Industry Pro: Talent Agent Mark Scroggs
Today’s Inside Scoop profile subject, talent agent Mark Scroggs, started in the William Morris mailroom and made his way up in the agency world. He admits he did not start out wanting to be an agent, but at some point he did not not want to be an agent. But that was 20-something years ago. In the ensuing time, he has gone on to represent everyone from Hollywood legends such as Johnny Cash to relative newcomers on-the-rise too numerous to mention. Read on to find out how he successfully swam with sharks and created an enduring career as one of Hollywood’s power brokers.
Hometown: Indianapolis, Indiana
Current Position: Talent Agent at David Shapira & Associates.
College & Degree: I have a BS in Journalism from Ball State University; I got a masters degree at USC School of Cinema-TV.
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Internships: As an undergraduate, I worked for a quarter in PR for the state highway department. It was every day, more like a job. Then I had a summer internship with a government organization in Muncy. That was only one or two days a week, making fliers.
What was your first entertainment job? While I was finishing my degree, I worked for a production company called Lantana Productions. And then things got slow and they laid me off. I went from there to temping at William Morris.
Did you get that through a temp agency? Yes, I did. Through The Friedman Agency.
Were you on an agent’s desk? Not then. I was running the mailroom and reading scripts for other companies. This was in 1987 and there was a writer’s strike which slowed everything down, just like the one a few years ago. At William Morris, none of us got let go, but there was no real movement for a while. Eventually, though, I started working for a talent agent, Risa Shapiro, when she relocated from New York.
So you didn’t go through the famed Mailroom Trainee Program? No, I wasn’t a formal trainee.
Did you think you wanted to be an agent? No, I didn’t really want to be an agent. I was looking for development work. One time, the job was mine, but then the person’s deal didn’t go through so it didn’t happen. A couple other times, I was very close. By then, I just stayed on at William Morris.
And then at what point did you decide you wanted to be an agent? I worked for Risa for a while and then Chris Black, an agent who had been at William Morris, asked me to assist him at APA (Agency for the Performing Arts). About six months in, I was promoted to agent. So then it was kind of like, I didn’t not want to be one, but I wasn’t begging to be one. That was almost 23 years ago.
How did the promotion happen? A lot of APA’s clients just weren’t getting activity (auditions, jobs, etc.). They would get it for a major film or TV pilot, but not for episodic shows. They weren’t really being covered. The agency needed someone to deal with the episodic TV. So I started covering that area, and a lot of the low‑budget films, too. I was supposed to get activity for the newer clients and the older clients. And get the comics activity, too, to help them cross over. Because being on the road is one thing, but these comics would get a pilot or some development deal and they wouldn’t know what to do on a set. So that’s how I got into comedy.
You basically filled a niche that needing filling. At first, yes. It’s hard when you’re promoted because some people always remember you from before. You know, “I remember when you were answering phones in the mailroom.” But a lot of people left for various reasons and I just outlasted them, got other areas, got seniority.
So what do you consider your big break? When I was promoted. Early on, there were a few cases where the new people I handled did very well and, all of a sudden, I became the go‑to person for a lot of the talent. They knew they could trust me. And then, a few years later, when I was at Kohner (Paul Kohner Agency), I had an incredible pilot season. So those were the big breaks.
What’s the best career advice you ever got? When I was at USC, I was a teaching assistant for a man named Arthur Knight who said agency work is the best introduction to the business you can have. You get an overview of everything.
I’m looking for a eureka moment, when you realized you did or did not want to do something or that you should do something differently, etc. As an agent, there’s a process of dealing with certain things. You don’t truly understand it until you’ve seen the results of what you do. I reached a point where there were enough end results to review that I was able to figure out how best to do my job. I saw what can happen and how it can happen. That was the playbook I always used after that.
Who are your clients now? Who do you like to represent? I like people who are self‑starters. I’ve always had some clients who were entrepreneurial, and now I think it’s a requirement. If you want to be successful, you can’t sit around and think, “Oh, my agent’s going to take care of this.” You have to sell yourself and we will help you.
Are your clients all already established? I will consider brand new people, but I have to think about whether I know how to sell them. I signed an actor recently who was a sketch and improv comedian. I knew exactly how I could work with that person. A lot of what determines whether I want to sign someone is when I wake up the next day after seeing them perform and I’m still thinking about them.
Describe a typical work day in your current position. Early in the morning, I check my Blackberry to see if there’s anything of note going on, especially on the east coast. When I get in the office, I go through anything online, read the trades, and that sort of thing, and review any new casting breakdowns. (Note: Casting breakdowns are lists of all the characters in a project. Example- “Handsome, late-30s, aging jock.”). I talk to some of my clients and then, if I’m running the day rather than the day running me, I’ll start dealing with the pilots and the films I’m covering. After lunch, it’s a bit quieter. I deal with clients who have shows going or pitches out, and keeping up on any deals and negotiations. But every day, there’s going to be a curve ball. Something’s going to come up you don’t expect.
What was your worst job or worst day in the entertainment industry? When a particular client who I’d represented for a long time left. It was one of those things where I knew it could happen and it wasn’t anything I could control. That was the worst day because it was someone I’d really worked hard for and was close to.
What was the the best job or best day in the entertainment industry? When everything just goes right for a client and you know they appreciate it. It happened recently at a screening for the premiere of a client’s show. Her first scene was up and she was just smiling at the screen. She turned and waved and I thought, all the hard work that she put in, all the hard work we put in over the years, it’s just all paid off. It’s not about someone winning an award, though that happens and it’s great. It’s about the day-to-day, when everything just works. It happens maybe once or twice a year and it’s the best.
What’s the best thing about being an agent? I think it is those moments. Another recent example is a client who had gone in (to meetings and auditions) probably 20-something times for a show. When she finally booked it, I was just so happy for her.
What’s the worst thing about being an agent? It’s the things you can’t control. You can’t control if someone doesn’t get a job because they look too much like somebody’s ex‑spouse. (Yes, that’s happened to me.) Or because they just had a bad day or got
nervous or because someone else was more right for the part.
I’m looking for a brush with greatness. (It can be a celebrity encounter or just being exposed to someone who is brilliant at what they do.) My favorite over the years of dealing with celebrities was always Johnny Cash. When I was at APA, he was doing county fairs and touring. He was just a name on the client list that someone had to take care of and I was working with him a lot. I remember he actually called my house early one morning when my parents were visiting. My father answered the phone and it was Johnny Cash asking for me. He was a legend.
So what’s the one thing you wish you’d known when you started? To just appreciate it. I think certain times, even with the bad things, you need to just appreciate them, and really pay attention and learn from them.
And along the same lines, what do you feel is the secret of your success and/or what advice would you give somebody starting out now? One of my secrets is not a secret. It’s just working really hard. I think another key is having a sense of humor.
What’s your next move or your next five moves? If I was doing something else, I think it would be more community oriented, like teaching or being involved in some sort of charity. I can’t see going into producing or management right now, which is a common path for agents. I love being an agent.
Click here to read more about Mark’s career path and views on agenting, as well as getting two other agents’ POVs.
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