Nikki Weiss-Goldstein — A Jack of All Trades

Nikki Weiss- Goldstein owner of Nikki Weiss & Co joins the Movidiam podcast to talk to us about her journey into the industry, creating an all-star roster, her appearance on the Oprah Winfrey Show and her work with Free the Bid.

Hello, and welcome to the Movidiam podcast. Today I’m speaking with Nikki Weiss from Nikki Weiss and Company. Nikki, from Los Angeles, welcome to the Movidiam Podcast.

Thank you so much for having me, George.

It’s an absolute pleasure. Nikki, you’ve had a remarkable career, and a remarkably long one. Tell us where it all began.

Oh, my goodness. Well, I went to school for Theater and Film. And I think I figured out really early on that I didn’t want to starve for my art, but I wanted to be involved creatively in the process in some way. After college, I landed a job as an assistant to two women that were considered directors’ representatives. They were the liaisons between their roster of talent and advertising agencies. I had no idea what I was doing, but I just knew I loved the process of film-making. So, I took this job, which was for pennies at the time, just to get into the industry. I really was a sponge, and tried to learn everything that I could about what it meant to be, at the time, a commercial film-maker.

Sure. How does the commercial representation landscape … How has that evolved since 1994 and the founding of Nikki Weiss?

Oh, my god. It’s changed dramatically in even the process of how we share our directors’ reels with agencies. I mean, there used to be a time where I would be lugging around a big backpack with 3/4 inch tapes and I’d be making screenings at agencies. You could never customize a reel back then. The reel was a general reel, and that was it. And you would over-night that to somebody, or have a meeting with them and then throw it in a deck. Now everything is digital. It’s such a faster-paced game now. Also, very unique because you can now make directors’ reels specifically for those projects, whereas we couldn’t do that before. So, it really has changed dramatically.

And you see the process of the physical hardware, the technology, the reels now digitized or reduced in size, reduced in cost. Presumably, this puts a new generation of creative directors or creatives into the potential landscape for your representation.

Correct, it does. I’m now representing companies that are doing everything soup to nuts through editorial posts and effects. Whereas before, reps like me would have a music company, and effects house, an editorial house. And, look, people are about the one stop shop now. They want the solution that’s going to be nimble and efficient and cost effective. They’re certainly companies on my roster that I applied myself in representing me that have those capabilities.

And where do you search for the talent? I’m presuming your reputation now is very established in Los Angeles. Is it other talent that recommends direct conceptual, or is it brands that come with a brief that you say, “Well, I need to find someone like that.” How do you accrue the base of your roster?

Well I am most fortunate that I am sought after, so a lot of directors will email me and call me, and ask me to please look at their reel. And I actually look at every single reel that crosses my desk. And I call or email them back with notes and comments. Whether they’re going to end up on my roster or not, I think that’s really important when you’re doing business. And I’m always looking for something interesting, thought provoking points of view. I’m always about the new director that no one has heard of. That I can make into a star. That really has the talent. Because it’s so easy to rest your morals on a production company that has a big name. And your directory X, and it’s much harder to really truly have that talent with a name that people might not know. And they’re really going on the work that’s on that reel. And that’s what, for me, brings me the most satisfaction.

And in terms of the types of personalities that the directors that are represented by you. In a world where access and transparency is increasingly occurring, do you find that sort of managing your roster of talent, you’re dealing with the commercial side of it? Do you have any creative input, or is that purely left to the director’s domain? Is it a purely commercial thing?

It’s interesting. I’m the kind of agent or rep that wants to look at every single treatment. And I discuss those treatments with my directors before they get handed in. And sometimes I’ll say, “Look, I think maybe we should touch on this. Or maybe you should talk a little more about that.” Is that my creative, I don’t think so. But it’s just that I know what the agency is looking for and what they talked about, what has been in test for so long. And so I’m able to help my director close that job. It’s a bit of creative input, but it’s always the director’s vision and the way in which they want to approach the project.

You’re taking the temperature on the wider picture and who are all the parties involved.

Exactly. What needs to be seen and heard and digested and talked about. These directors are getting creative, but they have no idea about the backstory. The agencies could be sitting with this in test for months or years or maybe it died and came back. I try to bridge the two so that they understand what we need to do to close the job.

And how big is the team? How many directors on the roster? Does it designate who you just can’t take on, or what’s the structure of the business?

It’s more about the production companies that I handle. I won’t have a million companies on my roster. I have companies that do very, very specific things. So for example, one client of mine is F-yeah. And that is run by Tim Roper. Tim was on the agency side for many years. He’s an award winning creative director. And his company is a little bit of both. It is a creative think tank, but also he has the humility to just direct exactly what it is you’re showing him from the agency side. But he’s a little bit of both. And then I have directors at production companies such as Wondros, who straddled the feature film side, the episodic television world. So, it’s not about the number of directors, it’s about the production companies that I can offer. And the right fit of that talent for that job.

What do you think about the current distribution landscape, so the Netflix of this world, the Amazon studios? How has that changed the way that you operate, or the way that the companies that you represent operate? Is there a big moment of change going on, as more of these programs are becoming episodic or series?

Well I think that it is very unique that my directors can now almost tell stories beyond 30 and 60 seconds. That the branded entertainment is really allowing them to cross over into long format. Whereas, maybe they aspire to do television and features they’ll definitely have a chance to do that now.

I’ve got a little note here from our podcast producers about the Oprah Winfrey show. I’d be interested to open a little bit up on that one.

Oh gosh, sure. I was on the Oprah show in 2006. It was about women that figured out that they were gay later on in life. I was married previously, and then in my mid-20’s figured out that that wasn’t right for me. As much as I loved him. And so that was a discussion that we had on Oprah, and it won a GLAD Award, and propelled me to be a consultant on Grey’s Anatomy’s case story line. And do some other things in my life that gave me a voice and a platform.

The personal life and the professional life sort of colliding there.

It did because then I was on a series on Showtime called The Real L Word which followed my wife and I as we planned our wedding and a little bit about or business. So it’s definitely crossed over.

Fantastic. And leading back to the sort of commercial and the web side of things, do you get people wanting just, “We only want this to go out on the web, this is not for television, it’s not for the cinema or theater. We just want a brand or agency that just goes, “this is just a big web release.”

All the time. All the time.

That’s the new thing.

And actually that’s incredible because now it doesn’t have to be a certain time, right? It doesn’t have to be 30 seconds. We don’t have to cut it down to 60. We’re going to just tell the story. And it’s honestly gonna resinate.

And how do you think the technology … Going back to the technology sort of collaboration and how people are involved in stories that are being built. It’s changed dramatically, hasn’t it? Since the advent of the Facebooks and the Googles and platforms like Movidiam that draw people together and have a set of tools that enable time sheets and core sheets and video revisions. It’s a much more collaborative process. The roles aren’t so clearly defined.

Right, and you’re involved in that process now from the beginning through the end. So, I think that just makes a more cohesive production for everybody.

And tell us what is the future hold? What projects are you working on, if you can talk about them?

I can. For me, I have some personal passion projects in the wings. I’m working with one of my clients The Whitelist Collective and my wife and I are writing a book. That we’re making into a documentary. And so we’ve been doing that for a few months. It’s about sexual fluidity, which is the idea that you can fall in love with a person despite your gender. For my wife, everybody looks at our relationship and just assumes that she’s gay. And she’s not, necessarily just gay. So it kind of, sort of explains that continuum and that not everything is so black and white. It’s really an interesting documentary.

Sounds fascinating.

Yeah, so we’re doing that. And I always have projects in the works. My clients are constantly bidding on things. There’s a big Google project right now that we’re working on. Always interesting.

Is it that you’ve worked geographically, has proximity to Los Angeles, or sort of across the globe?

I am an agent. So every production company has reps. And they’re based in Los Angeles and they handle the west coast territory, or they’re based in Chicago and they handle the mid-west, or New York and they handle east coast. I had split my time between Chicago and LA for over 16 years. Until I finally said, “I can’t do Chicago anymore because that weather is killing me.” So I am still a mid-west rep but based in Los Angeles. Which has been kind of nice for me because 90% of the work is shot here. And now I get to see my clients on the ad agency side in the mid-west more often than I ever did just being based there. It’s been great.

Nikki, I hear you’ve been the forefront of free the bid. Can you perhaps just tell us a little bit about that and what that stands for.

Sure, free the bid is an initiative guaranteeing women directors an equal opportunity to bid on commercial jobs in the advertising world. Usually when a job crosses my desk, agencies will then bid three directors. And ad agencies and clients are taking the pledge that one of those three directors will be a woman. And it has really broken down doors for many, many, many female directors over the past few months. The founder is Alma Har’el. She’s the director of a documentary called Love True. An incredible spirit, a force to be reckoned with. And I am humbled and appreciative to be one of the founding members.

It sounds very interesting and a very important cause.

Extremely important. Most of these female directors got pigeon holed into let’s say beauty, or fashion. And now we’re seeing car work and it’s been incredible for them.

Nikki, it’s been a full fifteen minutes here to sum the conversation. I know you’ve probably got a lot of projects to get back to. It’s been absolutely fascinating sort of just diving into you, a snapshot of your career and life and how you have built up a sort of remarkable repping business across two regions. One with bad weather, one with good weather. Thanks very much indeed for your time. We’ve been speaking with Nikki Weiss who is the founder of Nikki Weiss. Thanks so much for your time Nikki.

Thanks George.