Industry Pro: Talent Agent & Biz Affairs Exec Mike Rubi
Today’s profile subject has worked at one company his whole career thus far. He got hired right out of school for the prestigious talent agency mailroom trainee program at United Talent and spent two weeks in it before landing on a desk. In his duel role as an agent and a business affairs executive, he’s now responsible for making the deals that get work for some of the top below-the-line talent in the business and then finalizing the contracts for the deals. Find out more about this busy entertainment industry pro below.
Current position: I’m an Agent and Business Affairs Executive in the Production Department at United Talent Agency (UTA). We handle below-the-line talent, including producers, cinematographers, production designers, costume designers, second unit directors, stunt coordinators, first AD’s and a few other categories.
Hometown: South Lyon, Michigan
College and degree: I have a bachelor’s degree in history and communications from the University of Michigan. After college I attended Syracuse University and received a JD from SU’s college of law and a master’s degree in television, radio and film from their S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications.
Did you have an internship while you were in school? During law school I interned at the FCC in Washington, D.C. and worked on issues surrounding the merger of telecom conglomerates. Also in grad school, I worked at an internet start-up affiliated with Syracuse that live-streamed local sporting events online. This was in the early, early days of live internet streaming of sporting events – or really the broadcast of anything on the Internet. I handled some of the business and legal issues and worked simultaneously on their production team.
What made you want to be in entertainment? Well, it was a logical progression. My area of focus was media law. That covered government regulation. I grew tired of that and my attention turned naturally to the business aspect of deal-making in entertainment. When you go to Syracuse, you don’t want to stay in Syracuse because it’s really cold – more so than Michigan. So you either go to New York, which is not for me, or Los Angeles. So I picked the latter.
And what made you want to be an agent? I was told by professors at Syracuse that working at an agency was a good way to start out in the business. So I sent my resume to all the different agencies and got callbacks at a few of them and was hired at UTA. I started in the mailroom trainee program here at UTA. My professor was right.
I know the talent agency mailroom trainee program is very competitive, so talk a little bit about what the process was like to get in. I think it’s changed over the years. We’re talking 11 years ago now. It’s a little bit more formal now than it once was. First, I had a meeting with someone from the personnel department. That’s the initial vetting. They passed me on to a committee, and I went through phone and in-person interviews with a few different agents. And then the final step for me was to meet with a senior partner at the agency. After that meeting, I was offered a position. I think the newest wrinkle, or the newer wrinkle, is that now they have interns. They have a formal internship program and those folks have a leg up on getting positions at the agency.
Your first position out of school was the mailroom trainee program? It was. I was in the mailroom for two weeks and then an assistant position opened up in my current department working for the head of our department. I took the opportunity both because it felt like a good fit and because I wanted to get out of the mailroom. And it turned out I was right about it being a good fit. This is where I am 11 years later.
You were in the mailroom trainee program for two weeks before you got on a desk? Correct.
So you were an assistant when you started out in your department? If so, for how long? I was an assistant for two years. Then I worked in a support capacity to an attorney here, and then I transitioned to take his job when he left. Over the last eight years, I have been working as an agent as well.
What do you consider your big break? Getting the job at UTA. There’s no question. It’s hard to come by. There are a lot of qualified applicants with impressive credentials. Getting accepted into the program was the big break for sure.
What’s the best career advice you’ve ever gotten? I think it was about basic networking; being dogged and determined in following up with people, while being polite and courteous. It sort of sounds rudimentary, but it’s true. No one is going to give you anything. You have to go after what it is that you want. The people who are good at it get great results.
I’m looking for a eureka moment, when you realized that you did or did not want to do something or that you should do something differently. For me, it was one of the first instances where I was largely responsible for negotiating a deal for a client. It’s very entrepreneurial what agents do, finding and securing a job for someone, and you can imagine it’s well-received by that person. Being a part of that, being a positive force for someone else; I remember vividly the first time I really had an active role in that. To this day, that continues to be an aspect of the job that I most enjoy.
Describe a typical workday in your current position. It’s pretty consistent. I come in and call producers and directors and studio execs who are putting together movies and television shows to find out if they are hiring anyone for projects. I also work on contracts and discuss deals with my studio counterparts. No two days are the same and I genuinely enjoy that aspect of the job.
So what was your worst job or worst day in the entertainment industry? It’s breaking the news if someone doesn’t get a job. That’s never easy. That comes with the territory because, as competitive as it is to get into the business at an agency, it’s competitive to secure work in all the different fields that comprise the entertainment industry. So unfortunately it happens more often than I’d like.
Okay. Best job or best day in the entertainment industry? My good days are when I can match a talented client up with a great movie – and then watch them do their work and see the final product on the big screen. Knowing that I’m an integral part of their career and their livelihood is very fulfilling. I enjoy every aspect of working closely with clients, being a cheerleader and being part of their success when they experience it.
Worst thing about your current job? It’s a lot of long hours, and with a family it’s always a challenge to balance. It’s something that I am always working at and, luckily, I have a very supportive wife who makes it possible.
I’m looking for a brush with greatness. It can be a celebrity encounter or just being exposed to someone being brilliant at what they do. That’s a tough one. I think just getting a chance to go to television and movie sets and see what our clients do. Their work is what people know. Movies and television shows that occupy the top level of the world’s consciousness. So going to a set and seeing a client in action is really a brush with greatness.
What’s the one thing you wish you would have known when you started? There are a lot of different paths to get where you are supposed to be or where you want to end up. So it’s better to get an earlier start in internships and working in the business even when you are in college, if you are able. I probably would have benefited if I’d had more experience going into working in Hollywood, but I was able to get the initial break to work at UTA. I don’t have any real regrets. I think things turned out well.
What is it that you think makes you good at what you do? I really care. I care about the people I work with. It’s more than just a business transaction; it’s more than just a job.
What advice would you give someone just starting out either in entertainment or on the same path as you? Ask a lot of questions and don’t be shy. You can’t learn enough. You may not know what you want to do starting out because you don’t have a frame of reference. So you need to diversify, get more experience, ask more questions and learn. Also, there are some kids who come in and expect things to be handed to them, and they are quickly made to see the error of their ways, so just be ready for that.
So these are what’s your next move or where would somebody in your position go from here? There aren’t a lot of places that have this kind of work. You can go someplace like New York, Toronto or maybe London and work in this capacity. Realistically, it’s a job that’s going to tie you to the few places, but LA isn’t that bad a place to live. My main career aspiration is simply to represent high-level clients and do a great job for them. In the process, expanding my knowledge base and contact network will allow me to continue to pursue the things I am passionate about and that will ultimately lead to long-term career satisfaction.
Know anyone who could use an entertainment industry insider? Encourage them to sign up to receive our Mogul Mindset eBlasts today!