Nevins, more than anything, led Grey to align with HBO on "Mailroom."
The pay web has long been a haven for showbiz fare, from "Larry Sanders" and "Project Greenlight" to a recent deal to turn producer Art Linson's memoir "What Just Happened?" into a series that Robert De Niro will exec produce and cameo in.
It is the second recent high profile movie biz docu deal for HBO, which is partnering with Universal and "A Beautiful Mind" producer Brian Grazer to make a movie on the cultural phenomenon surrounding the release of porn film "Deep Throat." That docu will first get a theatrical release, like Focus Features gave the Robert Evans docu "The Kid Stays in the Picture." That is an option for "The Mailroom," which HBO is fully financing.
Plenty of material
From the agent assistant who famously was dispatched to deliver a stool sample for his boss to the verbal and psychological torment dealt out daily by agents if their coffee or breakfast orders aren't perfect, colorful anecdotes for the docu are in no short supply from Rensin. He got the book idea while co-writing a memoir with Grey's former partner, Bernie Brillstein, who cut his teeth in the William Morris agency mailroom.
Grey never went through mailroom hazing. He began in concert promotion, then moved into talent management and production.
"I started in Buffalo, working as a runner for Harvey Weinstein when he was promoting concerts," Grey said. "Come to think of it, maybe there's a movie there.
"But let's do this one first."
Date in print: Thurs., Feb. 20, 2003, Los Angeles
02-21-2003, 01:46 PM
Well, it had to happen, was too good to pass up.
Just imagine - you have a mailroom with lots of turnover, intrigue, pressure, laughs and tears - with young people who are aspiring to become agents, to represent the most famous people in showbusiness.
Each week, you can have cameos from some of these people - as the mailroom employees try to solve the bitching orders given them by their bosses...
Lots of laughs, in an environment that "everyone" wants to get inside of.
05-03-2003, 10:18 PM
hey -- thanks to everyone for reading and discussing, even those who found the book a mite redundant. that the point was to show how while everything changed, it all stayed the same. certain complaints and activities (vying to deliver to comely actresses) are traditions, and as such repeated. everyone had to go through the same @#%$.
The main idea was to give a focused portrait of ambition, something no screenwriter (or anyone with dreams) is a stranger to. I'm sure there's more than one book in strange tales from screenwriters.
Oh, and the stool sample story is the absolute truth. Any other apocryphal stuff could well be that. They're agents after all.
Again, thanks for reading.
05-03-2003, 10:27 PM
I thorougly enjoyed the book. Having met many of the individuals in the book or knowing acquaintances who are repped by these people, I kinda felt that I was in the mailroom myself.
I rec'd the book to Taotropics and Unca Leo who got a thrill reading about their own agents' horror/funny stories.
05-03-2003, 10:36 PM
dr -- funny you should post about this today. I saw the book in a bookstore just yesterday and picked it up, having remembered Will's original post from back in Feb. I'm only on page 17, but I'm already hooked.
After I bought it, I checked its rating on Amazon... a five-star average with six reviews... impressive. Congrats on the accomplishment.
05-04-2003, 10:41 AM
I loved this book. It was a fun fun fun read.
05-04-2003, 11:03 AM
Thanks again for your note and glad you decided to poke your head in here and check out the thread.
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