Inside CAA’s training program – my first Hollywood job
by Tony Krantz
The early 80s at CAA (Creative Artists Agency) were like no other moment in that agency’s meteoric rise — literally every week a small xeroxed memo would circulate through in-boxes saying, “Dustin Hoffman is now a client”, “Robert Redford is now a client” or “Steven Spielberg is now a client”. The memos went on and on and on, and we were signing these clients in most cases at the height of their careers. CAA was a mythical rocket ship, and for a young trainee in the mailroom, I felt I’d found myself at the unstoppable center of the entertainment business.
I arrived in the mailroom just two weeks after graduating from Berkeley, where I’d been the concert director for the student body. Having produced the U.C. Berkeley Jazz Festival and numerous punk rock concerts for bands like the Buzzcocks, Talking Heads and the B-52’s, I felt that the mailroom was ‘obviously’ beneath me. In fact, in my meeting with Ray Kurtzman, who ran the trainee program at the time (after having met with Bill Haber and Mike Rosenfeld, Sr. for a successful first interview), I told him that I should be hired onto a desk right away, foregoing the grunt work of the actual mailroom and its script copying, messenger runs and the like, since my stellar college resume so clearly had leapfrogged me over it. It took Ray just one sentence to disabuse me of my fantasy dreams of becoming the agency’s David Geffen and Barry Diller at the ripe age of 22 and 2 weeks. I was going to start where everyone else did — in the mailroom — take it or leave it. I drove down from Cal and started July 1st determined to build my career.
On my first day at CAA, I was taken on a tour of the “Local Run” by Judy Hofflund (then head of the mailroom) in her little maroon Fiat convertible. The mailroom’s other run, “The Valley Run”, was considered the better of the two messenger runs (even thought the distances were greater, the stops were less frequent, the parking easier and the number of destinations far fewer). After that morning, I was on my own behind the wheel with a pile a packages and pick-up slips that filled the back seat.
Within days, I’d outfitted by Capri II from high school and college with the necessary tools to excel on the messenger runs: tennis shoes and a mini styrofoam cooler for lunch. This way I could literally run (if not sprint) through every hallway to every destination at every studio and network, stopping for only minutes to swallow some food before finishing the run around 2 in the afternoon (Mulholland Dr. was a favorite pull-over spot to eat), only to pick up the second, often much bigger batch of packages and assignments for the afternoon’s messenger run. Before we went out, we’d put our packages in order, finding the fastest geographic through-line around town to get the deliveries and pick-ups done in time.
Sometimes, Mike Ovitz would have an all company meeting, and trainees like myself were invited. On one of those days, I got the “Afternoon Valley Run From Hell” — 40-50 destinations that would almost certainly take me past the 6:00 meeting time. But determined to be back to hear Mike speak — he was a mythical man to us in the mailroom and any opportunity to get a sense of the company’s direction, future and the power of the vision of the agency was a must do.
So, with tennis shoes on and a hypervigilance, I took off on the mailroom run of a lifetime. There was no yellow light I didn’t hit perfectly, no hallway I didn’t sprint down with precision, no moment that had an unneeded step, a wasted breath, confusion or misdirection. I made it back with two minutes to spare and got to hear Mike addresses the group.
In my own way, on that run, I was doing what CAA was all about then — excellence.
I was in the mailroom for just 10 months and then got promoted to Jack Rapke’s assistant, replacing Mark Rossen who’d just been promoted to agent in the TV Literary Department. My 6 months on Jack’s desk were notable because I didn’t file a single piece of paper — I wasn’t told I had to, or how to, and it frankly just escaped me (it really did). Had I been there much longer, the shelf of still-to-be- filed papers might have caved-in from its weight. In those days, there were no computers on the desks.
While on Jack’s desk, under the supervision of Fred Specktor, I wrote a 100+ page paper about CAA and the music business (based on ideas around my work as the concert promoter at Berkeley). It was about how the agency could get into music (we weren’t in it at the time) without becoming a straight booking agency. Ideas included Prince starring in a Broadway musical, Rickie Lee Jones writing a Broadway musical (one day on a messenger run I saw her playing solo piano in the Chateau lobby — I had to stop and listen for a few minutes, it was a magic moment to this day), Quincy Jones and Bill Graham producing films (the late, great Bill Graham became my very first client as an agent, and I put The Doors movie together for him over a 10 year period), Earth, Wind and Fire being the basis of a musical, Brian Eno scoring a film, etc. Many great ideas — still to this day.
I turned the paper in and was made an agent days later — in the TV Literary Department. I think the paper certainly showed I had passion and creative ideas, but the needs were sky-high for warm bodies everywhere at the agency and I ended up in TV which at the time was considered the “poor step-child” of the agency business. But no longer, certainly.
I didn’t know it at the time, but it was the best thing that could have happened to me as my career would later prove out.
Still, all around me in the training program were the brilliant and charismatic leaders of our business today: Richard Lovett, Ari Emanuel (Ari and I slept in my car during a vacation we took together with no hotel room), David O’Connor, etc. The murderers row of extraordinary agents at CAA at the time were the likes of Ron Meyer, Bill Haber, Rick Nicita, Steve Roth, Marty Baum, Paula Wagner, Mike Marcus, Mike Menchel, Rosalie Swedlin and Tony Ludwig, to name just a very few. It was the who’s who of that moment.
Among the many lessons I learned at the time involved having eyes in the back of my head — indeed, how I walked down the halls, with intensity and calm, with focus and care, were all noticed and evaluated for my future promotions. I learned the pace of the business too — running through halls on messenger runs was not only needed, but required, and it was the demanding and powerful bass beat of the agency. But mostly it was about the expectation for excellence as a way of life and about daring to dream as big as it gets.
When I packaged ER, Twin Peaks and The West Wing at later points in my agency career, it was because I wanted to effect the world, in my own way, from my role as TV packaging agent. CAA taught me that it was not only possible, but that if you put your tennis shoes on and make every yellow light (without running the red), you could have that perfect run and get back just in time to be fueled up again for another run at it the next day.Tags: Ari Emanuel, Bill Haber, Breaking into Hollywood, Creative Artists Agency (CAA), ER (television show), Fred Specktor, Hollywood, Jack Rapke, Judy Hofflund, Mike Marcus, Paula Wagner, Richard Lovett, Rick Nicita, Ron Meyer, Rosalie Swedlin, Television, Tony Krantz