A Hollywood insider goes behind the scenes to provide a personal history of the movie industry from the 1960s to the present day, describing his rise from the Universal Studios mailroom to become head of Phoenix Pictures, his many successes and failures along the way, and his encounters with Steven Spielberg, Robert Redford, and other famed colleagues. 50,000 first printing.
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Mike Medavoy started his career in the mailroom of Universal Studios. He became a talent agent at age twenty-four, joined United Artists, went on to co-found Orion Pictures, and then became chairman of Sony's TriStar Pictures. In 1994, he formed Phoenix Pictures.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Chapter One: Making Sausage
Until I got my first Hollywood job in the mail room of Universal Studios, I had no idea what an "agent" was, let alone that the formative years of my career would be spent agenting. Yet it was my agency days that established a network from which my entire career expanded. Working as an agent taught me how to talk to filmmakers, how to put together movies, and how to deal with strong personalities. Getting films made was like watching sausage be produced: the finished product was great but the process of putting it together was often messy.
But it's not what goes into a movie that's important; it's what comes out on the screen.
You're gonna have a hard time in this business as a Morris," Bill Robinson told me when he hired me to be an agent at his agency. "You got a middle name?"
"Mike," I told him. I was never crazy about my first name anyway. Besides, I had nothing to do with my naming.
"Mike...Medavoy," he repeated. "That works."
When Bill Robinson offered me a job as an agent, I was working in the Universal casting department, a job I had been given either because the studio figured I had paid my dues in the mail room, or because too much mail was getting lost. During my days at Universal, I was plagued with insecurities about whether I could actually get a real job in the movie business. Besides, Robinson's offer was also $25 a week more than I was making at Universal. The Robinson client list was composed of luminaries from old Hollywood that had fueled my imagination as a kid: Lloyd Nolan, Keenan Wynn, Van Heflin, and Barry Sullivan. Over the years, I ended up representing many of my childhood idols, including George Sanders, Wendell Corey, Jeanne Moreau, and George Cukor. These were old-timers who knew how to be treated, and they taught me how to get what they needed. But I found out that being an agent was an education into all areas of the business.
I knew from reading everyone's memos in the Universal mail room that the golden rule of Hollywood was relationships are the cornerstone of the business. One of the first things I did when I became an agent was to make a list of everybody I wanted to meet in the business. Most acquaintances are made at social functions and not by cold-calling like a telemarketer offering a free chimney sweep. However, since I didn't know anyone in power at the time, I didn't expect any of the industry's players to invite me to their parties. My sales pitch was simple: I would get them on the phone, introduce myself, and say that I just wanted to drop by and meet them. Then, after each meeting, I would send them a thank-you note and cross them off my list.
Once I called Otto Preminger, introduced myself, and asked if I could come by. When I arrived, his secretary asked me if she could take my raincoat. I assured her that wouldn't be necessary because I wouldn't be staying long. She showed me into Preminger's office, which was all white. The carpet was white. The curtains were white. Even his desk was white. The only splash of color was a glass of red wine sitting on his desk.
Preminger stood up from his desk, and I walked across the room to meet him. When I reached his desk, I extended my arm to shake his hand, and the sleeve of my raincoat caught the glass of red wine, spilling it all over his white desk. As I stood there watching the wine drip onto the white carpet, he slowly turned beet red. I half expected him to belt me. After he calmed down and blotted the wine stain with his white handkerchief, we had a pleasant meeting. As I was leaving, I remember thinking that he'd always remember me as the klutz who stained his carpet with red wine.
Years later, Preminger got even with me when he made a turkey called Rosebud for UA.
A year after I started working for Bill, he came into my small office and told me that he couldn't afford to pay me. We then made a handshake deal that, in lieu of a salary, I would get 50 percent of the 10 percent commission on any business I brought in. (Up to this point, I hadn't been allowed to sign clients because Bill insisted on keeping the agency small.) I immediately signed actress Diane Baker, which turned out to be a career-saver for me. She was coming off Alfred Hitchcock's Marnie, with Tippi Hedren and Sean Connery. I landed her the lead in a film called Krakatoa, East of Java, for which she was supposed to be paid $35,000. (Krakatoa is actually west of Java.)
The film went so far overbudget and beyond schedule that Diane ended up making close to $100,000 -- thereby raising my take to half of nearly $10,000, a hefty sum for a struggling agent. Had I not signed her, I probably would have had to get another job, which I wasn't terribly confident I could do. I had had only twelve months of experience as an agent, and very few people even knew who I was. Years later, when Diane lost her producing deal at Columbia, I gave her an office and an assistant at Orion. I was more than happy to pay back someone who had saved my career.
From an agent's point of view, however, the main problem with representing actors is that they need a new job every three months or so, while writers and directors typically spend a year on each film, sometimes longer. Actors also need more hand holding. Theirs is a profession where rejection feels (and often is) quite personal. By and large, they can also be a strange breed of artists. As Marlon Brando once said to me, "Can you imagine going to work every day and pretending to be someone else?"
I'll never forget visiting Dean Stockwell, another Robinson client, at his house and hoping that I never got that jaded about movies. (This was years before he became a reliable character actor with his work in Paris, Texas and Blue Velvet.) Movies had provided me with some of my fondest childhood memories, but they had scarred his childhood since his parents forced him to go under contract to MGM when he was nine. When I first met him, he lived in Topanga Canyon, which was still very rustic and undeveloped, and he hated working. He took five-year hiatuses from acting and made movies only for the money. I had such a pure love of movies, and I wondered what had soured him. I remembered actually wanting to be him after seeing The Boy With Green Hair in my youth. Now, I couldn't help but wonder how I really would have felt in his place.
During the late sixties a new generation of filmmaking talent began to form. By and large, it wasn't welcomed by the studios, which were controlled by the old establishment. Jack Warner was still running Warner Bros., Darryl Zanuck was still in charge at Fox, and Adolph Zukor still tooled around Paramount in his wheelchair. Today, youth is regarded as essential and it is coveted. These days you sometimes have a better chance of getting a film made if you've never made one than if you have a track record.
But during the late sixties, a small group of young filmmakers banded together like a battering ram and banged on the gates of old Hollywood. It was very much us (the new guard) against them (the old guard). It seemed as though the same counterculture that marched on Washington, protested the Vietnam War, and hung out in the Haight-Ashbury was now making inroads in Hollywood. Under the old moguls, the town had become creatively dormant, but the young revolutionaries, influenced by European and American masters like Federico Fellini and John Ford, were waking it up and putting an edginess in filmmaking.
It was a movement I not only wanted to become a part of, but one that I wanted to help lead.
As a young agent, I seized on the notion that the only way I would ever have any leverage was to sign up the young filmmakers I believed would revolutionize the business. The first person to set me on this road was a young actor repr
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Book Description Atria, 2002. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. book. Bookseller Inventory # M0743400542
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