I majored in film production at university, but spent my free time stage-managing and generally helping out in the student theatre. When I left, I headed to Los Angeles. I had been accepted at UCLA film graduate school, but deferred my place to work for a year before taking up my master’s degree.
Back then, you looked in the wanted ads in the newspaper and I saw a job being advertised for a film merchandising company, so I went for an interview. Little did I know that the man I was interviewed by was in charge of the merchandising for Star Wars. He said I was much too qualified for the post, but he would call his friend George and recommend me for a job.
It turned out that with the unexpected success of Star Wars, which had just been released, the Lucasfilm office on the Universal lot was being swamped by telephone calls so I was hired as the junior receptionist to help contain the madness and never did take up my place at UCLA.
I had held down several jobs during university, but had never worked in an office before so it was quite a steep learning curve. But I did know about making films, so I felt at home in the environment. And I learn quickly.
Although I was working in film production, I missed the world of theatre, so eventually headed to New York, which is where I became an agent. The lessons I learned from that first experience and took with me into my agent work – and would recommend to others – were to respect the creatives on a project, to cooperate with colleagues and to make sure you enjoy your work and have fun doing it.
I was definitely in the right place at the right time, which is why I always encourage people front and backstage to take advantage of all opportunities, even if you don’t know where they will lead.
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, but always take responsibility for them. Don’t be hesitant to start at the bottom rung and climb the ladder; it can be a very rewarding experience.
And no matter how good a job you have, if you don’t feel fulfilled, keep looking.
Training: Wesleyan University, Connecticut
Theatre clients include: Sam Mendes, David Mamet, Matthew Warchus, Deborah Warner and the estate of Brian Friel
Other credits: Founding partner of the Agency (London) Ltd, representing film, theatre and television writers and directors
Agent Leah Schmidt was talking to John Byrne