BWW Interview: Bohemia Group CEO Susan Ferris Discusses Talent Management, Entertainment Industry And More!
Andrew Burrill for an exclusive interview about Talent Management, the Entertainment Industry, and so much more!
As an individual who has 30+ years in the field of Talent Management, what is something that you look for in prospective talent?Ferris: I have found that pretty much everybody you meet knows somebody that is a great actor. For me, I take each case individually. For example, if my parents say to me, "Oh my god, my best friend's nephew's son is an actor, you have to see him." A lot of times what I'll do is carve out some time to sit and give advice. Because chances are that's exactly what they need. Other than that, I look at every single headshot and resume that comes across my desk, whether it is hard copy or email. I certainly don't answer every call or email, because that would be crazy. If I see something that interests Bohemia, I will call them in for a meeting. Some of my most successful clients came to us this way. What are your thoughts on performers who are continuously asking the famous question, "Should I join SAG-AFTRA, Actors Equity, etc.?" Ferris: Join the union. When actors say "Everyone told me not to join." My first question, "Are you making a lot of money doing non-union?" 90% of the time, "No." What performers need to remember is that's what the union is here for. And if you start to fall into a trap, you have the right to go FI-CORE. A lot of people don't know that you can do this. The Union is not something that performers should be afraid of. If you want to be an actor, and you want to work in television and film: JOIN THE UNION!
Having offices not only in countries around the world, but also in New York City and Los Angeles, have you observed any distinct differences between these two cities for working professionals in the entertainment industry?Ferris: For me, it's Apples and Oranges. I am always fascinated when I hear people bash one coast over the other. And of course, to some, the grass is always greener - but for me, you cannot compare the two. The way we do things in Los Angeles is very different than New York. If you want to be a stage actor, on Broadway, etc., then you have no business living in Los Angeles, bottom line. If you want to do solely theater in Los Angeles, that's your own issue. With the exception of theater in New York, which I have great respect for, it absolutely does not matter where you live. So many series are bi-coastal, being shot in the middle of the country, they are literally shooting everywhere around the world. Live where you are comfortable living. Don't assume that the grass is greener on the other side. However, how we do business in the two cities is quite different. Our speeds are different, People mistake Los Angeles for this dumb, valley-girl stepsister, because we are a little more relaxed. But then New Yorkers get here and say, "Oh wow, they are quicker than I thought." In Los Angeles you are always on; while in line at Starbucks, Barnes and Noble, the grocery store, you're always on. But the thing is, you can always blend into the crowds in New York a little more. But for TV and Film, specifically, I believe it does not matter where you live. To you, what is the difference between having a Manager vs an Agent? Ferris: In recent times, the lines are getting very blurry between us. To me, the bottom line is that a Manager is more of a strategist for your long-term career. It's not always our job to pitch you for new parts, roles, etc., of course, all of us do help with that. Whereas, an agent is more the person who is solely going to get you a job. You can absolutely have one without the other. Every career is different and has different needs.Do you think it's important to have studied arts to pursue an acting career? Ferris: I think that wherever you land on either coast, it is important to be in class, which has very little to do with knowing how to act. Being in class is like working a muscle. Finding a technique is important. Do I think that someone that graduated from Yale or Juilliard is worse than a guy who just got off a bus? No, I think that they are just formally trained. It's about the whole identity of an artist. I don't look at someone who graduated from Carnegie Mellon and think, "Oh wow, I'm signing them instantly." No, they could be worse than a guy who just did a scene for the first time. I think that these two ideas have little to do with each other. But wherever you land, working the muscle is important. An audition class is important, being able to break down sides is very important. But do you have to go to Yale Drama to do that, no, I don't think so.For artists who feel like they face severe type casting, what would you say to them?
Ferris: I am a big believer that everybody in this industry is going to put you in a box, part of what a good talent manager is going to do, is break you out of that box. Whether it be with regard to your gender, race, sexuality, no matter what.
Looking at casting blindly is important. For example, if you are of middle eastern descent, what I can say is that if you are always going in for the casting calls that are "Terrorist Roles" and you don't want to go and audition for that role, then I absolutely support that decision, and will support any of my artists that go against the grain.
Ferris: The entertainment industry shapes the world, and we are giving them all the Kardashians, and this scares me. My question is, "What is the world we are trying to shape?" When you go on a site like TMZ and all you see are rappers, sex scandals, etc., this is what the world is seeing us produce. It doesn't seem to say a lot about us. But it is for entertainment purposes.But when you go on Deadline, where it's supposed to be geared towards entertainment business and all you are seeing is politics; what you have is a lot of our entertainment reporters blurring the lines of our industry. I don't go to my entertainment sites to read politics. I go to my political sites for that. We have become such a 24-hour society that we don't know where to start and stop. When I go onto entertainment news websites, tell me who's leaving the biz, and what films are being made, that's what we need more of. Hollywood likes to think that they are in touch with the average American. I tend to be more conservative than the average Hollywood person. I am not ashamed of that and normally people are very surprised to find out. But I think in general that the entertainment industry is not in touch. That goes so far. Part of what is going on right now is that everyone is so angry and that's their prerogative.
The Hollywood audience are not the people working and living in Hollywood, it's the guy that lives in Missouri, the normal average American. We have to be more careful in the entertainment industry of how much we alienate the world, because at the end of the day, they are buying the movie tickets, deciding what to stream, etc.
Is anyone really stupid for what they believe? No, people are not stupid for having different beliefs. What makes us great is that we can have our beliefs. I have been more open about my political affiliation more than ever during the last year, simply because I am so tired of hearing generalizations that all people who are Republican are assumed to be all the things that society doesn't like about the Republican party. You already put me in a box. But after they spend time with me, they never believe it, and then I am back out of the box because they know I don't, as a person, fit all of these ridiculous generalizations.Do you think that the Entertainment Industry is widely understood by the average American? Ferris: I think a lot of this lends itself to the idea, that deep down, people don't understand entertainment. I think as much of Hollywood is out of touch with society, society is out of touch with Hollywood.
I don't think that Hollywood should be a secret. We are not curing cancer in Hollywood. What we do shouldn't be a secret. If you're coming to Hollywood, and you want to be a part of this world, you cannot come in with your eyes closed. You are going to make mistakes, but you cant be oblivious to it.
I love that the average person looks what I am doing for a career and thinks that it may be all glitz and glam. They have this idea of the amazing life I live. When actually, my life is petty normal and sometimes boring ,and yes sometimes out of control crazy. But for the most part, I live a pretty quiet life when I am not putting out fires.I love what I do, but I am also very aware that I sit in a place that is stilted. I admire the doctors, nurses, the firemen, and have unbelievable respect for the police and military. I think it's great what we do, but at the end of the day, these are the people I admire the most.
YouTube, Instagram Stars, and New Media are very relevant in today's Entertainment Industry, what are your thoughts on this shift in the culture of the industry?Ferris: I have no issue with change. I welcome change, I think it's great. Because I come from the music business, where when the whole digital world started to take over in the 90's, I had already been there and done that. I reveled in the opportunity to do web series, whereas other people said they would never have a client partake in such a thing. I was, and am, excited to see what was going to happen next.
However, I think it's interesting when I hear producers and casting directors say things like, "Gosh, we need to cast someone with 1 million followers' minimum." Not that I think it's horrible to have large following, but that has nothing to do with talent. You have followers, does that equate to talent? Not necessarily. I think this will mesh itself out.
I do think It's a shame that the conversation of whether actors having a built-in crowd is occurring so frequently. Just because you have a million followers, does not mean they are going to watch a movie or television show that the online star will be featured in. If these social media artists really want to act, get into a great acting class. But overall, I think its super exciting.
What are your thoughts on the idea of Arts vs. Entertainment?
Ferris: It's all subjective. For example, who are you, to say to me, "You are in a different league because you don't like or appreciate Opera?" For me, art and entertainment are subjective. I think that art is whatever you want it to be. The definition of pornography is you know it when you see it. To me, art is the same way, you know it when you see it. My job as a Talent Manager is to marry art and commerce. With clients, my job is to let artists reach for the sky, as we keep their feet on the ground.