by Jane Gering
The best meeting I ever had in Hollywood, I actually had in Iowa. Or maybe it was Nebraska. I don’t know exactly, but it definitely didn’t involve a conference room overlooking the Hudson River or a bungalow on the Warner’s lot.
As an Ivy League graduate, forsaking the more familiar and high-paying jobs at places like Goldman Sachs and McKinsey for a barely-paying assistant position had been an enormous gamble. And for the first three years of my career, watching my peers roar through the city from one four star restaurant to the next on their luxurious expense accounts, drove me nuts. Glued to my Plantronics headset from dawn to dusk, a “good day” was one when I got to ditch my strawberry yogurt and devour a piece of leftover spicy tuna on my boss’s lunch plate.
But after surviving my baptism by fire (and my diet by Danon), I’d landed a terrific position at a very swanky production company in the Village that was looking to crossover from commercials to more broad-based entertainment. Not only were the David Rockwell offices incredible (imagine Ally McBeal with a better view), but best of all, the company was (and is) run by two of the most authentic men in the business, Jon Kamen and Frank Scherma. Both grew up outside of the city in an “outer borough” and could pass for a Corleone in a pinch. Their management philosophy was more “put up or shut up” than John Harvard and after a series of meetings one summer (I was scouting for promising directors and unbeknownst to me, they were scouting for someone young and hungry to run their fledgling entertainment department), I left my assistant’s earpiece behind and joined their company in the executive ranks.
Shortly after I arrived, Jon and Frank scheduled a series of “meet and greets” for us together around Hollywood. Due to a production conflict on their end, I left for the meetings the day before they did. As I was new to the company and still easily intimidated, I hadn’t said a word to the travel department when they booked my ticket. And so, when I arrived at the American Airlines Terminal at JFK and discovered I was booked in Business Class, I was utterly shocked. Even my well-heeled friends on Wall Street were still flying steerage. I took this “upgrade” as a sort of validation of my early professional chutzpah and made a beeline (not without a quick stop by Hudson News to grab People Magazine) to my navy blue leather lounge chair in Row 3. I devoured my warm nuts, ordered a Chardonnay Spritzer, watched There’s Something About Mary twice and was even able to squeeze in a thirty-minute nap before landing. All in all, I thought, a perfect flight.
The following morning, I met Jon and Frank for breakfast before our day of meetings. Over lightly toasted bialys at Nate & Al’s, they inquired about my trip west. How had it been? Good, but the Mondavi was a little warm. Did I read anything? Yes, can you believe John Kennedy got engaged! Did I meet anyone interesting? Wait, what?
I was no Johnny Cochran, but it was quickly becoming apparent to me that in this investigation they were hunting for different answers than I had to give. I quickly changed the subject to our upcoming meetings and hoped no one had noticed the sweat on my brow.
No such luck. Later that afternoon as the fellas and I drove down the Sepulveda Pass, Jon asked me, “Do you know why we pay for people at our company to fly Business Class, Jane?” (I did not). “We do it because it’s the world’s greatest elevator pitch. Chances are fairly good that in that cabin there’s at least one person sitting within earshot of you that you should meet. Figure out who it is and find a way to start talking to them.” I nodded. “And…” added Frank, “if you’re going to drink, make it a Scotch. No one wants to do a deal with someone with ice cubes floating in their wine.”
Six days later, I arrived at LAX fully expecting my ticket to have been downgraded to coach — banished indefinitely to the minor leagues. But it was not the case. Jon and Frank had given me one more chance to right the course. And so, with The Wall Street Journal in-hand, I settled into my seat ready for business. As I stuffed my carry-on under the seat in front of me, a Will Smith look-alike took the seat beside me. Wearing neon Nikes, perfectly washed denims and a pressed button-down with the sleeves rolled just so, he radiated cool. As soon as we were airborne, he pulled out enormous, cushioned earphones and began sampling different songs on his Discman (this was 1998, don’t forget!). When the steward tapped him on the shoulder to take his breakfast order, I seized the moment. “Did you order Special K? I had you pegged as an omelet guy,” I offered with a smile. And just like that, somewhere over the Midwest and 30,000 feet about the ground, the best meeting of my life began.
My seatmate was the Vice President of urban music for Universal and as luck would have it, we were developing an off-Broadway hip-hop musical set in the world of street basketball. By the time we landed in New York, we’d agreed to meet the following week at my office. Within weeks, we were seatmates again at a table reading of the musical (produced by Jon and Frank), and featuring a number of young artists from Universal.
“How’d you two meet anyway?” Frank asked as we all headed for a celebratory drink. I explained that we had flown home from Los Angeles together in Business Class earlier in the month. As we made our way through the crowded bar area to a booth, Frank offered to brave the crowd and took drink orders for the group.
“One Stoli, one Red Stripe…” and then smiling at me he added, “a Scotch for Gering.”Tags: Film and TV executive, Flying Business Class, Frank Scherma, Hollywood, Jane Gering, Jon Kamen, Networking, Theatre, Universal Music