Tough-Love Life Advice From A Hollywood Agent (Buck Up, You Can Take It)

Tough-Love Life Advice From A Hollywood Agent (Buck Up, You Can Take It)

Nobody ever tells you this, but the path of least resistance should be resisted.

As humans, we tend to follow — and even seek out — the easiest path. We gravitate toward the safe and comfortable. I grew up in a film industry family. My father and mentor had a varied career as a agent, studio executive and for the greater part of my life, an entertainment lawyer. From a young age, I traipsed through film sets, industry events and observed insider conversation at the dinner table. So, when I predictably decided to pursue a career in film, the obvious next step would have been to remain in the heart of the beast and follow the usual path of taking on an assistant position at a studio or agency in Los Angeles.

Except, I had always been averse to following the herd. In my opinion, that seemed like the express lane to mediocrity. I had to figure out how to make myself exceptional among the countless people trying to make it in this bizarre industry. How could I set myself apart — and ultimately end up in a place where my background was unique and my expertise was one of a kind?

To answer that question, I got the hell out of dodge and went to New York City. I set out in pursuit of the most anti-Hollywood lifestyle I could manifest. I became enamored with that life and quickly engrained myself in the New York independent film scene, hanging out in the now sadly shuttered Kim’s Video and loitering for triple showings at the Angelika theater. It was in these hallowed rooms that I discovered the filmmakers who operated on the fringes. The ones who sustained life-long careers making meaningful and artful films that did not wait around or care for Hollywood to give them the go ahead. The doers who were outclassing much of Hollywood in terms of cultural impact and pioneering a renaissance of independently-minded cinema.

“Making any film come to life is hard. Making a good one that is wholly original is a tiny miracle in a perfect storm.”

The original eccentrics of The Royal Tenenbaums, the poignant comedy of Broken Flowers, the twisted heartache of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. The bleak delusion of Requiem for a Dream and the devastating consequences of Irreversible. All of this work impacted my overall sensibility and taste.

None of these films, or the people who brought them to life, ever chose the path of least resistance — and audiences and cinema were better for it. Left of center and off kilter, none of these projects were financially obvious, but somehow, they were done without compromising the integrity of the filmmaker (for the most part). It took Michel Gondry and Charlie Kaufman six years to bring Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind to fruition based on the idea of receiving a letter that you had been erased from a loved one’s memory. Capitalizing on the success of Memento, Gaspar Noe managed to find investors in the controversial and violent Irreversible by pitching his film in reverse. These may not have been the most financially rewarding projects in film history, but culturally, they have made a priceless impact. And in turn, these works put me on the trajectory to where I am today.

In a world where record-breaking opening weekends reigned supreme and Hollywood was churning out one derivative project after another, I realized I wanted to help filmmakers and projects that also chose the path of least resistance. The same paths Haynes and Lee and Jarmusch and so many others had taken. I wanted to champion outside-the-box thinkers; people trying to tell original stories that didn’t have obvious commercial success written all over them. I wanted to work on films that started conversations. Basically, I wanted to be involved with the most difficult types of projects to get made.

The first film I worked closely on was Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler. Even then, I could clearly see the long journey it took to make that film. At the time, I was working as an assistant in acquisitions and production for the financier and sales company, Wild Bunch. Wild Bunch was (and remains) one of the leading companies that was known for pushing the envelope. As part of the New York branch of Wild Bunch we had been responsible for bringing in American projects and overseeing the production on behalf of the Paris-based company, to make sure everything ran smoothly. The Wrestler being the first of those projects. The choice to cast Mickey Rourke (instead of the intended Nicholas Cage) coupled with the incredibly somber subject matter — an aging professional wrestler past his prime trying to repair the relationship with his estranged daughter—were not seen as “bankable.” But the team stood by their vision. And Wild Bunch trusted the team to bring that vision to fruition. The result was most rewarding. Winner of the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, a massive critical success and a revitalizer for Mickey Rourke’s career at the time.

“The thing that makes a job a career comes from pushing yourself and traveling a road that’s less obvious.”

Since then, I’ve made a point not to take on projects that have a obvious path to getting produced. Instead, the movies I work on take years and they take villages. And a lot of sweat and tears. They are not obviously commercial and need help to navigate the treacherous and unstable world of independent film finance. These underdogs need champions. And that was my unique place in this industry — as the connective tissue in these projects. I could use my knowledge and relationships to facilitate getting these films made, while being able to understand each filmmaker’s creative process. I am the bridge between the business and creative.

Making any film come to life is hard. Making a good one that is wholly original is a tiny miracle in a perfect storm. When I see the films I’ve worked on finally make it to film festival and ultimately find a home with a distributor, there is nothing more satisfying. Getting to witness a film’s journey from idea to finding its audience, it feels like I really had a part in making someone’s lifelong dream come true — I like to call myself the dreamweaver.

To be successful and ultimately true to myself, I am determined to continue chasing those films that are most challenging. No matter what industry you are in, I think that holds true. The joy of work and what makes a job a career comes from pushing yourself, traveling a road that’s less obvious, and taking on projects that challenge you. This is what ultimately makes the wins that much more rewarding. That doesn’t mean that every day has to be difficult or that you should put unnecessary obstacles in your own path. But it does mean that if you want to feel like you are working toward something meaningful, it requires passion, initiative and endless energy. These attributes have the ability to change people or culture or ideas — which means that fulfillment is likely not far behind.

Kristen Konvitz is an agent in the International and Independent film group at ICM Partners. She was most recently the head of production for New York-based film fund and production company, Stay Gold Features. Its first film was Sundance breakout, Patti Cake$ which sold in an all-night bidding war to Fox Searchlight. Other productions include David Robert Mitchell’s upcoming Under the Silver Lake and SXSW award winner, The Strange Ones.