Erin Strickle arrived at my apartment early. It was 10:35 a.m. She wasn’t supposed to be there till eleven. I was sitting on the couch in my boxers when she walked in. After I said hello, I told her to wait in the living room while I got dressed.
I went to my room and put on my only suit. My parents had bought it for me as a high-school graduation gift. The black suit’s legs and arms were too long and it fit me like one of those cheap suits a used car salesman wears.
For the past six months, I had been the sole intern at a small production company led by a billionaire and his boyfriend. Ever since I had been brought on, they had been telling me how once their next film went into production, I would be working on set and would receive an executive producer credit. They had promised that I would soon be made the company’s sole employee, though as we spent the majority of our days at The Palms or The Beverly Hills Hotel, discussing which actors were secretly gay in Hollywood, there didn’t seem like there was much work to do. After a recent night out on the town with them where I was repeatedly asked and declined to spend the night at their mansion while indulging in meth and cocaine, I began to feel that they were leading me on, dangling the potential of a job in front of me, just out of my reach, with their only true intention to play with my ass. It was time to start looking for other opportunities.
I had been spending a lot of time thinking and weighing my options. I had talked to my roommate, Tommy the actor, about maybe trying my hand at acting too, but after a friend of ours had tried and failed after Tommy had set him up with his manager, Tommy said there could only be one actor in the crew.
I tried thinking of other cool jobs in the entertainment industry. Tommy suggested I try being a talent agent, that way I could represent him when he was rich and famous. In my favorite TV show, Entourage, the lead character had an agent who wore expensive suits, always drove the newest Mercedes, and whom every hot, unemployed actress in town was continually begging to sign them. These were all things that would be nice to have. A friend of mine, Erin Strickle, had a father who was an agent at CAA, the top entertainment agency in the world, so I had called Erin and asked if she could set up a time when I could meet him. I wanted to ask him what steps I’d need to take to become an agent. I figured if I was able impress him, he’d offer me a job. For a twenty-year-old guy, I already had a lot of knowledge of the industry. A few hours after I had called Erin, she called me back to say that her father had agreed to meet with me.
I was nervous; I’d be sitting down with a very powerful man, someone who had the ability to change people’s lives with a snap of his fingers. I figured it’d be best to calm my nerves before meeting him, and after I tied my tie, I put a joint behind my ear and followed Erin out the door.
“Jim, you have to act professional,” Erin explained, as I drove us down Olympic Boulevard. “This is serious. My dad doesn’t want to waste his time with some stoner.” I blew the smoke over my shoulder and into the backseat. I was sweating in my suit and had turned on the air conditioning and closed the windows to stay cool.
“I got this,” I said. “Don’t worry. I just read So You Want To Be a Talent Agent.”
Erin shook her head.
While we were stopped at a red light, my cars engine, a 1998 Mercury Sable, began to rev on its own. My foot was off the accelerator.
“Jim, why are you revving the engine?”
“I’m not. There’s something wrong with the Sable. It’s never done this before.” I crossed my fingers and hoped the Sable wouldn’t break down. I couldn’t afford a mechanic.
I turned off Olympic Boulevard and into Century City, a small city of skyscrapers made up of high-rise office buildings, luxury hotels, and an upscale shopping center. I pulled in front of 2000 Avenue of the Stars and parked behind a silver Maserati. A glistening, fourteen floor, modern building made of glass towered above me. A young man with a crew cut and a suit the same color as mine — though his was well-tailored — opened my door for me. As he did so, a cloud of marijuana smoke billowed out of my car; the valet coughed and fanned the smoke away with his hand. When he was done coughing, he handed me a white ticket with a number on it.
“Don’t worry about that banging sound and the engine revving,” I told him. “The Sable is fine.”
I followed Erin through the front glass doors and down the white marble-laden hallway to CAA’s front desk. Behind a tall, laminated-wood desk, and underneath a large metal cross beam, were three good-looking receptionists, all on the phone. My rubber-soled dress shoes squeaked as I shuffled my feet impatiently on the marble floor. To my left were four leather armchairs arranged with a purple orchid on a table in between them. I asked Erin whether we should sit down and wait, but she shook her head. Then one of the receptionists, a young bald man with designer glasses, hung up the phone and asked how he could help. Erin asked him to call Mr. Strickle’s office and tell him his daughter and her friend were here. The receptionist picked up the phone, mumbled a few words into the receiver, and then hung up. The receptionist told us that Mr. Strickle was in a meeting, but we could wait in his office, and he would be with us shortly.
Erin and I rode up the elevator to the fourteenth floor. We walked down a surprisingly bland hallway of desks and cubicles in front of private offices, and past a break room with a microwave and an instant cappuccino machine. We were in the bowels of the Hollywood machine. Behind each door, there was probably an agent on the phone with a movie star, or at least someone famous.
Mr. Strickle’s assistant, a young woman in a navy-blue business suit with dark hair done up in a bun, was sitting at a desk near his office door. She had a headset on and was talking to someone on the other line. She smiled at Erin and motioned for us to go in.
Mr. Strickle’s office was in the corner of the building and overlooked a vast, green-grass plaza below. There were a number of gold and platinum records stacked against one of the walls. The room was furnished with a white leather couch and armchair, a wooden coffee table in the middle of the room, and a mounted flat screen TV on the wall. Behind the desk was a photo of Mr. Strickle and a famous British soccer player. A note written on the photo said, ‘Cheers, to the best agent in the world!’
Mr. Strickle’s assistant walked in.
“Hey, Erin,” the assistant said. “How are you? Sorry I was on the phone when you walked in, it’s been a busy day. Can I get either of you something to drink?”
“Can I have a glass of milk?” I asked.
“OK…” the assistant seemed slightly puzzled by my request. “Anything for you Erin?”
“No, thank you.”
“Mr. Strickle will be in shortly,” his assistant said. “He’s almost through with his meeting. I’ll be right back with your milk, sir.”
A moment later, Mr. Strickle walked in. He was in his early fifties and wore a light blue button-up shirt, a black blazer, faded designer jeans, and brown leather loafers.
“Hey, Erin,” he said, giving her a hug. “Sorry to keep you waiting. Colin wants ten million, but the film’s budget’s only thirty. There are only five guys in Hollywood who can make demands like that, and he’s not one of them.”
“I’m sorry, daddy.”
“I’m sorry too, Mr. Strickle,” I added.
Mr. Strickle looked towards me, then looked back at Erin. “Who is this guy again?”
“Daddy, this is Jim. He’s thinking about becoming a talent agent.”
“Jim, I have five minutes,” Mr. Strickle said, showing me the number of minutes on his hand. Then he took a seat in his white leather armchair next to the couch, checked his cell phone, put it down on the coffee table in front of him, and then asked, “So why do you want to be an agent?”
“I love the entertainment industry,” I began, “and I’m passionate about helping people accomplish their dreams. I’ve met so many people in Hollywood who are immensely talented, yet don’t have the right representation to further their career. I watch all the new movies and TV shows, and read The Hollywood Reporter and Variety regularly. Recently, I’ve been working for some big time movie producers.”
“What are their names?” Mr. Strickle asked. “I might know them.”
“Nicholas Ashley and Stewart. I don’t know Stewart’s last names. Their company is called Best in Show Productions.”
“You don’t know the last name of your boss?”
“No,” I shook my head. “But I know they’re both gay, if that helps.”
“No, it doesn’t,” Mr. Strickle said. “I’ve never heard of any of those people or their company.”
At that moment, the assistant came in and handed me the glass of milk I had asked for. Mr. Strickle looked at the glass, then back at me.
“Jim, where did you get your degree?”
“I went to music school in Hollywood for a year, but I dropped out so I could work in the film and television industry.”
“It’s going to be almost impossible for you to be an agent without a degree.”
“But what about Steve Jobs?” I said.
“What about him?” Mr. Strickle asked.
“He dropped out of school and never got a degree,” I said.
“Jim, that’s completely irrelevant to our conversation. Steve Jobs was never an agent. And by the way, it doesn’t matter that you read the Hollywood Reporter and Variety; anyone can read those.”
“Well, isn’t it good to know how much Leo’s getting paid for his next film?”
“No, not unless you’re in my position, and that might never happen,” Mr. Strickle checked his phone. “I have another meeting I have to get to. Jim, email me your resume and I’ll pass it on to HR. There’s not much more I can do for you.”
“I actually have my resume with me,” I said, taking out my folded resume from my left jacket pocket.
“I said email,” he said.
Mr. Strickle’s secretary came in, “Excuse me, Mr. Strickle. Colin’s on line one. He doesn’t sound happy.”
“God dammit,” Mr. Strickle said, getting up and going to his desk. “Sorry, Erin. I have to take this. Let’s plan on having lunch tomorrow with your sister. I’ll have my assistant book us a reservation at The Ivy. Good luck, Jim.” Mr. Strickle picked up the office phone and Erin and I left.
That evening, I was in Ralph’s supermarket buying quesadilla supplies when my phone phone rang. “Hello, Jim? This is Denise from CAA’s HR department. I’m calling because Mr. Strickle sent me your resume. I’m impressed, this is the first time he’s ever referred someone. He usually doesn’t help people out like this. There’s some great stuff on your resume, but after looking it over, I see that you don’t have a degree. Unfortunately, we have a strict policy of only hiring people with college degrees. All you need to do to work with us is to get a BA. It doesn’t matter what kind. Whenever you’ve done that, I’ll have a job waiting for you in the mailroom.”
I said thank you and hung up. I wasn’t about to go to college for half a decade just to work in a mailroom. Erin had done me a big favor, and Mr. Strickle was a good man to know, but I would never be an agent.