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Secret Agent Man

Me and Back Stage

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Me and Back Stage
The first time I heard of this publication was back in the '80s, when dinosaurs walked the earth and I was studying film. It seemed like everyone I knew was working on a short. They were all shot on 16mm film. Despite the cost, we had a blast making them. None of us stopped to think we'd be paying off student loans for the rest of our lives.

Casting was always a problem because my school didn't have a drama department. So the teachers would tell us to place an ad in something called Back Stage. Al Gore hadn't invented the Internet yet, so I had to physically visit the Back Stage office and interact with an actual human being to purchase my first casting notice. Doing this made me feel important, like I was producing much more than a 10-minute student film.

I remember how surprised I was by the turnout. Real actors with real training showed up to audition. It was such a kick, watching the script come to life. This was my first experience dealing with actors. I guess the seed was planted.

Ten years later, it was the '90s, Hammer time. I was working in postproduction, having fun, but not really going anywhere. My best friend was a comedian named Marty. One afternoon, we were hanging out in a bar on Eighth Avenue when he showed me a casting notice from Back Stage. It was for a new improv group. Marty was planning to try out and he wanted me to go with him. I explained that I didn't know anything about improv. He said there'd be a lot of girls there. So I agreed to go. Long story short, yours truly was asked to join the group and Marty wasn't.

The year I spent studying and performing improv gave me the tools I'd need to become a successful agent and a working writer. But even better, I connected with a talented member of the company, a woman named Anne. We became the best of friends, peas in a pod, birds of a feather. The two of us ended up moving to L.A. together, using each other for support, friendship, and sometimes more. Anne became, and still is, a crucial part of my life.

My third life-changing experience with Back Stage is the story behind this column. The notorious Writers Guild of America strike hit the industry on Nov. 5, 2007. I suddenly had a lot of free time. After leafing through a friend's copy of Back Stage, I started thinking about writing my own column. It would be brutally honest, the real deal from a working agent. But how could I possibly sign my name to something like that? I didn't want to hurt my career. And that's when it hit me: The column would be anonymous.

Now I just needed the perfect name. First, I came up with "My 10 Percent." It's a decent title but a little obvious. And then one night while driving home from work, I tuned over to the oldies station. Johnny Rivers was singing "Secret Agent Man." I could almost hear the light bulb popping on over my head.

Every agent knows that life is all about degrees of separation. So I started asking around, and sure enough, I knew someone who knew Jamie Painter Young, the big cheese at Back Stage. We were introduced and I pitched her my idea, with two sample columns. The rest is history.

I'd like to thank Jamie for being so open to a stranger with a strange idea. I also need to mention my wonderful editors, Erik Haagensen and Dany Margolies. They've had my back for almost four years now. Who knew commas were so important?

Congratulations to Back Stage for reaching such an amazing milestone.

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