HRTS Member Profile: Brian Volk-Weiss
Brian Volk-Weiss is Head of Production and Senior Vice President of Talent Management at New Wave Entertainment. I recently had a chance to sit down with Brian to discuss STAR WARS, Chris Albrecht and everything but the soundstage.
Q: Can you tell us about your background and what made you want to work in entertainment? How did you get involved with the HRTS?
-I was very inspired by a very specific movie in my childhood, I saw STAR WARS when I was like three years old and it made me want to be in the movie business. Since that age I knew I wanted to be in the business. I came out to LA and started getting people coffee, doing menial jobs, I just worked my way up and what I discovered was that a lot of my beliefs of what I would do out here, what I thought they would be, they weren’t. I thought I was coming out here to be a director of movies but what I thought directing was was actually producing so that right away twisted my initial thought of what I wanted to do.
I’m very into logistics, I’m very into what you and I would now call in an unglamorous way, administrating. I had a natural tendency towards it. I got away from directing very quickly, within three or four months and got into producing. I’m also very entrepreneurial so I wanted to be in a situation where I could help something grow. I started off at a very small company that eventually sold to New Wave, it was just Barry Katz and myself at first and now it’s pushing fifty people. I also realized early on that TV is so much faster than movies and because of that, that changed me again. So, instead of directing movies I wanted to produce and administer a system that would do a lot of TV.
As for HRTS, I had a lot of friends that were a part of it, that went to a lot of the events and to be honest with you, I felt like I was outside of an important club. They would tell me all about who they met, who they heard speak and I realized that I had to be a part of it.
Q: Can you tell us a bit about New Wave, I understand that you have everything but the soundstage?
-that’s my unofficial slogan and we do, we have everything but the soundstage. We have a talent management department that represents actors, writers, directors, comedians, and we have a development department that develops alongside our clients and sometimes not with our clients but they’re always developing shows. We have a production department where if we sell something that production department will actually make it and we have our newest division, New Wave Dynamics, which is our online distribution service which is also now in the real world, we’re releasing our first physical product very soon.
Q: What is your decision-making process when considering a potential new client?
-it really comes down to material. Anything they do - if they’re a writer, if they’re an actor, if they’re a director, it’s all about the material. If you think that the market is looking for a certain thing, you’re dead because if you go with what the market wants you’re always gonna be behind. The way you can hedge your bets is you just go for the material. If you see a comedian that maybe doesn’t look like a traditional comedian but the material is great and you’re laughing your ass off then you go with your gut. Even if he or she only has two or three fans in the world, if you bet on the material maybe it’ll take a year or maybe it’ll take eight years but you cannot go wrong if you bet on the material. Same thing if you have an actor or an actress that reads the same sides as everybody else reads but does it in such a way that makes you feel something well then that’s their version of material and that’s what you gotta go with.
Q: What are some of the factors in the long-term success of a star?
-you need three things to be a star: first, you gotta have a look that the population in general is looking for, and that look changes over time. Second, you need the talent and that’s never changed. Third is what I call the “John Williams factor” – basically if you read any interview with George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, any of these people that have worked with John Williams they all say the same things: 1. this guy is the most genius orchestra score guy who ever lived, he’s amazing, and 2. he’s a Southern gentleman. This is the third thing you need to be a star now, you can’t be some asshole fucking up your trailer, yelling at people and showing up two hours late. You want to be a star now it’s a business. Nothing shows this better than Tom Cruise, he’s always been famous for being a businessman, always been famous for going places and shaking hands and doing what it takes. John Travolta came back with PULP FICTION and he’s kept going because people liked him and so would give him a second chance, a third chance, people liked him and so he kept doing well. On the other hand, take this guy from the Dreamworks film I AM NUMBER FOUR, Alex Pettyfer, all kinds of heat around him and trust me, he’s done. You could do that kind of stuff back in the forties and fifties and get away with it but not today, it’s changed.
So, you have to be talented, you have to have the right look and you have to be a gentleman. You also need a good dose of luck and that’s always been there.
Q: How has comedy changed in the past few years?
-it’s definitely changed, two trends that I’ve seen my entire career have really sped up in the last four or five years. There’s a massive focus on real. It used to be that someone like Bill Cosby, who’s one of my favorite comedians of all time, would get on stage and do all these jokes about a lot of things but very few of those jokes were about him, very few of those jokes were about his own experiences. Same thing with Seinfeld, it was about observation. Now a lot of humor is about men and women getting up on stage and talking about their experiences, talking about things that happened to them. When I first got into the comedy business, if you got up and had a funny observation about a phone that would work but now it’s more about ‘what is your unique perspective’?
The other trend is a massive race towards being edgy, it’s like a Cold War to see who can be edgier. You have some comedians that are clean comedians, and the theory is that the people in the flyover states respond better to this but that’s not true at all, they go out there to laugh. Jay Leno, who everybody shits all over, watch his show, he’s edgy and that guy’s selling five thousand seats a weekend in Des Moines. He’s edgy on his show, he’s edgier in his live shows and that’s what the American people want to see.
Q: Where do you want to be five years from now?
-I want to be where we, in the shortest amount of time, are able to deliver the most amount of high-quality product. If we’re selling six scripted shows a year now I want to be able to sell twenty scripted shows a year. If we’re selling fifteen unscripted shows I want to be selling thirty unscripted shows and I want them all to be quality, it’s very important to me that New Wave be synonymous with quality. I’d rather lose money on a job but have the quality reputation intact than make money and deliver a shitty product. Just like AMC, it’s like being a curator, there’s someone at AMC who viewers know they can trust, they like MAD MEN, they like WALKING DEAD, they trust that guy and so are gonna tune in. Same thing with HBO, when it first launched Chris Albrecht saw what everyone else was doing, and decided to go in a different direction. Chris Albrecht is one of my idols, I worship Chris Albrecht, I’ve been watching his career since I was in high school and that’s what I want New Wave to be – anyone we call, an agency, a network, if we have something and they see our brand, maybe it’s not for them but they’ll know it’s quality and they’ll know we care about it. I want us to be a brand that everybody loves and trusts.
Q: Anything you would like to add?
-it sounds cheesy but I love who I work with. I work with the greatest people, we work hard, we have a good time together. We travel, we do a lot of shooting outside of LA so we’re on the road together a lot and I love who I work with. I feel very, very fortunate that there’s no asshole here, there’s no one who doesn’t fit in, we all work well together. That’s what I love.