Relationships, luck and timing in Hollywood
by David Styne
The first real job I got in the “business” was being accepted into the training program at Creative Artists Agency (CAA). I started on March 2, 1990. I was on the bottom of the totem pole of 18 trainees at the time. CAA had just moved into the new I.M. Pei designed building at the crux of the Beverly Hills triangle, and everything about it screamed “This is the place to be…”
Now mind you, I had to have my family on both sides pull strings to get me in, and it didn’t happen right away. But a family friend named Michele Anthony, who at the time was Tommy Mottola’s number one executive at Columbia Records made a call that finally got me that spot as #18 in the training program. I joined a mailroom filled with a mix of a who was who’s son or daughter or grandkid and Harvard and Stanford Law school graduates.
I just put my head down and worked really hard… there were several nights where I closed the office and did not get home until 2am, and then had to get up at 5am to shop at the market in the morning so I could properly stock the kitchens throughout 9830 Wilshire, and then set up for meetings. Paula Wagner, who at the time was repping Tom Cruise, and was so beautiful she looked like a client herself, noticed that I sliced the strawberries for the big Wednesday staff meeting. It was insane. I’m getting complimented on slicing berries… glad that college education was helping me.
I remember one time being out on an afternoon run delivering packages on about two hours sleep from the night before, and I was slightly delirious. I pulled over somewhere near Beverly Glen and Sunset and asked myself aloud if I really wanted to do this. I hung in there, and it paid off.
My big break came, when unbeknownst to me, Michael Ovitz was looking for someone to replace his trainee Ted Miller. Ovitz had 5 assistants at the time, one of which was an agent trainee. Ted and I had gone out with the same girl (I was first) in high school, and so we had a rapport. At the same time, I had been disciplined for playing an Andrew Dice Clay tape in the mailroom one night… a fellow trainee busted me. Ray Kurtzman, who was Ovitz’s consigliere and head of the training program, was a nice and gentle man on the inside, but on the outside he looked like he ate railroad tracks for breakfast and spit out the nails. And he ripped me a new one for my lack of judgment.
Days after, I saw a note on the bulletin board in the mailroom: “David Styne, see Martin Baum immediately.” I thought “Oh fuck… I’m getting fired.” Marty Baum was my grandfather Jule’s agent in the late 50’s at Baum Newborne, a boutique agency in New York. He was also my father Norty’s boss at GAC in the 60’s, GAC was one of the three agencies which made up ICM eventually. Marty helped grease the wheels for me to get into the training program at CAA. He was the patriarch at the agency, and was a little scary. I thought I was done. I walked into Marty’s office, and he said in his barely audible, growl “sit down”. Again, “oh fuck… this is really bad”. Then he said, ” I got a call from Michael Ovitz asking me to tell him about David Styne”… I thought “holy shit… this is nuclear”.
Marty proceeded to tell me that Michael Ovitz was promoting me to be on his desk and that this was “a fucking miracle… you’ve only been here two months!” It still stands out as one of the best days in my life…
I saw Marty Baum days before he passed in 2009, and I gave him a kiss on his pate.
Working for Ovitz was amazing. This was 1990-91. He was at the apex of his power at the time. It was like working for the President or something. During my tenure on his desk, he sold Universal to Matsushita, and he beeped me late on a Saturday night, telling me to rent two stretch limos to show the Japanese execs what they were purchasing. I staked out spots along Mulholland Drive to give them the best views, and then using skills and knowledge learned in the mailroom, I had the limos enter through the back of the studio lot, going unnoticed. It was trial by fire, and I learned a lot from Michael. His best piece of advice to me was “I’m all about the details.” Funny enough, we’re now neighbors on Benedict Canyon.
There are so many other stories and anecdotes, but they will have to wait for another time. I have to get back to work.
Bye for now.Tags: #TBT, Breaking into Hollywood, CAA Mailroom, Creative Artists Agency (CAA), David Styne, Entertainment industry, Hollywood, Jule Styne, Martin "Marty" Baum, Michael Ovitz, Norty Styne, Paula Wagner, Ray Kurtzman, Ted Miller