HRTS Member Profile: Amy Retzinger
Amy Retzinger is a Partner at Verve Talent & Literary Agency. I recently had a chance to interview Amy to discuss writers, inspiration and the Pittsburgh Airport.
Q: Can you tell us about your background and what made you want to work in Hollywood?
-when I was in college, shows like ER and HOMICIDE had just come on the air, and they were as good as any movie. In the first season of ER, there was an episode called "Love's Labor Lost" that moved me (and many others) to tears and went on to win five Emmys. That was what first made me want to work in scripted television. But I was living in Boston at the time, so I took a job as a PA and then eventually as an Associate Producer at a production company called Chedd-Angier that produced science-oriented documentaries for television — PBS, the Discovery Channel, etc. Years later, when I was an agent here in Los Angeles, I was introduced to the writer of that episode, and it was very gratifying to be able to tell him that he’d inspired me to get into the business.
Q: How did you first get involved with the HRTS?
-this is a boring answer, but my agency bought me tickets to the monthly luncheons. I’ve learned a lot over the years, and it’s been particularly interesting to get insight into the parts of the business I know less about , such as reality and news — Brian Williams spoke once and, up until that point, I had pretty much thought that news anchors were merely pretty faces reading off teleprompters. I had no idea they actually researched and wrote their pieces, and now I have a ton of respect for what they do.
Q: How has the business changed since your days at Chedd-Angier?
-by far the most interesting development has to be the recent addition of players like Netflix and Amazon to the scene and the resulting rise of “binge” viewing. The difference between, say, ABC greenlighting a show and Netflix doing it is that, while a traditional network relies on market research and gut instinct, Netflix has nearly perfect information about their consumers. They already know how many of their viewers like political thrillers, or Kevin Spacey, or David Fincher, or even the original HOUSE OF CARDS… which is why when they spent $100 million dollars on their remake of HOUSE OF CARDS, they didn’t even look at it as a gamble. They knew what they were getting.
Q: How do you identify someone with the potential for a long career?
-success in television is as dependent on the execution as it is on the writing, so it's important to find people who can not only tell a great story but have the tools to produce it as well. When I say that, I’m only partially referring to actual production skills or experience. I’m also referring to what college recruiters used to call the “Pittsburgh Airport Test.” Meaning that you can have all the ability in the world as a writer, but what you’ve really got to be is likeable because, if you get the job, you’ll be spending 12 or 14 hours a day in a room with other writers and show runners. So how enjoyable would it be if you and your boss were stranded together during an extended layover in the Pittsburgh Airport?
Q: How is working with Verve similar to or different from working with a large agency?
-I'd like to think that working with us is very different, because Verve was founded specifically to offer an alternative to the larger agencies. One of our fundamental philosophies is that clients should feel that we are working for them, rather than the other way around. We're able to do that because we represent a small list of exceptional writers and directors, which allows us the appropriate time to dedicate to their needs. It's also important that buyers look to us as a partner in finding them the right client for their project, rather than as an adversary, so that they will come to us the next time they have an opportunity. And lastly, though we are extremely hands-on with our clients, we are nevertheless very strategic in the plotting of their careers; we believe that though we may be small in our numbers, we are very big in our thinking.
Q: What’s the best thing about being an agent? Worst?
-the best part of the job is getting to see a project find its home -- to be involved with something at its very outset and help shepherd it to a place where it belongs. You get invested in your clients and in the outcome of their work. The flip side of that coin is that you because you are so very invested in them, it’s hard not to take it personally when a client doesn't get the job or the show doesn't go forward.