Spotlight: The Agency Mailroom Trainee Program
I read your 4 Paths to Becoming a Film Producer and thought it was really helpful. Do you have any inside information about starting at the agencies? I’ve heard it is really competitive. Thanks!
Katie is referring to the all-important agency mailroom trainee program, the subject of the book, The Mailroom: Hollywood History From the Bottom Up by David Rensin, which YII recommended in an earlier post. The mailroom trainee program is a highly-competitive apprenticeship which starts at the very bottom, with trainees running errands, making copies, and generally doing whatever the agents need them to do as fast and as well as they can. The goal is to prove yourself and earn a promotion (just like in any job!).
The pay is low and the hours, long. It is not for the faint of heart, but if you excel in it, it can fast-track you to becoming an agent. But, of course, the first step is getting in the door and getting accepted to the program.
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To get the info Katie requested, YII got in touch with Michael Conway, the Chief Administrative Officer (aka Head Hiring Honcho) at United Talent Agency, one of the very top agencies in the entertainment industry. We asked him for his best advice on how to score one of those coveted entry-level spots. As an indication of how many people blow it on the basics, we noticed that a lot of the tips Michael gave were basic job-getting information. In other words, what should be common sense. But some of it is specific to the program and all of it is pure job-getting gold. Here is what Michael said:
1. Be on time. Seems like a no-brainer but I’m always surprised by candidates who show up late. I usually get the excuse that they had traffic problems or trouble finding our office. These candidates are usually dinged before the interview.
2. Bring a fresh updated copy of your resume with you.
3. Be prepared. Know something about our agency and our clients. Know something about agency training programs and know what you are getting into. If you just “think” you may want to be an agent or “think it would be good to learn about the business” you are not the candidate we are looking to hire.
4. Dress for the part. If you don’t know how to dress for the interview, you don’t need to be in the room with me. It’s a waste of my time.
5. Resumes – We are looking for good solid work experience – minimum of two years post college. Resumes need to be well formatted and easy to read. Dates need to match up. Overlapping dates are a big no-no. Proofread the resume and make sure there are not grammatical errors. Do not use floral fonts. List job duties and accomplishments but don’t embellish. I know bullshit when I see it. Make sure accomplishments indicate resourcefulness and adaptability in former jobs. I want to see growth and entrepreneurial initiative. If you have listed six jobs in the last two years, I will be reluctant to interview you. Changing jobs is not a bad thing, but job-hopping every few months shows a real lack of focus and/or willingness to stick to something very long. Changing jobs for a career advancement is good, but being promoted within a company is better on a resume.
6. Call everyone you know that knows someone at an agency. Ask them if they would call on your behalf or email your resume to the right person at the agency who heads up the agency training program. A referral is more likely to get attention than the hundreds of random resumes received each day at an agency’s HR Dept. This business is generally about relationships. Cultivate your industry relationships to get you in the door. Be persistent in the right way.
7. Once you get the interview, have a point of view. Know all the films in the theaters and actually be able to discuss them intelligently. Know what is on television and have a list of shows you watch – including guilty pleasures. There is nothing wrong with liking “The Sopranos,” “Six Feet Under,” and the usual list of critically acclaimed shows. But I’d rather someone come in and say, “Hell yeah I watch re-runs of ‘The Golden Girls’ and this is why I like it….” I find it refreshing when interviewees have confidence to discuss content and not give me what they think I want to hear. Having a broad aesthetic value system is key. Have a sense of what is going on in the industry. Have a book or two that you have read that inspired you. Be able to discuss the book and/or author with authentic passion. Know who some of the major players in the business are, and be able to discuss their accomplishments.
8. When you are in the interview, know exactly why you want to be an agent and be able to articulate the reasons. And don’t tell me it’s because you are a “real people person.” If you say that to me in an interview, it’s the kiss of death.
9. Have questions. Don’t come into an interview without some smart questions. Don’t be afraid to ask, “What kind of benefits do you provide employees?” I’m always impressed by someone who is willing to ask about benefits. It’s shows me they are covering all the bases of employment. It’s a very agent-like thing to do.
10. Be verbal and articulate. If your linguistic skills are akin to a stoned surfer dude, then don’t bother. Likewise, if every other word out of your mouth is “like, you know” then I’m not interested. If you can’t speak in intelligent, complete sentences, then don’t even think of getting into a room with me.
11. An MBA or JD (law degree) will help you get your resume noticed. JD’s are tricky if the candidate has not passed the bar. Graduate degrees are sometimes an asset that will help get a potential candidate into a room for an interview. However, it’s what you do in the interview that really matters. Being prepared is key. I’ve seen Harvard-trained lawyers who are a complete dud in an interview. And I’ve seen a guy who ran the front door at a Vegas casino completely nail an interview.
The mailroom trainee program has been the starting point for studio heads and prolific producers, not to mention star talent agents. If you have what it takes to make it in an agency, it can give you the contacts and know-how to be a top deal-maker in Hollywood.
Now that Michael has given you the most insider scoop possible, you should be able to get into the program no problem. Just follow his advice to the letter. Sounds easy, right?
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