Hollywood came to Boston last Friday when Randi Siegel, a Hollywood agent, manager, and entertainment executive, spoke to students about what it’s like to work as a manager or agent in the entertainment business. In seminars presented by the College of Communication, Questrom School of Business, and BU in LA program, Siegel addressed approximately two dozen Questrom students in a morning session and 75 COM students that evening.
The title of the seminar—Call My Agent—was a condensed version of a class Siegel teaches as a lecturer in BU’s Study Abroad LA program, which was named number six on the Daily Beast’s Hottest College Courses in the Country. She illustrated her talk with larger-than-life examples from her own career managing talents like Jimmy Fallon and Adam Sandler.
Looking every bit the part of a Hollywood insider in her red spike heels and white blazer, Siegel told students that she worked for a decade in talent management before becoming executive vice president of talent & development at National Lampoon and, later, head of special projects and marketing initiatives for the nonprofit Comic Relief, and director of comedy relations & content at Myspace. She currently runs her own entertainment firm, Randi Siegel Entertainment.
Over the course of each four-hour seminar, Siegel used current case studies in the industry, as well as mock negotiations, to give students a sense of what it’s like to be a real Hollywood manager. She peppered her talk with juicy anecdotes from her own career. For obvious reasons, some former clients couldn’t be mentioned by name, like the actor she once had to bail out of jail and another who had to be picked up off a nightclub floor after a drug binge.
“In the film industry, you can start in the mailroom and end up the chairman of Paramount Pictures,” Siegel said. “It really is like the show Entourage.” She began her career in the entertainment industry as a receptionist for longtime Hollywood power manager Bernie Brillstein. She urged aspiring managers to use their powers of observation. “You have two ears, two eyes, and one mouth for a reason,” she said. “Look and listen twice as much as you speak. You will trip yourself up by talking about how bad a deal is, to the person who made the deal.”
While working with Brillstein, Siegel helped to manage comedians Bob Saget, Rob Schneider, Andy Dick, and Sandler, before starting her own management company five years later. She discovered Fallon, then a young 20-something performing stand-up. “Jimmy was in LA for five weeks, and had four deals,” recalled Siegel. “Two and a half years later, he got SNL. We were working out of my apartment, and we were the Little Engine That Could.”
She recounted how Fallon’s big break came approximately six weeks after joining SNL, when he performed on the show’s Halloween episode. He made such an impression that he was approached by 13 different managers who wanted to represent him (Siegel was already his manager, thank you very much), as well as studio heads clambering to sign him to movie roles, including the lead in Meet the Parents, which went on to become a megahit and had two sequels.
Siegel and Fallon passed on Meet the Parents (Ben Stiller took the part), even though it was a major studio film and Fallon didn’t even have to audition. The reason? Think Jason Biggs in American Pie, said Siegel, who followed that up with “four movies you can’t remember the name of.” “A manager helps to strategize,” she said. “If you want to book a big movie but can’t handle it, it’s too much too soon. It’s better to build.”
Siegel encouraged Fallon to take instead the small role of the band manager in Cameron Crowe’s Oscar-nominated Almost Famous. She told the Meet the Parents story as a lesson about how important it is for a manager to build trusting relationships with clients. “Relationships are the key to everything,” she said. “Jimmy gave me the power to say no. He trusted me to guide that. We had built that relationship.”
Later, Siegel held up $1,000 in her hand during an exercise she designed to show how much money stars have to pay out in Hollywood to their entourage. She asked for eight student volunteers, one of whom was asked to play “the actor.” Siegel handed him the cash, but he then had to share it with his agent (10 percent), manager (10 percent), lawyer (5 percent), assistant (5 percent), publicist (flat fee of $50), business manager (5 percent), with a little extra earmarked for his wife and girlfriend. He was left with $10 after paying the IRS. “His reps ended up with more than he did, in the end,” Siegel said.
During another point in her talk, Siegel was asked if she believed Hollywood was sexist, to which she answered a resounding yes. “While sexism hasn’t changed, the conversation has,” she said. “You hear about it more than you used to. But the entertainment business is one of the most sexist places, especially in the comedy scene.”
For students interested in entering the management or agency side of the business, Siegel urged them to start reading trade publications like Deadline.com and the Hollywood Reporter, and to look up the big firms (Creative Artists Agency, United Talent Agency, William Morris Endeavor) on IMDb Pro. “Find the name of an agent, and send them a note,” she said. “Find a mentor. If you like their style, learn from them.”
Siegel had some additional advice for would-be managers when it came to their presence on social media. “Build your image early on,” she said. “What you put on social media is the number one thing prospective employers are looking at…people want to know they can trust you. Confidentiality is very important.”
After the event, students lingered to introduce themselves to Siegel. Many said they were interested in applying for the BU in LA program next semester. “I want to be in the entertainment business,” said Anasofia Benavides (Questrom’17), the executive producer of Pop Showdown on BUTV. She’s considering “the BU in LA program, so I wanted to meet some of the faculty. It was a great overview of the entertainment business; I’m thinking about going into entertainment management.”
Others, like Stacey Su, were there for another reason. “I’m a dancer, I wanted an understanding of the business,” said Su (Questrom’16). “I wanted to learn the ins-and-outs if I got a manager. I’m a junior, and this was the most valuable four hours I’ve spent at BU.”