The strong right-hand to Rich Klubeck, super-agent and partner at United Talent Agency, Jake Fleischman dishes on the lessons learned during his first year “on the desk” of one of Hollywood’s toughest and most respected agents.
TA: How did you end up out in LA working at a big talent agency like UTA?
JK: I always knew I wanted to work in film. I’m from the east coast. I grew up in Greenwich, Connecticut, and I went to school at Syracuse. Towards the end of my senior year, an opportunity came up to work at UTA. I flew out to LA for the interview, and I also interviewed at CAA and ICM–so three out of the four bigger ones. I actually had my CAA panel interview first, and then I had my initial interview at UTA. The timing was not ideal.
TA: Why was that?
JK: Well you have an initial interview with HR, and then, if they like you, you are interviewed by a panel of agents.
TA: Really? Just for an assistant position?
JK: No, this is just for a position in the mail room.
TA: Hang on, you have to meet with a panel of agents just to work in the mail room?
TA: Well that’s impressive. I had no idea.
JK: CAA offered me a position the day before my panel interview at UTA. It was a Wednesday. By Monday I was pretty anxious, so I called the head of HR at UTA and explained that I had an expiring offer at CAA, and need to know if I’m getting a job there. And thankfully he said, “yes, we’d love to have you.”
TA: It seems like you knew you wanted UTA over CAA.
JK: I did. I guess you can say the opportunity at CAA was handed to me, in a way. The person who referred me is probably one of their highest-grossing clients. So I was going to be given a closer look. UTA was completely self-generated.
TA: So how did you get in the door there?
JK: I was working events at the Greenwich Film Festival, and there was a woman on the Board who had a friend who was an agent at UTA. She set me up to meet him, and then he introduced me to someone in HR.
TA: When was this?
JK: I graduated in May of 2015, and I interviewed in July and started in October. It has been a year and four months.
TA: How did you transition to Rich Klubeck’s desk?
JK: I started in the mail room. There is an initial one-month period for all new employees where you are just in class. You learn about the company and the industry. It’s a time to learn and meet people. It’s up to you to generate relationships there, and it’s not an easy place to do it. My first weekend out there a friend invited me to Seth Rogan’s big charity event. Seth is a client of the agency and his agent, Blair Kohan, was there. I just went up to her and introduced myself.
TA: You don’t waste any time, huh?
JK: Hahaha, no. She was very gracious and said I could stop by her office on Monday. Meanwhile, I knew Rick Klubeck’s desk was open. I told her the truth, which was that the mail room wouldn’t let me interview because I started ten days ago, and asked if she could help me get an interview with him. And she did! The mail room was not too happy. The issue is that there are people ahead of me, and Rich Klubeck’s desk is one where you need at least a year on another agent’s desk first.
TA: He is one of the partners of the agency as well, right?
JK: He’s a senior partner. He has some of the agency’s biggest clients like Angelina Jolie, Wes Anderson, and the Coen Brothers. So I interviewed for him, and we had a great talk. This was also when I met UTA’s CEO, Jeremy Zimmer, who crashed my interview.
TA: You realize how rare that is, right? That the CEO of an organization like UTA wants to sit and listen to a kid from the mail room?
JK: I do, and it was just my tenth day there, so it was a lot to take in. Ultimately, Rich said, “You’re great, but I need someone with more experience, and that is just how it is.”
Luckily two days later, David Flynn’s desk opened up. He’s a younger agent who works with a lot of Indy directors. Rich walked me in there, and that became my desk. Fast forward ten months later, and Rich’s assistant left suddenly. So Rich took me from Flynn’s desk on the spot.
TA: What is the most common path for someone who begins in the mail room? Is the goal to eventually become an agent?
JK: I want to say no. People know that agency experience is the best in the industry. Having UTA, WME and CAA on your resume looks amazing.
TA: To go on to be what?
JK: A producer, a creative executive at a major studio, and yes, also an agent.
TA: Well I suppose you get to see the guts of the industry.
JK: You see everything, absolutely everything goes through the agencies. When a studio gets a new project, the first place they go is to the agents.
TA: No wonder there is such a tough interview process, even at entry level.
JK: That is true, but you really don’t have access to confidential information until you are on the desk.
TA: Really? I assume if you are in that environment that some information trickles down.
JK: Yes, and no. For instance, for the last week we’ve been working on a pretty significant deal for Rich. It involved a bidding war between studios. Aside from the agents involved, their assistants, and those on the business end, no one knew what was going on. But that is a huge part of being a good assistant. You have to be the kind of person they can trust with things like this. That said, being an assistant in the entertainment industry means that you listen to everything they do and are looped into all calls and emails. The point is to take notes and know what to do in follow up to their call, but also to learn. I’m lucky that Rich really embraces that role with me and is a true mentor. He teaches me so much. The only times he has become angry with me is when I don’t understand something that he feels I should at that point.
TA: I think if he didn’t express some anger or frustration, then how would you be pushed to do better?
JK: There are moments when he walks away, and I put my head in my hands and think, thank god that is over, but I’ve learned so much in those moments.
He truly is one of the last super-agents. I tell people on a daily basis that I have one of the top three or four best desks in the building. He has clients at the highest level, and he also has clients that he has to sell. The range is extremely wide. Many people go to him for advice, which is great for me because I’m always on the phone listening!
TA: Do you have any help on your desk?
JK: No. CAA and WME have multiple assistants per agent. UTA only does one. Because he is a partner, I tend to have priority access to the kids in the mail room. Because Rich is Rich, the response I get when I call down is generally pretty quick. I also think that is partly a result of how I treat them. I try to be as nice as possible. I’m not sure everyone would agree with that, though.
TA: What makes you say that?
JK: When I need to get something done, or when Rich is standing over me–sometimes literally–and I can’t get someone to work with me, I have to get tough with them.
TA: There is a big different between being firm and being mean.
JK: Yes, but you have to realize that all the assistants in the building are young people in their early 20’s. We are all learning what is and isn’t ok, what is mean vs. what is firm. I grew up with a federal prosecutor as a father, so my version of firm is really firm. I learned from a young age how to prove my case. He was a prosecutor in the Bronx in the Major Crimes Unit. My mom was an executive at Condé Nast in fashion.
TA: So needless to say they didn’t go easy on you?
JK: They are great, but not the easiest people in the world. They know how to get things done, and this is how they raised me. I grew up around the city and went to a Westchester prep school. This environment breeds a driven and aggressive kid. So I know how to get things done.
TA: Don’t ever apologize for that.
JK: I don’t. But I do apologize when I’ve gone too far. Sometimes I get caught up in “I work for Rich Klubeck.” It usually will hit me in the moment. Then I’ll take a step back and realize that perhaps whatever I’ve just said wasn’t necessary.
TA: Do you know what is next for you after Rich?
JK: I think so, kind of. I’m on a track to become an agent. I would love to be a talent agent. But then again, I’m 23, how the hell do I know what I want to do? I do see the excitement in what Rich does, but I’m more drawn to talent. Rich does both lit and talent–and that would actually be the dream. But you have to be at a certain point in your career to pull that off. He reps Wes Anderson, the Coen brothers, Craig Gillespie, and Scott Burns–all these amazing lit clients–and then he also has Angie and Ewan McGregor. Repping the latter two happened naturally, and that is how he ended up in both talent and lit. I had no exposure to talent previously. So I think after Rich, I’d work for a full-blown talent agent.
TA: What is the most valuable thing you have learned from him?
JK: The importance of knowing your audience and being flexible in how you deal with different people given the situation. He knows when to kill someone with kindness, when to be more aggressive, and when to back off. I’ve never met anyone who does that better than Rich. He just handles people. I think he gets some flak for it, but at the end of the day, he is widely respected.
TA: You’re in a great place.
JK: I could not be happier; I love working for Rich. He has not always had that reputation. His desk is known for being a very tough one at UTA. He has extremely high standards and is very specific. And he does not forget anything. But he is one of the smartest people I’ve ever met, and he knows exactly what he wants.
At my year-end review, he pointed out some things that I needed to work on. He said that I’m able to gage how important something is to someone, and therefore will sometimes put things on the back burner if I think I can, assuming they won’t remember, but ultimately they always do. In his critique, he said, “you’re like me.” At the time he meant it as a criticism, but it was one of the biggest compliments I’ve ever received.
Jake was photographed at his home in Los Angeles by Eric Kelly.