Maureen Toth is the owner and principal agent of Eastern Talent Agency, an agency based in Los Angeles and New York for designers, directors, and editors. The Harvard Crimson sat down and talked with her about how she got involved in the industry, what she looks for in a client, and her advice for anyone interested in getting into the entertainment business.
The Harvard Crimson: How did you get involved in the talent agent business?
Maureen Toth: Well, I worked in sales in Northern California before I came to the LA area, and I knew I wanted to get into the entertainment industry. I didn’t know exactly what I was looking to do, but a friend of mine knew a woman who owned a small agency. …He introduced me and she said, “I think you’d make a really great agent.” To make a longer story shorter, I went down to her business, watched her work, saw what they do in an agency and I thought it was very interesting. I had a background in sales, which helped, and a degree in psychology.
THC: How do you know where a client is going to fit best?
MT: You have to be really familiar with their body of work and with what their goals are. People don’t come to me and say, “I want an exact repeat of what I’ve already done.” They normally have an idea of what they want to do next and it’s my job to try to channel them in that direction. …It’s important to know who would look at their work and want them on their project. If they aren’t generating interest, it’s important for me to be able to point out what in my client’s work could be improved to generate more interest.
THC: Are there certain aspects you look for in a client?
MT: Eastern Talent Agency represents for those in film and television—except for reality TV—who are production designers, editors, hair and makeup, costume designers, and directors of photography. The first thing we look for is that they fall in the categories of what we represent. Then we look to see if they are a good fit for the types of projects we most often see. We also want to see that they have good quality material and also enough material to make producers interested in hiring them.
If someone comes in fresh out of school with no credits to their name, I would tell them to get out there and try to land a few jobs. There is a point where people are just not experienced enough. It doesn’t make sense for them fiscally, either, because as soon as you hire an agent you’re giving away part of your income. It also feels bad to have someone paying you, while you know that you can’t give them what they need. There is a right time to get an agent. …Once the agency sees that they have enough experience and that they fall in a category we represent, we sit down with them and see how relatable they are. Relatability is so important. …You can’t always know what’s going to be the “right” personality, but we can always say, “Well, this is a person that I would enjoy working with, so I’m going to extrapolate and assume that others will feel the same way.” We want to enhance the whole of the agency by taking on good people. It’s a combination of their art, where they are in their career, and their personality.
THC: Is there a specific genre that is easiest to work with or is it on an artist to artist basis?
MT: It’s a little bit of both. Every client is different, so it depends on what they’re seeking. Sometimes someone has been doing a lot of TV and decides they want to do film. Sometimes someone wants to keep doing TV but realizes that they don’t like a certain genre. There are a lot of individual style things that make clients lean towards certain projects.
That being said, I will say that people will roughly agree on what is considered “good content.” There’s good content in both film and TV right now, but there is really a ton in TV. That is because a lot of the cable establishments have upped their game recently in terms of the stories they’re willing to tell, the power they’re willing to give the storytellers, and how they’re marketing them … Netflix, for instance, is turning out some really great content. If a Netflix show that seems interesting calls, my interest is going to be piqued. A lot of people see where the good content is and they want to move towards that.
THC: It makes sense that Netflix is so popular with your clients. Recently they seem to had a lot of serious things coming out that are very artistically well done.
MT: Well, Netflix is only one example. I think it started with HBO and Showtime turning out really great content on their stations. …Very soon after that we started to see Netflix and AMC and Amazon saying, “I want to do what they’re doing.” I think a lot of good content comes from taking chances because you’re allowing someone creative to control the process a little more. The boom of the cable streaming industry has fed the creative growth of narrative television.
THC: What is your favorite part of your job?
MT: I think it’s interfacing with clients. My very favorite part is calling up a client and telling them that you landed them a really great interview.