The New York Film Academy was excited to welcome Talent Manager, Producer, and Emmy Award winner Brian Medavoy to the Los Angeles campus whose TV productions include Darma and Greg, American High, and Just Shoot Me. He’s also helped craft the early careers of Ryan Reynolds, Josh Brolin, Jason Bateman, Jenna Elfman, Craig Sheffer, David Schwimmer, and Toby Maguire. The evening’s conversation was hosted by Director of Guest Lecture Series, Tova Laiter.
Hollywood born and raised, Brian grew up with a unique understanding of the movie business. His father, Mike Medavoy was a manager to big talents like Steven Spielberg and Francis Ford Coppola before Co-Founding Orion Pictures. But while that connection helped Brian to get into the mailroom at a talent agency, he had to build his own career through strategic, hard work. After working for legendary agent Ed Limato at ICM, Medavoy moved on to work as Erwin More’s assistant. Shortly after, at his young age of 23, he and More formed More/Medavoy Mgmt and went on to produce nine pilots.
At the time, Talent Management was mostly for rock stars. In 1998, there were very few managers. “I spent most of my time explaining to people what a manager does,” Medavoy said. His first client was Craig Sheffer. Hoping to help him land his first big role, Medavoy had to use his connections and some unconventional tactics.
Robert Redford was casting A River Runs Through It, and River Phoenix was supposed to play Brad Pitt’s brother in the film. “I called Redford during casting,” Medavoy began. Redford told him the protocol is to call the casting director but not wanting to wait, Medavoy drove a tape of his actor’s recent performance and brought it to Redford. After watching the tape, Redford decided to hire Sheffer for the role.
Upon learning that Medavoy had at one time wanted to be an actor, Laiter asked, “If you were an actor today what advice would you give to yourself to make it in the business? How would you distinguish yourself from the crowd?”
“If you’re not singing on the way to the audition,” Medavoy began, “you should turn around.” In other words, he encouraged actors not to think about trying to get the part but to focus on bringing a character to life. “Enjoy every aspect of the audition.”
This idea of focusing on what is happening in the moment radiated throughout Medavoy’s discussion. Helping others is a key component to success. Jealousy, he warned, can lead to destruction. “In life,” Medavoy suggested, “if you know what you’re great at and you use it to help people, that’s when you reap the benefits spiritually and financially.”
He offered additional advice about supporting your peers, “When you watch the award shows, and you see a peer of yours winning an award, the minute you’re looking at the TV and think ‘that should be me’ is the minute it won’t be you. You’ll know you’re succeeding when you want to hug that person.” Medavoy admitted the advice sounds strange but “You get when you give.”
Medavoy believes that a big part of a person’s success comes from having a passion for what you’re doing. This belief was nurtured from a young age: as a child, his mother sent him to musical theatre productions, and during performances, he would look out at the audience and see the joy on their faces. This experience instilled the desire to be an actor and evoke that same joy in audiences. However, after performing on stage he realized he was better suited to working with actors as their manager. “I was able to find unique talented individuals,” he said. “You can see it their eyes. I always say I build stars from stars.”
One student, who is currently working his way through comedy festivals, asked who he should choose if he gets offers for management. “The key is to understand the landscape of the business.” With an abundance of information readily available, he suggested that actors do their research before making a selection. Before meeting with potential clients or business partners, Medavoy often uses social media to create a picture of that person. “It’s much harder for people to hide who they are now,” Medavoy said.
One insider tip Medavoy gave students was to look for different strengths in their manager and agent. “You usually want one (of the two) first. Discover their strengths. Then find one with strengths in a different area.”
To demonstrate this, Brian asked another student a series a of questions to help reveal the student’s strengths a uniqueness. Brian then told him to “own it” to which NYFA students applauded appreciatively.
The New York Film Academy would like to thank Brian Medavoy for taking the time to speak with our students. His (motivational) blog is www.brianmedavoy.com.