If you’ve ever talked to an actor in Hollywood, you won’t be in conversation about their career for more than a few minutes before this question comes up: Who is your representation? Usually followed by, how did you secure them? We decided to go right to the source and chat with one of Hollywood’s top management firms, Entertainment Lab, led by Sean Dubravac and Matt Ilczuk.
Sean and Matt became talent managers by way of events and publicity. In fact, the duo first ran one of the top events & PR companies in Los Angeles producing red carpet events for film premieres, festivals, parties, fashion events, and more. We sat down to discuss their transition to talent managers and producers from the world of nightlife and to get some tips for all the actors still trying to figure out the representation puzzle.
PPLA: You originally started as an events and PR company back in 2008. How did you two meet and decide to create Entertainment Lab (formerly Royalty Rope Management/ RRM)?
SD: We met on a bus to school (Cabrillo college) in Santa Cruz, a little surfer town in Northern California. Back then we both had empty pockets and a big desire to move to Los Angeles after graduating from the community college and have a taste of the entertainment capital. We frequented local bars in Santa Cruz but constantly dreamed of someday checking out the famous Hollywood nightlife. At 11pm on weekends we would take a bus to the Santa Cruz town center where all the bars are and then at 2am do a 45-min-long walk back home since bus lines were closed past 12am. The long freezing walks didn’t bother us. We loved being the part of Santa Cruz social circles and hoped to do the same in L.A. at some point.
PPLA: What were your hopes and goals when you started and how has the company changed?
SD: I was the first one to move to L.A. and Matt followed me a year later. We were amazed by all the entertainment and nightlife we found here and very soon started organizing our own special events and parties. Our goal was to create the best and most talked about events in the Los Angeles area. A year later we created our own events and PR company that at first concentrated only on production of fashion and film events. We named the company Royalty Rope (as in velvet rope). Later on, as our interest in film industry overgrew our interest in fashion we stopped doing fashion events and devoted all our efforts to production of TV and film events: TV & movie premieres, DVD releases, screenings, wrap parties, film festivals, etc. Shortly after we added PR services for independent movies and actors and we changed the name to Entertainment Lab. We worked on 16 movies during the span of two years and repped a few actors from the Disney TV show “The Secret Life of the American Teenager,” MTV TV show “Teen Wolf,” as well as actors on some other notable TV shows and movies.
PPLA: How and why did the recent transition come about to move more into talent management and producing your own projects? What were some of the challenges and risks with making that switch? What were the new long term goals of the company?
MI: Switching into production was more of an accident than a plan. While doing PR for independent movies we noticed that, in addition to publicity, its producers needed help with some of the production elements, as well. We began helping producers and learned a lot about all the integral parts of the movie making process. In 2010, we received our first associate producer credit.
SD: As publicists, we were very aggressive and proactive. We started signing our actors with top agents and getting them smaller roles in movies. This wasn’t something that publicists were really supposed to do for their actors; it was more of a talent manager responsibility. One of those agents from a top 10 talent agency advised us that with our extremely dynamic work style the field of talent management might be a better fit for us than PR. He taught us how to switch over from publicity to talent management and advised us that as talent managers we would be more successful, which ended up being true. To this day we are very grateful to this agent and are still great friends. The switch to talent management wasn’t that complicated. Instead of pitching our actors to media now we pitched them to casting directors, producers and agents. However, our talent agent friend did make the whole talent management profession sound much simpler and easier than it turned out to be. Who knows, maybe if he hadn’t made it look so easy we wouldn’t have had the courage to enter the talent management arena!
MI: There was also a financial risk involved with the switch. We had to let all our PR clients go and immediately start signing new talent management clients. As publicists we didn’t really need an office space but as managers we just couldn’t function without an office and office was definitely not cheap. Nevertheless, the risk paid off and we are now a fully functioning talent management company with a great talent roster and increasing profits every year. In 2011, we became associate members of Talent Managers Association and in 2014 we became one of the first talent management companies in the country to be approved by SAG-AFTRA.
SD: We would love to soon turn all these co-star, guest star, recurring and supporting roles that our actors are currently booking into series regular and lead roles in TV shows and movies. The goals for the company are to keep developing our actors and continue helping producers on their projects, in hopes of producing our own movies and TV shows in the future.
PPLA: When looking for new talent, what do you look for certain qualities you like or pet peeves to avoid? Where do you tend to find new talent- showcases, referrals, reels, etc.?
MI: Every talent agent and manager creates their own taste for talent over time and so did we. Ultimately, we observe industry trends, learn which types of actors sell and which don’t, and then seek out the “sellable” types in showcases, events and even out on the street. As every other talent management company and talent agency out there we prefer actors with solid TV and movie credits. Getting an actor with credits into the doors is a much easier task than picking up a no-name actor and trying to get them in front of casting directors and producers. If it’s an actor without any significant TV or movie credits that we are considering to sign, then we will take a look at that actor’s acting reel (we prefer 1-min comedy and 1-min drama reel) and/or watch the actor perform monologues or scenes at our office.
SD: However, looks and acting quality are not the only criteria we have. We pay close attention to the actor’s charisma and personality. If an actor comes across as an unpleasant person who we might have troubles dealing with in future, we will most probably pass on that actor. Many new actors in LA do not realize the importance of “auditioning before auditioning.” Confident but humble and easy going attitude will open many doors for an actor in Los Angeles.
PPLA: Managers, unlike talent agents can produce, how do you balance your time between talent management and production?
MI: So far that balance is easy to maintain since currently 90% of our efforts are in management. As our actors climb higher and higher up the ladder and we start receiving better and better script pitches we will shift more of our efforts toward production.
PPLA: How important do you find building a team around your talent is? Including an agent and PR, in addition to a manager?
SD: In our opinion the bigger the team around an actor, the better the actor’s career will be. This is true especially in the very beginning stage of each actor’s career. The more talent representatives push an actor’s career the higher the chances are statistically that this actor will do well. As the actor becomes more successful and gains more experience in the industry she/he can then easily make her/his own decisions regarding replacing or letting go one of the team members. Having more team members also allows an actor to make a comparison between them and see which representative is trying hard and which one isn’t really doing their best.
PPLA: How do you decide when to let a client go?
MI: If we are unable to get actor as many opportunities as we think they need to become a working actor or if an actor is unable to book projects that were provided to them then we usually decide to let them go. Additionally, if an actor is a difficult person to work with, isn’t a good team player and causes us constant trouble we let them go, as well.
PPLA: What advice do you have for new talent in Hollywood looking to catch your eye?
SD: New talent should concentrate on taking as many acting classes (Anthony Meindl, Margie Haber, Howard Fine, Ivana Chubbuck, Lesly Kahn, Garry Spatz, etc.) and Improv classes (UCB, iO West, 2nd City, Groundlings) as possible and work on figuring out their look. Tweaking an actor’s look to become more sellable is one of the hardest things to do. Slight variations in facial lines, height, etc. can ruin or make an actor’s career.
MI: We at Entertainment Lab like when actors reach out to us via email and when this email is short, to-the-point and includes a resume, few professional headshots and acting clips (as youtube or vimeo links).
PPLA: What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned over the last six years of Entertainment Lab?
SD: Hard work does not go unnoticed.
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