It was a pro forma meeting. A meet-our-new-writer-client kind of sit-down. My new rep had called for a gathering of the entire lit department in a symbolic gesture as to how his awesome three-letter-agency could, at the drop of an email, congeal the sum of itself around a singular word jockey like me. The room was hard to forget—a monochromatic, architecturally anointed space designed to either intimidate and/or impress. I was in my usual casual dress of polo shirt, jeans and sneakers and feeling a bit like a turd in a punchbowl as I shared common air and a gargantuan conference table with nearly twenty or so agents– men and women—appareled in impeccably tailored suits.
“Damn,” I said. “Somebody forgot to forward me the dress memo.”
The agents laughed, some politely, others maybe more genuine behind their pearly smiles. It was a comfortable moment when, despite the all their spiffy attire, the agency crew appeared at ease, each rep full of snuff, each clearly the master of his or her own domain.
We were just getting down to business—my new agent engaging in the formal introductions—when the double-doors to the room blew open. From behind them strode the agency’s CEO, otherwise known as the Most Powerful Man in Hollywood. Instantly, every skirt and chair back stiffened. The rustle of Italian fabrics coming to attention was startling even to me. The barometric pressure in the room had changed in the matter of a millisecond.
“Wait,” said the Most Powerful Man in Hollywood, who’d stopped just a few strides beyond the threshold. “Is this my meeting?”
“Next door,” said a shaken assistant, a few failed steps behind him.
“Whoops,” said the Most Powerful Man in Hollywood. “Did I interrupt anything of importance?”
“Just introducing our new writer client,” said my agent, standing and gesturing to the obvious, under-dressed me. “This is Doug Richardson.”
The Most Powerful Man in Hollywood gestured a single, just-one-second finger to his assistant before circling around to me, strong open hand ready to shake mine. I stood and greeted the super agent, less impressed by his winning visage than the obvious moment of panic he’d struck into all those spit-and-polished writer reps.
“Have you already signed?” asked the Most Powerful man in Hollywood. “Because if I were you I wouldn’t let any of these miscreants represent you.” He said this all with a poker face, only revealing that shit-eater’s grin after a split-second of imagining the perspiration he’d obviously produced under his agenting minions’ underthings.
The agency corps all guffawed nervously as the boss of bosses jokingly slapped my shoulder and begged my forgiveness for intruding. With that, the Most Powerful Man in Hollywood breezed his way out of the room with the doors almost magically whooshing shut behind him.
“Well,” heaved my agent with his best segue, “that was unexpected.”
“Tom Cruise is in the room next door,” kicked in another agent, taking the opportunity to refocus the room while beginning the pro forma name dropping that always takes place in such meetings. They were gathered to both inform and enamor me with all the blinding star power they could muster into my next big movie idea.
And so the agentry began introducing themselves one by one, welcoming me to the three-letter-family with encouragements to contact them anytime. After all, it was the whole of the agency that now represented me; not just the tow-headed point man seated to my left. Soon the jokes and one-liners began to flow; ease returned to the room along with the angle of the spring-loaded seatbacks on all those lux-leather conference room chairs.
After some twenty or so minutes, the meet-and-greet was just winding down when, once again, those double-doors flew open for the re-appearance of the Most Powerful Man in Hollywood. I caught the last split second of him bro-hugging the Mission Impossible star before he’d decided to step back into the little soiree involving yours truly. He quickly circled back to me, signaled to the freckled agent at my right that he wanted that seat, then quickly parked himself at my side.
“Thought I’d rejoin the party,” said the Most Powerful Man in Hollywood. “See how my lit team conducts themselves with new talent.”
“They’re doing just fine,” I assured. Not that the boss gave a lick about what I had to say. I could clearly see by the new contortions of body language that the boss’s show of force was entirely for their benefit. He leaned in, propped an elbow on the table and said, “So who’s next?”
“We were pretty much just finishing up,” said my new agent. “Introductions; what we planned to do for Doug–“
“For Doug. Yes,” said the Most Powerful Man in Hollywood. “Let’s ask him how he thinks you all did.”
“Believe they acquitted themselves rather well,” I shared.
“Really?” said the Most Powerful Man in Hollywood. “Because if I were you, I wouldn’t let a single one of them cover you.”
“No?” I lilted, trying to throw out some human sound during an incredibly uncomfortable silence. The Most Powerful Man in Hollywood had just slammed his lit staff—or baited them. He was waiting to see if anybody would paddle to his hook.
“Nope,” said the Most Powerful Man in Hollywood. “I think you should tie your wagon to me. Let me personally rep you because clearly I’m the only one who understands how this business operates.”
“So you’re going to steal me away?” I joked, hoping some levity might return to blow the stale air into oxygen.
“I dunno,” he said. “Depends on if anyone here is willing to fight me for you.”
And there it was again. That galvanizing, emotionless gaze across the room that seemed designed precisely to empty every agent’s bladder.
“I think we’re all here to fight for him,” volunteered my new agent, his voice nearly cracking at the end.
“That’s the answer I was looking for,” rapped the Most Powerful Man in Hollywood before advising, “and don’t accept anything less from any of them. Otherwise, it’s just you and me. I’ll take you on and show all of these jokers just how the job’s supposed to be done.”
The Most Powerful man in Hollywood rose to his feet, followed almost uniformly by his obedient Italian-clad minions. He shook my hand again, using the other to squeeze his assurance into my shoulder, and was back on his all-important way.
“Not often the boss shows up to greet the new talent,” joked my agent.
“What,” I said. “It’s not part of the whole dog and pony act?”
I could tell by the color that was returning to my new agent’s face that indeed they were all utterly surprised by the boss man’s appearance and relieved that the exercise was over.
Thus ended by my singular run-in with the Most Powerful Man in Hollywood. A striking and potent figure to be sure. But he wasn’t half as memorable as the effect his mere presence had on those in his employ. It was astonishing. And unnerving. And a helluva lesson in the application of leverage and muscle over an obviously fearful staff.
My daughter came home with a homework assignment. She was supposed to compose two paragraphs on leadership and the following question; as a leader is it wiser to be feared or loved? Of course, being fifteen, she chose the latter. Too damn bad that the Hollywood turbine doesn’t run on love, unleaded or otherwise. Fear is the most familiar fuel. And way too many live by that very principle. As long as they keep their foot on the gas, they usually succeed.
In the case of the Most Powerful Man in Hollywood, he strangely chose to shift to another part of the business. In that brief power vacuum, the long knives came unsheathed and, in a matter of a few years, he was cut to ribbons by the very people he’d so abused.
I know. Not every showbiz story ends so karmically clean. Just let me appreciate the few that do.