LA Story: Alumni in Hollywood
Interns answer phones and deliver messages, photos, and coffee. Overheard conversations center on scheduling stars, studios, directors, set builders, and prop suppliers.
At the Sony Screen Gems sound stage office, corkboards are everywhere, covered with head shots of Jennifer Aniston, Katherine Heigl, Anne Hathaway, Kate Beckinsale, and more under the title “female lead.” Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, George Clooney, Colin Firth, and like contemporaries are tacked up under “male lead” or “male support,” and the photos repeat across many of the boards as proposed films enter the early stage of juggling who may be willing and available to help turn an approved concept into a real project. There are similar lists of directors. And piles of scripts waiting for an educated eye and the right person to give his or her blessing. And that’s just the start. Someone has to find locations, music, special effects suppliers, and then money.
Imagine being a risk manager in this place.
When it comes to making a movie, it’s not an assembly line. It is a unique item each time. It’s project management to the nth power, herding egos, suppliers, weather, budgets—and even after the movie is completed, there’s the distribution battle: how many movie screens across America can we get to make the first weekend a blockbuster? Basically, it’s an insane endeavor that requires guts, insights into the market, a huge amount of subjectivity, and very deep pockets.
The closer you look, the more you see that moviemaking is a microcosm of all management tasks. What’s unique is that it can involve anywhere from $1 million to $200 million+ and the result is always one single product. Perhaps more amazing is that the process is shared among many collaborators: different entities select the actors, handle the financing, find locations, shoot the film, process the film, find the distribution channels, create the music, etc, etc. No single company does everything. Nor do you get exactly who you want—this actress is too busy; this director is already committed; the ideal state just changed its tax codes; and on and on.
Plus there are funnels of frustration all over Hollywood: thousands of scripts vying for attention; thousands of actors seeking just one role; thousands of support personnel from sound professionals to caterers, just hoping to get the next gig. And once the movie is made, millions of critics, including you and me, help judge whether anyone (or at least the investors) gets paid in the end.
Thanks to our large alumni network and the fairly new LA internship, Boston University School of Management alumni play numerous roles in the entertainment industry. We had the privilege to interview several who accomplish different functions in a very complex matrix. We are all familiar with the end product. These conversations give us a look at the management challenges in getting there.
JEFF COLVIN, BSBA ’90
Senior Vice President, Manager, Comerica Bank Entertainment Group
Jeff Colvin grew up in Los Angeles. He went to BU because he wanted an urban university that had both a film school and a business school and wasn’t in LA. He’s been at Comerica since ’93.
Please describe what you do.
At Comerica, I manage the entertainment group. We provide project financing for the production and distribution of films, television, and video games as well as providing corporate credit facilities to companies across the entertainment industry.
What’s a typical deal look like?
For a typical film that we would finance, the budget might be around $25 million. Our clients are producers and sales companies. They go to the various film markets, such as the Cannes Film Festival, with a script, a director, cast list, and a budget. At these markets they sell rights before they make the film. They then come to us and say, “I need $25 million. I sold rights to distributors in various countries including Spain, Italy, France, Germany, etc.”
So it’s a lot like a contract receivable, where the contract would say, “When you complete this film, as long as it meets these very objective criteria, such as a running time of between 90 and 120 minutes, starring the identified cast, with certain technical specifications, we will pay you $1.6 million for the rights to distribute the film in our country.” After the film is completed, those buyers pay for the film and exploit it in the theatres, video, television in their territories. And hopefully it’s successful. Our loan, though, is repaid upon completion of the film.
How do you value that?
We analyze the credit-worthiness of who they have sold the rights to and value the rights that are left to sell. So, they say, “We haven’t sold the UK or France or the US. We, the client, think those rights are worth another $10 million.” We do our own analysis of what we think the rights are worth and we’ll lend a percentage of that amount, maybe 50 percent of the unsold estimated rights.
And just because the business is so difficult, in order to finance films, good producers are shooting in locations that have incentives—Michigan, Louisiana, New York, Canada, Australia, where they’re able to get upwards of 35 to 40 percent of their budgets back from state/country tax rebates.
We also analyze the tax credits or rebates and lend against those. Looking at all of our collateral, we’ve come up with the total number that we think we can lend. And it may be that the full amount of the budget is a little bit short, and they have to put in some equity. So that’s the basics of film finance.
Some films are made directly for video or digital distribution, right?
Yes. There are only so many available slots in the movie theaters, and it costs a significant amount to support the marketing of a film. So unless it’s a film that you are very confident will be able to attract box office, it’s not worth spending all of that marketing money. It is more efficient to go straight to the next mediums where the film would be distributed, such as home video, and then video on demand and then cable television.
But it’s worth it just for that market?
Yes, if you’re producing at the right budget. You couldn’t produce a film like Iron Man and expect to do okay doing that. But with smaller films ($10 to $15 million budgets), you can sell the foreign rights for 60 to 70 percent of the cost. Certain genres translate better overseas.
Is Comerica a specialist? Or are several banks competing for what you do?
There’s probably a small handful in the states, then a few overseas. Part of what we also do is put together larger credit facilities and sell pieces to other banks. On a $200 million loan, Comerica might want to hold just $40 million for risk diversification. So we’ll sell $160 million to a group of other banks that we work with.
What are the rewards and the challenges of your work?
The rewards are watching and helping some of our clients grow, through starting smaller production entities to becoming significant film production distribution companies.
The challenge is that business changes so quickly. And so much of the revenues are generated from around the world, so that it’s not just keeping an eye on the business in the United States. We’re affected by changes in the business globally. We try to identify those trends and protect ourselves from downturns.
What should a current student do to prepare for a job like this?
Learn as much as you can about the entertainment industry. Also, a business degree or a law degree would be very helpful due to the level of financial modeling and contract negotiations that are part of the job.
BRETT PAUL, BSBA ’84
Brett Paul came to BU from Miami. Following his BSBA, he went on to earn a JD from University of Miami Law School in ’87.
What’s your day-to-day like?
I am the top business-side executive of Warner Bros. Television, reporting to the president, Peter Roth. I oversee direct reports in physical production, business and legal affairs, financial affairs, administration and operations. I’m closely involved in a wide range of business-side activities, the most significant of which are the high-level license negotiations for the first run of our shows on the network, the high level cast renegotiations and/or budget and forecasting processes.
So much of what we teach at the School involves teaming. I assume almost all of your projects involve teamwork.
Yes, in this business, there is a lot of consensus building and a great deal of collaboration between internal departments that drives the overall effectiveness of the studio. There is also quite a bit of consensus building between our executives and our producers and, in turn, with our broadcast partners. Paradoxically, our industry is built on an inherent conflict in its very name: “show business.” There is the “show,” all the creative elements required to develop and produce entertainment programming, and there is the “business,” the financial and operational elements which make it possible to fulfill a creator’s intent. Our goal is always to honor, support, and realize the creative vision, keeping in mind that there are the legitimate restrictions that come with being involved in any commercial enterprise. I genuinely believe that the creative process can be shaped in positive ways by the business parameters if everyone is working towards a common goal.
You’re creating and producing shows. And then you license those shows to the networks?
So if they buy it, if they pick it up, you’re still going to produce everything?
Yes, as long as the business model is sustainable. We work very hard to ensure that it is. We usually know that in advance. As a studio, our creative team is constantly out in the marketplace looking for talent, ideas, and writers. We canvas our buyers (the networks) by looking at their broadcast schedules and identifying opportunities—based on existing need, network demand, or new roads we pitch them to explore—for our programming that fit with their brand or to expand it.
The ABC Network, which has its own ABC Studios production unit, wants to buy as much of their own programming as they can. The same is true for the FOX Network and its 20th Century Fox Television Productions, the CBS Network and CBS Television Studios, and the NBC Network from Universal Media Studios. What makes us compelling at Warner Bros. is that we can be everyone’s number one supplier, after their own in-house group. We align ourselves with the best talent and offer them broad opportunities across the entire television marketplace, not just tied to one network. That’s been a successful strategy for us.
When we sell something, we usually develop a pilot idea for a particular network, working in concert with them. Our writers pen the script; we pre-negotiate a lot of the licensing terms; and the network decides whether or not they want to order it to pilot production. If they do, we start the process of casting and staffing the show.
If a pilot is ordered, we produce it, usually during the traditional pilot season (January through April). Next, the networks review all the pilots they have purchased and decide which ones to order to series. They announce their fall schedules in May, when we find out which of our returning shows are coming back and which of our new pilots are going to be picked up as series. Networks show the pilots to advertisers who then start to place their advertising buys during what is known as the “upfront” process. Most of the commercials you see on television in the fall are bought in May during the “upfront.”
Who finances the pilots?
That is done jointly by the studio and network. The networks pay a licensing fee, which usually covers a portion of the total production budget. We put up the rest ourselves. It’s the same on scripted series, where the license fee typically covers only a portion of—but not all of—the full production costs. It’s evolved to that structure over many years.
“I genuinely believe that the creative process can be shaped in positive ways by the business parameters if everyone is working to wards a common goal.”
Keep in mind, it’s very different for the reality show side. But for scripted programming, we have a certain bundle of rights which enable us to exploit the show at various windows along the way. The most lucrative of those windows, once we’ve amassed a certain number of episodes, is to take those produced episodes and then resell them, domestically, to another broadcaster. This is generally known as “offnetwork” syndication. An example of this is The Big Bang Theory which currently airs new episodes on CBS, while rebroadcasts of prior seasons will begin this fall on TBS and on the Fox-owned television stations.
In licensing the show “off-network”, we comply with the original broadcast network’s very specific exclusivity provisions, which are highly negotiated, and which spell out what times during the day a show can run off-network or at what point in the show’s life cycle we can sell it off-network.
You mentioned there may be other new windows.
Yes, the hot topic right now, with all the digital options for exploitation, and Netflix and iTunes popping up, is how the studios and networks manage who controls those various windows, and whether or not those windows should fall within the networks’ exclusivity requirements.
These rights have evolved, often times based on the idea of whether or not the rights grantor is the owner or renter of the programming. Home video is most often controlled by the owner.
We’re very conscious of evolving viewing habits, of time-shifting, and various options for watching programs, and we work very closely with our network partners on that. We want the networks to remain very healthy and to be able to deliver quality offerings to their advertisers, the foundation of which is a great-looking, well-acted, well-produced show. And, frankly, we want them to have the money to be able to pay us to do it well. So, we strongly support their efforts in the advertiser-supported model.
Warner Horizon Television is the unit that produces scripted programming for cable, and reality programming for both network and cable. So The Bachelor, which is a reality show on ABC, is produced by Warner Horizon.
The business units are separated by the probable venue?
Not exactly. They are separated because there is a different business model in producing for cable than there is for network. Basic cable outlets don’t typically pay the same license fees as a network, because cable generally provides a more limited universe of viewers, although some of the most popular series—including The Closer and Rizzoli & Isles, both of which we produce—deliver network-style ratings for original episodes. And the off-network market which exists for cable shows is generally not as robust as the off-network market for network shows. So, we adjust accordingly. There are differences in cable productions to account for the lower costs of production in terms of the number of days you shoot, the number of cast members you have, etc.
And because the universe of network and cable is sometimes inhabited by some of the same people, some creators develop series for both broadcast platforms, so it’s important to delineate which shows are going to be cable and which are for broadcast, to eliminate confusion.
What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
Seeing the end product—the television show—is amazing. It’s so difficult to put all the pieces in place to make that happen. When it finally does, it’s very gratifying. The creative and business process always offers exciting challenges. This business is personality-driven. You’re dealing with very creative people and no two situations are alike. Unlike so many other businesses where the margin of a successful product can often improved by creating manufacturing or marketing efficiencies, that doesn’t necessarily exist in television production. If I had to pick one thing, I’d have to say it’s the people. Working with the talent, both in front and behind the camera…for me, that’s the most rewarding.
What advice would you give somebody who’s looking into the field, who wants to end up doing what you’re doing?
I’ve always said try to be as good as you can be, in whatever it is you are doing. And align yourself with the best mentor you can find, with people who are best at doing what it is that you want to try and do. Watch them. Learn from them.
I’m going to sound like a book of euphemisms here but they’re based in truth. You can’t always dictate what exactly your path will be. Leave the door open. Sometimes you have to seize those moments rather than waiting for the perfect one to come along. And in life, you continue moving. If you find that you’ve made a choice that’s not suiting you, then reevaluate where you are, and make another choice.
A good career is a long endeavor. And it’s definitely not a straight line upward. It has peaks and valleys. You can learn from both. Sometimes even more in the valleys.
Make sure that you are doing for your boss what your boss needs of you. Don’t be lazy. That’s the worst. Try to be selfless about things. Anticipate. The cream always seems to rise to the top, even though rarely overnight. Point yourself in the general direction of entertainment. Never give up. There is always room for good people.
ROB CARLSON, BSBA ’88
Partner, William Morris Endeavor (WME)
Rob Carlson grew up in Metuchen, New Jersey. He chose BU because his father was an alumnus and he was attracted to the curriculum and the work of the School’s professors.
Please tell us about your work.
I’ve been at William Morris for 22 years. We merged two years ago with Endeavor and became WME. I’m a partner and senior agent in the motion picture department. There are a number of partners worldwide who make strategic decisions about the company and the direction we are going.
So tell me what a day is like.
To simplify, my main goal is to career-manage clients and to help them find films or television projects. I give them guidance in terms of choosing jobs and making sure that each one is a building block to their career. We also focus on building their business beyond film and television. A lot of my clients are entrepreneurial and want to be involved on the Web, writing books, or maybe theatre and live concerts.
We also look beyond traditional entertainment, whether it’s owning a clothing line, or water, or vodka—you name it. Branding on the entertainment side is very important. And a lot of companies outside of the business are looking to be connected to the entertainment business. I worked very closely with General Motors when they were a client and helped put them into the Transformers movies. It was good for GM, Michael Bay (the director), and Paramount.
So you work on that side too?
Yes, I spent ten years as a television packaging agent and then moved into the film business. Because of that background I have a different perspective than an agent who was trained just in film. Hasbro is also a client of mine. We put together the entertainment initiative for Hasbro and helped launch their film division—which includes Transfomers and G.I. Joe.
WME is a large company. We touch every part of the entertainment business—film, theatre, television, music, and books. In addition we have offices in Nashville and New York and London. This depth is very attractive to me as an agent, as well as my clients.
What are the rewards and the challenges of your job?
The greatest part of the job is when you sign someone new, and then watch them grow and become successful. It’s a great feeling to look back on someone’s career and know that you had a big impact on their life. It’s no different than any relationship or marriage, where you put that time in—you go through the good stuff and the bad stuff together. You achieve something, and you’ve gained a lot of ground. That’s what I love most about it.
How do you break into a place like WME? I understand you started in the mail room.
Everyone starts in the mail room, for at least a couple of months. Then you wait for a training desk to open up where you interview and compete with other trainees to become a secretary. You work at that for a couple of years, and then hopefully get promoted to agent. This is the way it has been done for the last hundred years.
What’s new in the field? What are the new issues that are coming up?
There’s definitely a big guild issue regarding digital rights and how artists are going to get paid for streaming, etc. During the last writers’ strike, that was a touchstone issue, in terms of usage and everything else. I think the biggest thing affecting the business has been the collapse of the home video/DVD market
“Everyone starts in the mail room… This is the way it’s been done for the last hundred years.”
On top of that, companies started going out of business. When I started, there were probably 24 buyers, and now maybe there are seven. United Artists has gone out of business. MGM is emerging from bankruptcy. It’s a really dramatic shift in terms of how many movies are being made compared to five years ago.
It’s like a game of musical chairs. There are only so many director jobs out there every year, so when the music stops, you better have one of those chairs. I went through it personally. William Morris was around for 112 years. We merged with Endeavor but had to cut an enormous number of people from our overhead. The business can’t support the structure that existed a decade ago. You will probably see more changes as well.
We’re dealing with a contracting business and fewer people. But it’s no different than what other businesses are going through, too. So now we’re looking at the next kind of revenue stream that’s going to come about that’s going to invigorate it again. And there always is one.
BERKELEY REINHOLD, BSBA ’90
Head of Music Business Affairs, William Morris Endeavor Entertainment
Berkeley Reinhold came to Boston University from New York City. Following a senior year class in business law with School of Management professor Jeff Beatty, she went to Whittier College School of Law in Los Angeles to earn her JD.
What brought you to William Morris?
When you’re in Los Angeles in law school, you’re exposed to internships in all aspects of entertainment. I interned at Paramount Studios in the Motion Picture Music Soundtrack Division, and that piqued my interest in the movie and music businesses.
After I graduated from law school, I was lucky enough to find an opening at William Morris Agency in Beverly Hills.
You skipped the mailroom part?
Yes. I was hired directly into business affairs as a music attorney. So now I run the business affairs of WME Music.
How big is the music side?
Pretty big. The music department has offices in Beverly Hills, New York, Nashville, Miami, and London. There are lots of different genres of music that we cover, such as contemporary, adult contemporary, country, urban, and electronic among others.
Tell us what you do.
I wear a lot of hats. I’m a music attorney and an agent. When I started here, the business I handled was primarily contracts for live concerts. Then, the industry began evolving by integrating sponsorships, endorsements, webcasts, digital rights, distribution, and other areas. It’s very different and much more exciting now than it was when I began at WME.
What do you see happening now and in the near future?
When I started there were models already established for all different kinds of deals. People had been in the business for a long time doing the same types of concert deals, record deals, publishing deals, etc. And now as the music business develops, we are creating our own deals and inventing our own models.
This keeps it fun and interesting.
You deal more with record labels?
Generally for concert touring you’re negotiating with the promoter or someone could put together an idea, like, “I want to have an event in the LA Coliseum. And I want this singer to come.”
They would call the artist’s agent at WME, and ask if the artist is available, and then we negotiate the deal.
Do you—William Morris—create or produce any events of your own?
There are some things that we do own, some events. But generally, we’re an agent representing the artist. However, the business is evolving so much that there are lots of opportunities to think outside of the box.
What have been the rewards of the career, so far?
Coming out of a negotiation and really feeling that both sides came to an agreement and are happy with the terms of the deal is a great feeling. You don’t want to be in a negotiation where one side feels like they were taken advantage of because in a sense you’re a team. You all have the same goal: that the deal you’re working on together becomes a success.
You do deals with the same people over and over?
Absolutely; it’s a small community. Chances are, if you close a deal with somebody now, you’re going to be working with them again in the future. So it’s always best to leave the table where everybody is happy. So the next time, you have a foundation to build on.
“It’s always best to leave the table where everyone is happy.”
What would you recommend to a student who is thinking about getting into the business?
On campus, try to get some experience with the people who book concerts for the school. Try to find a project or event where you can work for the school in the capacity of a promoter. That’s the first step. Even the little bit of experience that you can get on the ticketing side, or negotiating with an agent, or getting an idea of how it all comes together, is really valuable.
Any particular skill sets that would be helpful?
I think that anyone who has the passion and the determination and ability to be flexible and learn different things, can definitely do it. But they have to have patience, because, especially if you want to be an agent, you generally start in the mail room. And you really have to have the patience to wait it out.
What’s the job market look like now?
It’s very difficult because the field is shrinking for the traditional music related jobs at record labels and there are not that many positions available. However, there are other possibilities. For instance, you can become a manager or attorney for the artist, or a business manager, if you’re interested in accounting. There are the record labels and music publishers. You can work for a merchandise company, a digital online music company, or as a promoter.
ERIC PAQUETTE, BSBA ’89
Senior Vice President, Production, Sony Screen Gems
Eric Paquette chose BU because he thought he’d like the city of Boston, even though he’d only been here once in his life.
Please give us an overview of what you do here.
I’m the senior vice-president of production at Screen Gems, a division of Sony Pictures. And that job, here or at virtually any studio, is essentially looking for properties to make movies out of. So we use development scripts to a point where we can get a filmmaker and actors onboard. And then, our physical production department compiles budgets, supervises production, works with the filmmaker to address any editing that needs to be done beyond that time, and helps with music.
And the creative side, which is what I do, is charged with finding the stories. They come from producers, agents, every stone that you look under—script or book or comic book or video game.
“The more well-rounded you are, the better you’ll be able to overcome post – college challenges.”
You find the talent as well?
Yes, at the same time. You have to be aware of the next wave of up and coming writers, filmmakers, actors. You’re constantly watching movies, reading scripts, meeting with actors, writers, and filmmakers. And I also meet with a lot of editors and directors of photography. It’s different, because with writers and actors in film, you want to know the next wave of people who are going to really have an effect on the business in years to come. But editors and DPs, you want to know who the best are right now.
They’re the ones that can have an immediate impact on your films today.
So, how would you define Screen Gems?
We generally make movies that cost between $10 million and $60 million. They’re usually concept-driven: action, thrillers, sci-fi film, and occasional comedy, where the concept is generally the star in the movie. In a bigger film, that movie is not getting made without Leonardo DiCaprio or Brad Pitt.
What trends do you see?
Young adult novels are becoming a very, very popular source of films. And certainly, the best example of that is Twilight. We have one called Mortal Instruments. And Lionsgate has one called Hunger Games.
Any time you can make a film that has a built-in awareness, you’re ahead of the game. Plus with the Internet and social networking sites you can really build your brand in a way that doesn’t really cost you any money.
What are the rewards of the job?
Some of the rewards are being able to work with incredibly smart, creative, and talented people, in front of and behind the camera. And virtually 100 percent of the people that are in the motion picture business love movies. The Social Network, True Grit, The Fighter, The King’s Speech, they’re all compelling stories that move people. And knowing that I get to somehow be involved in a portion of that every day, is really exciting. I can do it 24 hours a day, it doesn’t bother me.
What are the challenges? What are the tough parts?
Well, any job that you can do 24 hours a day—it’s a double-edged sword because you can literally be working all the time. My family is the most important thing in my life and I’m the most important thing in their life, while balancing demands of a profession that requires you to spend an awful lot of time to be successful.
Do you have any BU students here?
We’ve had many over the years, absolutely. We’ve employed production assistants, paid PAs on movies. I have worked a lot with COM’s Professor Bill Linsman, who oversees the Los Angeles internship program. Every semester, I hire interns. And, if I’m shooting a movie, they come on the set and meet the director.
What would you tell a School of Management student wondering how to get into the field?
They should minor in English. I think everybody should be able to have broad knowledge and have a concentration in reading and writing. If you have only this singular focus on something based on your very limited knowledge of the world, it’s not going to really benefit you down the road.
The more well-rounded you are, the better you’ll be able to overcome post-college challenges. If you’re very, very interested in something, then minor in that. Double minor, even. You shouldn’t necessarily spend your entire time having an absolute tunnel vision on one thing.
The most important thing you can do, if you want to get into the movie business or television business, is to just get into it. That’s why this program is invaluable, because there are kids that are here that are doing it.
You can’t replace the relationships and the contacts you make working in the business. So I’m a huge fan of Bill’s. And I’m a big fan of the BU LA program.
By John Dicocco