Talent broker Crotty’s advice to students: get in the business to stay in the business

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November 11, 2014

Want to make it in Hollywood? Resist the urge to work as a bartender and focus, instead, on finding an entertainment industry job that can act as a launch pad.

That was the major takeaway from a talk by Kevin Crotty (WCAS92), a partner and board member at the major literary and talent agency ICM Partners, who addressed a roomful of students, faculty and community members Nov. 5. The event was the second in the monthly speaker series sponsored by the School of Communication’s Master of Science in Leadership for Creative Enterprises (MSLCE) program. Moderator Bill Bleich, who is associate chair of the Department of Radio/TV/Film, a senior lecturer and a screenwriter whose credits appear on more than a dozen network TV movies, features, mini-series and pilots, guided the conversation.

Crotty had the room chortling from the start, as he detailed his path to Hollywood. “I was an English major,” he said. “I had no job prospects in the real world, so I decided to go to Hollywood.”

There, the seeds were planted for the advice he doles out today—“Get a job in the business.”

His first job in L.A. was as a runner, transporting scripts and packages around town in his ’83 Cadillac DeVille. While on the job, a superior at the production company where he worked noticed his car’s resemblance to a limo. Actress Jean Smart had recently negotiated in her contract to have a limousine transport her around the set. Crotty was quickly promoted to Jean Smart’s driver and began working as a set personal assistant.

In that position, he proved himself a hard worker and a likeable guy, and opportunities arose. First, he was offered an assistant’s position at CBS Entertainment, launching his television career. Then, he met the co-president of ICM. She offered him a job at the talent and literary agency in 1994, and he’s been there ever since.

At ICM, Crotty focuses on scripted television, and he represents writers, producers, actors, production companies and directors. Credits to his clients’ names include The Blacklist on NBC, Wilfred on FX, House of Lies on Showtime and Kingdom on DirecTV. Crotty also represents Togetherness, an HBO comedy series by Jay and Mark Duplass, which will follow Girls, starting in January.

He says he’s always on the lookout for scripts that offer a new take on a traditional story (for example, an unexpected twist on a show revolving around medicine, law and crime) or a plot that delves into a truly unique world.

As the middleman between the creative talent and the networks, his job requires him to find an arrangement that works for all parties. He shared the example of working with the Duplass brothers, who are known for their independent films (The Puffy Chair; Cyrus; Jeff, Who Lives at Home). Crotty says it took some convincing to move them from feature films into the television world. He approached HBO with Togetherness because it’s an artist-friendly network.

“My job was to take them from the indie world and bring them into the commercial world and not change who they are,” said Crotty.

Crotty said that one of the biggest challenges to his job is dealing with attitudes. “Managing a bunch of Type A personalities is not great, but it’s something I do every day,” he said.

When Bleich asked him for advice on how to handle that, Crotty didn’t miss a beat.

“Be a bigger Type A personality,” he said.

Despite widespread skepticism on the future of television, Crotty said that this is an exciting era for the medium. More and more networks are moving away from the tried-and-true model and trying to adapt, as HBO has done, and brand themselves. “There’s a lot happening,” he says. “It’s never been a better business.”

Following the candid discussion, Bleich invited questions from the audience to an enthusiastic response. Many of those in attendance sought career advice on becoming an agent.

Crotty returned to his earlier point: “If you want to be in the entertainment industry, you have to be in the entertainment industry when you come to L.A. Don’t be a bartender,” he said. Instead, he suggested looking for jobs with a connection to agents, writers and producers.

He added that connections—and pedigrees—did help. “It helps that you went to Northwestern or Harvard or Yale,” he said, explaining that a good education will at least get you an interview. From there, he said, job seekers should work hard, and be likeable and willing to learn.

He outlined the following steps for success: “Get a job, hone your craft, meet people that want to help you,” he said.

Then, he re-emphasized his golden rule. 

“Get a job in the business,” he said. “It’s a networking business. You should never lose focus on what you want to get out of it.”

The next event in the MSLCE Speaker Series will take place Dec. 3, featuring Adult Swim Games producer Matthew Schwartz (C95), at 5 p.m. in the Frances Searle Building, 3-417. It is open to the public. For more information, email creative@northwestern.edu   .