Conversation with Jonathan Silverman
We are talking to Jonathan Silverman form co-founder of Intrinsic a production agency, which has just opened an office in Warsaw via a partnership with Warsaw-based agency High Spot.
For many years you have been working for big agencies. Where did the idea of an own agency come from?
I think in the agency business there is always a market for smaller agencies, more attentive to the clients. We – me and my partner Dana Salston – always felt that there is a need for an alternative and that is what Intrinsic is going to be. Less clients equals more attention, so we can talk on a regular basis, help and guide them, and their careers. In February 2015, we launched our first office. We wanted to get a location that is iconic. That’s why we chose Sunset Strip in West Hollywood, where all the famous rock bands like The Doors used to play. We started there and then London in August and now it is time for Warsaw.
What drew you to make a business in Poland with High Spot. Was it because of the company, or were you just looking for a location in Eastern Europe?
When you’re creating something bigger, you’re looking for great people. All the agents that have been coming on to the Intrinsic team are all experienced, likeminded that they want to be a part of something special. I would specifically like to point out Donata Rojewska, a founder of High Spot. She not only has an outstanding reputation as an agent, she has a long history in Poland in the feature industry, starting her career working closely with Marek Żydowicz on Camerimage, then she worked for Kodak EI, which helped her to establish close relationships with some of word’s best filmmakers. Also, I want to point out Hanna Kisielińska, who has an amazing background in distribution. One more I have to say, Agnieszka Hermanowska is one of the strongest commercial agents I have ever met.
We are in business with High Spot because of their classy reputation, it’s now High Spot Intrinsic, and I’m very happy it is in Poland. Poland has a really good film and commercial industry which is very important for cinematographers who are our main client.
I feel London is good at covering France and Western Europe, and they have contacts in Africa and Asia, but we needed someone in Central and Eastern Europe, because now a lot of production goes to Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria. London is not always watching over these countries.
Sometimes it takes more than one agent to get something happen, that’s why in Intrinsic we try to work in a team. You need one, two or three agents working on the same, it is a combined effort to get something to happen. That’s another reason to have offices in different cities. Production can be a combo, while shooting near Poland, they hire Polish or European crew, but some of the producers are back in LA. So we can have the Polish agents working on the people that are here and we are talking to the other producers back there. It’s very important and the future of our team is toward together.
When someone asks you who the agent is, what would you say?
I always think agents are frustrated artists, since we don’t have the talent that our clients do. There is an old saying in America that if you can’t be an artist, at least be around artists. As an agent, you are a little bit of everything. An advocate for the artists, but also a friend, cheerleader.
Why agencies are taking such an important part in a film industry?
There have been agents in America since about 1895. I think that the agencies are so important to the process, because we do more than just negotiate. We are working for ourselves and our clients, but in a way we are also working for the studios and the movie companies. Before the agencies became very powerful, they were trying to do everything in a studio, in the 1960s, cinematographers and others filmmakers would be said they are shooting this movie today, that movie tomorrow. That’s how it worked. About actors, if you were a major star you would have even a seven year deal with a studio and that’s what driven the actors crazy because they couldn’t get out of it. Sometimes they had to make a lot of movies they didn’t want to make because they were locked out. But as the studios changed, agencies started to serve as a function to take care of a lot of things that studio do not take care of anymore.
I always say that the agencies are going to stay because if you are looking at the top actors, or directors, or cinematographers in the world, whoever you think is the top ten, I bet you, nine in ten have an agent.
How the collaboration between agent and artist works?
When they are on the project they usually don’t need us as much, because they know what to do. But sometimes when film production gets out of control, it is the agents that try to smooth things over, i.e. actor won’t come out of the trailer, the production is two hours over the time, my cinematographer is ready to go, so we come there and try to figure out the way to deal with it. We are working on that little things that aren’t really glamorous, but clients appreciate that because they can focus on work.
The process of getting the project, is the real collaboration time. What we do play, it’s a Holly-wood term called six degrees of separation. It means you can get to anybody within 6 people. Let’s say you are a client and you don’t know anybody on the movie and maybe agents don’t know everybody either, but we could make six phone calls and get to somebody that knows them. That’s called six degrees of separation because it only takes six or less.
The already established artists with academy award, might get a phone call directly from the direc-tor, but sometimes the producers and directors don’t know who they want, so they call around to the agencies. They don’t want an agency to send them a list of people, they want to hear why your client is the best. So that’s why clients love their agents, because it’s very hard to speak about yourself. You wouldn’t sell yourself and say I’m the best for this reason, I’m the best for that reason. It’s easier when somebody speaks of you in that way.
It’s the agent’s job to keep their client working but there is also an agent’s job to stand up for what their value is while making a deal.
It is also the agent job to tell their clients which movie is worth taking part in. The big Hollywood production with a lot of money involved, or small, arty production, that might give them good critical reception. We have to decide what will be the best for them and they career at this point in time. Sometimes, being a great agent is about telling your client to say no and that’s the hardest thing to do because we all need to survive, we all need income, but sometimes, no is better for your client career than yes.
This year at Camerimage you are moderating a panel discussion for an emerging filmmakers, which gives young filmmakers the chance to meet agents from all over the world.
This is the second edition of this panel. The idea is that in that panel there are different kinds of agents. What’s good about it is that young students get to see different agents with different ideas and different views of the industry. Probably most of them have never seen or talked to an agent so when that day comes and their phone does ring, they’ve heard a little bit about how the agents think.
No two agents are the same. I think when you find an agent, it is like finding your boyfriend or girl-friend, you really want to know this person, they can be really important in your life. It’s not forever, but you could spend half of your career or your entire career with the same agent. You have to get drawn to the one that fits your person. They represent you, they speak for you.
In your opinion what skills a good agent should have?
Talk, pitching, no fear, if you don’t like being hang up on the phone, you don’t become an agent, that’s why a lot of clients want an agent, because it’s hard to make these phone calls, and for example, hear you have been turned down. There is no one kind of a right agent, some people would rather have a little bit quieter and reserved, some people want somebody a little bit more brazen, and others will pick an agent just because they love their taste.
What would you advise young filmmakers who want to find an agent? What filmmakers should do to find one and when is the best time to have one?
To me, getting an agent too early before you’ve done anything special might be not a good thing, because you have to grow as an artist. Once you do something that everybody is talking about, agents will find you. That’s what we do, we track down great artists. If you try to force it before, then you might have an agent who is not focused on you because of the other, more accomplished clients so you need to wait until you are wanted and needed, because that’s the right time. I’ve seen people come here as students and in a few years later, they are here in the competition and usually very shortly they all seem to find agents.
There is always a discussion going on that film industry is dominated by men, especially when we are talking about cinematographers. Why is that?
In America women are 51% of the population and when the percentage of female cinematographers is about 5-10%, there is something out of balance. It’s a resource that has not been explored. All these thousands of women would, or could have been cinematographers for the last 40 years, if they had known it’s possible, or the industry would be more open to it. Now it’s finally changing and I don’t know if it’s going to balance like with editors, where it’s almost 50/50, but I’m hoping it does , because art is art and there is no reason for the door not to be completely open. The great artistic brain is a great artistic brain and gender has nothing to do with that.
We represent in LA a few women cinematographers and one of the most known is Anette Haellmigk, she is the only female that’s ever shot “Game of Thrones”. She doesn’t think about herself as a female cinematographer she is just a cinematographer. But I always tell her you make it easier for the women coming behind you, and somebody before her did it for her, because she wasn’t first, but I think in each 5 or 10 years it’s getting more and more possible. The millennials they don’t care about social roles or perception of them. They don’t take no, for an answer. I think future for the cinematographers, men and women is bright, because of this new generation.
Poland has always been known for their cinematographers.
There is a lot of countries known for cinematography. Poland is in a top three countries in the world with the best cinematography, it is just great at it. There are other countries like Australia, Mexico that got very hot during the last few years, but Poland for about 40 years has just always been one of the best and continues to be so. I see American companies always working with Polish artists and I don’t think that it is going to end anytime soon, unless you guys stop and close all your film schools, such as Łódź that has such a great reputation around the world, but I don’t think you’re going to do that.