The following is a transcript of my May 2012 interview with Scott Metzger. Mr. Metzger graduated from Gettysburg College in 1997 and currently works in New York City where he is a Senior Talent Agent at Paradigm agency. His clients are actors for film, T.V. and theatre. Just prior to this interview, he attended the Cannes Film Festival where one of his clients, Ezra Miller, was given an emerging actor award.
Chris Kauffman: Thanks for talking with me today, Scott. Can you begin by telling us a little bit about how you ended up as a talent agent?
Scott Metzger: Absolutely. I was a Political Science major at Gettysburg and I thought I’d end up in politics for sure but I ended up moving up to New York City after graduation. I had a family friend who worked out of the William Morris Agency in L.A. and for many years she was always in my ear about this business. I had always been into film and television growing up – I was the type of kid who would watch the same movies hundreds of times and could quote them all. I was never an actor, but I was always intrigued by acting—I played sports and never really took that track. For my arts elective at Gettysburg I got a couple of my buddies to take a theatre arts class. We had a lot of fun in that class. I didn’t think I was much of an actor. So again, our family friend was always talking to me about the agency business and I eventually moved up to New York and had a couple of interviews. I thought I’d get into a mailroom, which is the typical way to start, and kind of work my way up. Paradigm actually offered me a job as an assistant right out of the gate. The company was really growing in an accelerated fashion at the time and I had an opportunity to grow along with it.
CK: Do you find that your experience in Political Science has anything to do with your success as a talent agent?
SM: Without question. I think there’s a fine line—politics is more entertainment than it is politics these days, I mean when you look in all media and see how important message, image and presentation are, especially right now with the Presidential race heating up. I just feel like yes, it definitely did; just how you deal with people, and the manner in which you behave, and being thoughtful about all sides of a deal or situation is very political in nature. How you deal with your colleagues or your clients, you always have to be considerate of how you move forward and what it can mean. I feel like it has had a great influence on me.
CK: Does it have an influence about how you coach your clients to be thoughtful about their decisions?
SM: I think so. You know, Gettysburg provided a liberal arts education and I think I’ve benefitted so much from that. I studied Spanish there too and spent a semester abroad in Seville. Living abroad and seeing more of the world that’s out there—having those kinds of experiences I think impact your career no matter what you’re doing. I played soccer at Gettysburg as well, and I think certainly a lot of the qualities that you develop when you’re that age really impact your career and life in general. The professors I had in the Political Science program, the experience I had was invaluable. It’s everything really, I grew up in New Jersey and we’d see Broadway shows—this job just seemed like everything I liked wrapped up into one. This career path presented itself so clearly when the time was right. That’s what’s been exciting.
CK: Can you explain what a talent agent does?
SM: Essentially we’re connectors. We represent actors and we’re responsible for helping them find opportunities. It’s ultimately so much larger than that, but fundamentally we’re on the phone with casting directors, studio executives, producers and directors trying to put our clients in the best position to get great jobs. We’re always aggressive and hungry about making sure we have the best information, quicker than anyone else. From there it’s about navigating the business. Certain clients at certain levels will go in and audition for casting directors or producers, especially if they’re emerging talent. Certain actors may get straight offers for projects - it’s all about getting our clients into positions where they can be successful.
As far as day to day, we could be visiting film or T.V. sets, or going to Sundance or Cannes, or other film festivals in support of our clients. Otherwise we’re on the phone or in meetings most of the day. Even though I’m based in New York, I’m really on the phone three-quarters, if not more, of the day with Los Angeles. So my day is a little more like 10am-10pm than it is 7am-7pm. It’s a little bit of a later night for me typically, either attending events or having to be responsive with regards to phone calls and emails. It’s nice to have a little cushion to the morning, so I don’t have to wake up too early (laughs). I do have 2 little girls so these days that morning cushion has disappeared. But it’s really just a constant—you’re reading a lot of scripts, you’re having a lot of conversations, you’re making connections with the buying community, as we’re the selling community, and we’re just trying to match people together.
CK: And how do you find your actors that you represent?
SM: There’s a lot of different ways, you know there are agents at different levels, but our office in general, anywhere from going to different college showcases - February, March, April—schools with theatre programs come to NY to showcase their graduating classes. We’ll have agents attend those and see who the new, young, bright emerging stars are. Additionally we rely on manager and attorney relationships, through industry relationships clients can come your way. Sometimes there are actors who are looking for a change, or people who are at a certain point in their career, maybe they are looking for a new direction. In NY we get a lot of great clients out of the theatre community. There may be a great young actor who might have a significant role on Broadway or off-Broadway, we push to get into the fray to try to get them aboard. There’s a hundred different ways – a lot of people wonder, “how do you get an agent? Or how do you get a manager?” and it’s a difficult thing, there’s no formula for that. Sometimes maybe you come out of school and you’re the one everyone is talking about and you have your pick, and then sometimes you’re a great actor but you didn’t quite hit the target yet and you have to grind it out a little more. I think at some point you just have to stay hungry, proactive and persistent and it will come your way. I would say acting is probably one of the hardest professions in which to be successful just because there is so much competition. There’s a lot of work out there, but it goes to a small group of people. I think that’s the hard part. I think it’s easy to get complacent. The people that are successful, they wake up every morning and know they have to get after it. They’re ready to tackle whatever’s ahead, and do the same thing the next day. That’s what eventually gets you where you want to go. And I think that’s for anything. Even for an agent. When I wake up I think, what do I need to accomplish today and what do I need to do for the clients I represent? I want to have clients who make me think that way. Clients whose success demands you rise to the challenge every day.
CK: How about the Agency business? What advice would you give someone who wants to break in as an agent?
SM: I think you can always get a start. I was fortunate to have a family friend who was always reminding me about the possibilities of the business; that kind of got me started and made me curious. If you’re smart and have a hunger and an interest in it, we love those types of people in our mailroom or as assistants. I think once you’re at that point, you can really see whether it’s a career that is right for you. When I was working as an assistant I also tended bar in Manhattan. I think for me, bartending on weekends, and watching all my friends come in and say hey before they went out, I was like “what am I doing?” but it forced to me to realize that this was what I wanted and I really went after it. When you finally start to move forward, and give up the bartending job and know that you’re on the career path you want to be on, it’s the best feeling in the world. I think it’s not hard to break in to get that job in the mailroom, but you have to realize that it’s a little thin in the beginning, it’s your on the job training. In the mailroom you cover assistant’s desks when they are out, and you do actually deliver the mail, although we do almost everything electronically these days, even headshots, but you’re basically there to help out and be a sponge for information. That’s what I did, you step in the agent’s office doors once in a while to ask questions or talk, and you just dig in to learn.
CK: Are paper headshots even a thing anymore, or is everything electronic?
SM: Not really. There are times when buyers will want a hardcopy headshot, and it is essentially your business card in a way as an actor so you have to have them, but we do most everything electronically. I would definitely say to any young actors, don’t spend a fortune on them, especially when you’re young and starting out. Typically when we send materials out to the community, we send press packets or pictures/resumes/links to scenes via email. Rarely do we send hard headshots.
CK: What do you think about You Tube and the internet as entertainment delivery systems and how do you think that will impact the entertainment industry?
SM: It’s interesting. We went through a period when we thought that it was going to be the next big thing and we had a big department in New Media. I don’t know if the industry has completely figured out the best way to monetize online content, but certainly socially it has a big influence. It has also become a tool to show people something different. I feel traditional film and television still lead the charge in what we do day to day.
CK: Has it become a way to discover new talent?
SM: I think especially comedic talent. Doing sketches or something really original or funny can help showcase new talent. We definitely always have our eye on the internet for new opportunities with regards to undiscovered talent.
CK: how important do you think training might be for young actors?
SM: For sure, training is very important. There will always be young actors with natural gifts, but I feel like in most cases training is invaluable. Trained actors are always well equipped to handle what’s ahead. You don’t always get a great script or a great director, so you have to fall back on what you’ve learned and be confident in your own acting choices. I feel that if a young person feels strongly about pursuing acting, they can study theatre in a great undergrad program and pursue a career in acting as a professional after they graduate. Being 22 is not too late to start a career.
CK: What about graduate programs?
SM: Of course. I feel there is no one singular formula, you have to follow the path that’s best for you individually. There are some that can go right into it without training, and for others it can be the most important tool. So I think coming out of a training program, whether it’s graduate or undergraduate, you’re obviously going to be well prepared for what’s ahead. I’m certainly supportive of that route.
CK: how important is the personality of the actor in terms of marketing them?
SM: That’s really important too. We of course love to have strong personal relationships with our clients and naturally everyone prefers to be around people who they like to work with. As in many careers, we deal with a lot of different personalities. A background in political studies certainly can come in handy here sometimes (laughs).
CK: What’s next for you? What are your goals?
SM: I want to keep my clients reaching higher and inspire them to achieve great success in all their pursuits. Just like my clients, I strive for a long successful career, and I want to grow my business forward. I love New York, it’s very active and the entertainment business here is thriving. I’ll admit LA is the center of the industry and I have had great experiences out there, but New York is the center of the world. There’s no city like it. I would like to continue raising the profile of our company. The talent side is a big part of the NY business, but we have a music division, handling tours for bands like The Black Eyed Peas, Coldplay and Dave Matthews. We have a literary division that is responsible for all key components of musicals and plays and independent film agents who specifically handle directors and writers. Paradigm also has a commercial division, a life-style and broadcasting division that handles personalities, celebrity chefs, newscasters and unscripted television, and lastly a book division. We are able to service all areas of entertainment under one roof.
CK: If you have a client who has a novel and wants to turn it into a screenplay, does Paradigm help facilitate that?
SM: Yes, we have a book to film department where we take books and work to transition them into packages for film or T.V. projects. The process can mean attaching a producer or director,
CK: or actor?
SM: Yes, if an actor wants to engage on a book, we can try to secure the rights or identify who possesses them. We have a packaging department that explores financing structures for clients’ materials. These pursuits can many times be the most challenging and at the same time, the most rewarding. Putting packaging together for films, starting to put pieces together, getting financing in-line, starting to get actors attached. I think if we commit to it, we can make anything happen. The way I like to do business is to think of myself as if I were my own agent. If I was responsible for my career, would I make that extra call? Did you do everything you could, and can you confidently say that you feel like you put everything out there? Sometimes the roles will come, sometimes they won’t, but you always want to say at the end of the day that you saw this all the way through, you were as thorough as you needed to be, you made every single call. If there’s that one call you didn’t make and you’re home and thinking “if it were for me, would I make that call?” The answer is always going to be yes. You always want to feel that you’ve seen everything through and have been as diligent and thorough as you can. That’s how you make things happen and that’s how you feel that you’re doing your job well.
CK: It must be fascinating to see how careers develop behind the scenes and how decisions that affect our cultural development affect one another.
SM: Yes, we’re really here to help clients navigate, to help them understand everything and help artists move forward. That’s really exciting, you’re sitting in a theatre, or at a premiere, and you’re seeing it all come together. That’s when it really feels great. You were part, and a small part, of helping make something. When you were a kid and you watched something and just loved it for how it made you feel - it is amazing to know that there’s a process before all of that and it’s exciting to be a part of.
CK: You say a small part, but I would imagine that your clients feel a lot of support that is really meaningful as they move forward. I admire what you do a lot. It seems really great.
SM: It’s fun. It’s a great career. There can be some challenging moments, some late nights and some long weeks, but I always hoped that I’d have a job that I enjoyed going to everyday and I definitely do.
CK: Thank you very much for doing this interview.
Mr. Metzger is willing to be a resource for Gettysburg students interested in pursuing a career in the entertainment industry. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org