The ABCs of making a buck in Hollywood

By PAT NASON, UPI Hollywood Reporter  |  Oct. 8, 2002 at 5:23 PM
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LOS ANGELES, Oct. 8 (UPI) -- As more filmmakers use film school as their entree into the movie business, the idea of a formal course of training for movie executives is beginning to take hold -- with a veteran of the Hollywood trenches heading up a pioneering program at the University of Southern California.

With at least one lifetime of Hollywood deal-making under his belt, Larry Auerbach could easily be enjoying retirement. Instead, as associate dean of student-industry relations at the 73-year-old USC School of Cinema-Television, he has focused for the past five years on developing an entertainment business curriculum.

USC says it is the only university in the world to offer graduate and undergraduate joint degree programs in Entertainment Business.

The idea first came up several years ago during a meeting in the office of Alan Ladd Jr., when he was president of MGM. There were countless educational choices for actors, directors, writers, technicians and other movie professionals -- but very limited choices at the time for people who wanted to be agents, studio executives, managers, financiers and marketers.

Auerbach -- who spent 47 years as an agent at the world-famous William Morris Agency, brokering major deals for Hollywood's A-list -- reached into what has been called his "golden Rolodex," to enlist the help of top professionals to teach courses in the business program.

"One of the good things about this school, almost everybody who is teaching is working," said Auerbach,

For example, Fred Bernstein -- former president of Sony Pictures and now a consultant and president of the Internet company, E-Studio Network -- teaches Making Money with Movies. The course tracks the economics of producing and marketing movies, including home video and other ancillary marketing.

Sandy Reisenbach, who served for 20 years as president of Warner Bros.' marketing and advertising, teaches Entertainment Industry Marketing -- covering theatrical film marketing distribution, advertising, home video, brand building, international and consumer products.

The faculty also includes Paul Bricault of the William Morris Agency, Alan Berger of ICM -- another top talent agency -- and David Baron, vice president of Paramount Pictures Digital and Interactive.

Bricault and Baron teach a course on changing technologies and the effects they have on Hollywood. Berger teaches the ins and outs of representation.

The faculty has also featured such industry heavyweights as Steve Blume, chief financial officer of Brillstein-Grey, and Fred Silverman, who served as president at the ABC, CBS and NBC networks.

The program attracts about 100 graduate students and 100 undergrads each semester. Auerbach said about half the graduate students are entertainment industry professionals who want to create new opportunities for themselves.

"Many of these people are already working in the industry and want to move into other areas of the industry," he said. "I have people who are working in distribution but they want to move over to finance."

Auerbach himself likes to sit in on the classes, occasionally contributing his own insights -- particularly on the art of the deal.

He tells students that negotiating deals in Hollywood involves a blend of relying on precedent and engaging in creative -- sometimes groundbreaking -- thinking.

"You will often have the history of other deals," he said, "but there are times when you will invent new terms, new formulas that were never tried, in order to make a deal happen."

Auerbach likes to tell the story of the deal he made for Alan Alda for the final season of "M*A*S*H." After 10 seasons on the air, he said, Alda was getting tired and wondered whether there were enough stories left to tell.

Auerbach came up with a proposal to give CBS nine shows, well under the full-season order. He also suggested opening the season a little later than usual and ending it after the February ratings sweeps with a TV movie that would wrap up the series.

"I got away with it," said Auerbach. "The president of CBS looked at me and said, 'You're crazy.' I said, 'Do you want "M*A*S*H"?' He said, 'Yes.'"

Auerbach tells students that it takes nerve to navigate the sometimes high-pressure environment in Hollywood -- and also passion and luck.

"Can you take rejection? That pretty much goes for anybody in show business," he said, "because 99 percent of people you deal with can only say no."

The entertainment business often seems unfairly to smile on people with questionable ability, even as it leaves some talented people out in the cold. Auerbach said that's mostly a function of luck.

"I strongly believe that luck plays a great deal," he said.

"Yes, there are a lot of people making a very handsome salary who don't have that much talent and some people with talent who don't make it. But that's the luck of the draw."

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