LITERALLY BREAKING INTO SHOW BUSINESS and the offices of William-Morris, Rosie O’Donnell, SNL and more!

 breaking-out8

PART I:

 

I was 14 and skipped morning classes of high school to be in the studio audience of “People Are Talking” at KYW-TV3 – Philadelphia. Television and live television really turned me on at a very young age. So when they exited the audience at the end of the show, I took a right turn, stepped into the elevator and gave myself a tour of the station. When someone asked if they could help me, I simply said, “No thanks. I’m waiting for Lynn McCauley.” I in fact was not waiting for Lynn, nor did I know her. I just picked her name out of the rolling credits of the show I just participated in.

 

Only a few years later, I became the youngest intern and later P.A. at an NBC affiliate. (KYW is now a CBS o/o station).

 

And so it began.

 

In the early 90’s I was on the back lot studio tour of MGM Studios – Florida, when the tramcar announcer said “And to our left are studio production offices currently being rented by Jim Henson Productions.”

 

I lept off the moving tram, climbed under a fence and walked into the front office. “I’m here to see Jim Henson.” I told the receptionist. She said he wasn’t in and as I turned to leave, the Muppet creator entered in conversation with another man. When he finished, I introduced myself and told him I was going to work with him someday. He told me he looked forward to that day.

 

I later worked for Henson in New York many years later thanks to Carroll Spinney and Arthur Novell.

 

Around 2003, I was living in New York when I came up with my first television idea called “The Tomato Lounge”. It was a huge undertaking. Three days, three locations, ten hour days, four principle actors, twenty extras, musical numbers and more. But how would I get the materials seen with no representation?

 

Step one was to make the packaging original so it would not be lost in the piles of unsolicited submissions. Instead of the usual Fed/Ex packaging, we built huge foam tomatoes on platters. The delivery sheet was a supermarket receipt. You open the top of the tomato and the pitch book and VHS tape was inside.

 

Step two. I dressed up like one of the countless couriers in town. Grungy, haggard, annoyed and complete with my photoshopped ID badge from “Courier Express” (there is no such company that I know of). A friend dropped me off. I walked to security, glanced at my clipboard of fake signatures and said, “Yea. Bill Jensen, William-Morris?”

 

GUARD: OK we’ll take it.

ME:  Sorry someone has to sign for it from his office.

GUARD: This is William Morris television!

ME: Congratulations. I’m Courier Express. I have seven more stops to make today! Either they come down or one of you takes me up. Let’s go.

 

(Using my “character scene study” I realized that if I had no interest in show business, I wouldn’t give two shits who they were. Hell it’s television for god sake.)

 

Minutes later they unlocked the elevator and sent me up to the 40th floor. I walk in, give a tired salutation to the receptionist and handed her the clipboard to sign. As I turn around to leave, I hear her on the intercom. “Mr Jenson? There is a giant tomato out here for you. No, not a real one … I think you should come out here.”

 

I have photographed documentation of this event. I got a meeting the next week. And no, they never knew it was Me.

 

Over the next month, I couriered to numerous other high powered stars and producers. When security was locked tight, good timing helped. It got me into Lorne Michael’s office thanks to the distraction of a fire alarm at NBC, there was a missing secretary when I dropped one on the desk of Rosie O’Donnell but only after workin the magic to get their new company address.

 

I was close to being caught only once and 40% percent of my efforts got return calls.

 

Three years ago I moved to Los Angeles and I had very few contacts for getting pitch meetings with networks. Not to mention the fact that receptionists and assistants hate talking to “the general public”. However, assistants do like to talk to other assistants.

 

So I called as my assistant, explaining that “Michael Ziegfeld is going to be in town until next Thursday rolling out new content and he has specifically asked to meet with Bob, so I wanted to see how we can get their calendars together.” Of course she asked what it was about but as a lowly assistant I would not be privy to such things. “However, it is extremely time sensitive.”  

 

Seventy percent of the time, meetings were taken.

 

But let me warn you Newbies, my partner and I had the website, packaging and credits to back up a decent meeting. We also created a very specific way of presenting our communication and product via EPKs or in person and made sure we knew the likes and dislikes of these people regarding pitches. A bad move can hurt you. I crashed and burned once or twice. But that’s another story.

 

OK- one more break-in for ya.

 

In general, you cannot just call up and network and ask, “Hey! Who’s in charge of development and can you connect me?” It is the same with huge agencies. If you don’t have a name, you don’t get through the switchboard.

 

So when I had to figure out who represented television at a major agency, I Googled them only to find a single agent’s name from the publishing department who had been interviewed for some college paper. So I thought, “OK, what’s a big publishing company the big boys deal with?” And then I made the call.

 

 

RING RING.

 

ASSISTANT: Virginia Sandford’s office. This is Rebecca.

ME: Hey Rebecca. It’s Michael from Simon & Schuster.

ASSISTANT: Oh hi Michael!

ME: Listen. I have this package on my desk and I don’t know what to do with it so I thought I’d send it your way. It’s a TV thing. Who over there should it go to?

ASSISTANT: Oh send it to Bob Baker in television, extension 5923.

ME: OK thanks. Have a good day.

ASSISTANT: You too.

 

 

RING RING

 

BOB: Bob Baker.

ME: Hi Bob this is Michael Ziegfeld I was referred to you by Virginia Sandford.

BOB: Oh sure Michael. What can I do for you?

 

 

Wala’! Now of course Rebecca had no idea who I was. But she knew I sounded calm, casual, familiar and she knew who Simon and Schuster were. She probably assumed she forgot who I was because of a heavy workload and a high-strung boss.

 

 

RING RING.

 

MZ: Hello?

DAD: Hi, how’s it going?

MZ: OK. How are you?

DAD: Good. What have you been up to today?

MZ: Lying and I’m exhausted.

 

 

Some might say I was merely acting and pulled innocent by-standards into my improvisation! But even by way of AT&T, I broke into show business once again.

 

It’s been several years. My career is going strong, but when I moved to LA to  look for new management in handling my literary and talent under one roof, I  had considered rejoining the ranks of Courier Express. That day in Philadelphia was a slippery slope.

 

Please kids, do not attend morning talk shows in local markets.

 

– Michael Paul Ziegfeld

 

 

* Names have been changed to protect the innocent.

 

PART II:

 

When I first moved to LA.

 

The TCA Press Junket began at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. Everyday for two weeks a different television network introduces their new shows to the reporting, reviewing & blogging media, which includes a Q & A of the cast and executive producers. If one could get in, it would mean unprecedented  access to every current “player” under one roof.

 

I decided, “Hey. If I could get myself press passes to the Grammys at 17 years old (ask for that story on your own time), then I can get into this.”

 

It had been a tough summer financially but I dipped into my dwindling bank account to make 100 press kits for my literary works. The kit would be on a 1 gig thumb drive and the price included two sided printing (one with my logo and the other with a web address to the same material if someone is virus-paranoid about plugging something into their computer), my pre-loaded data for mac and pc users (harder than you think) and a lanyard. Instead of handing over a ratty old business card or a huge package of material, this would be easy, novel and subtle to pass along.

 

But how would I get it to them? I didn’t know the physical access the press would have. Maybe there would be gift bags I could sneak them into. But there is no guarantee they’d get them or see them.

 

Thank god after the panel Q&A’s, the press would go up on stage. While they swarmed the stars, I’d approach the show runners and EPs.

 

The confrontation is a precise formula of vocabulary. It has to be ego-stroking for them to feel flattered but not making you subservient. You don’t want to lessen your persona of value. It has to be charismatic without making them feel trapped. You must ask permission to give them something while making sure that they take it. If possible, you should execute this plan twice in case one member of the show loses it, breaks it or throws it away. 

 

BREAKING DOWN MY SCRIPT AND THE PSYCHOLOGY:

 

“John. Hi, I’m Michael Paul…” {Get focused attention then warmth and human connection.

 

“I am writing on another show…”  {Industry legitimacy and not one of the millions of wannabe’s.

 

“…but I specifically came here today to meet you.”  {flattery and on a pedestal.

 

“I want to work for you.” {Direct, concise, sincere.

 

“I know this isn’t the best format but would you allow me to give you my press kit.”    {Asking permission to enter their personal space.

 

You’ll notice I did not punctuate that last sentence like a question even though it clearly is one. That is because I asked it in a tone where “no” was not an option in their reply. Firm but kind. And none of the communication was being weighed down with a lot of fluff or detail. These people are busy, inundated, want to get to the press people and don’t want to feel used.

 

This all must be accomplished literally in 10 seconds without being discovered by the people running the event.

 

You see, everyone assumes you are with someone else. The network thinks you are with the hotel. The talent thinks you are with the press. The press thinks you are with the network. But you have to have a personality that can morph when it’s time to blend in with confidence or be aggressive and shut someone down who’s questioning you about your legitimacy.

 

EX1)

 

NETWORK PERSON: Can I help you??

 

ME: No.

 

NETWORK PERSON: Well who are you?

 

ME: I am with the hotel and you are in a secure area. Who are YOU?!

 

Then she backs off, I get nice, I smile and banter with her as an equal being on the “same team.” She leaves.

 

 

EX2)

 

I was trying to speak to a show runner / EP when her business partner stepped in.

 

PARTNER: I’m sorry, are you an actor or something?

 

(w/o missing a beat, I reply a tad annoyed or insulted)

ME:  No. I am with the Huffington Post!

 

PARTNER: Oh I’m sorry. I missed that part!

 

To warm the EP up again I turn back to her.

 

ME: The sensibility of your project choices have been amazing and this show is completely your voice!

 

EP: Oh my god. Thank you! Of course I’d love to take your press kit.

 

 

For the record, I only approached the people I truly felt respect, appreciation and creative connection to. While I talk about how to talk to a person, it by no means is false. Nor am I saying these people are shallow or easily manipulated. All human beings need to be spoken to in a certain way to hear and be heard. I just figured out how to do that in a matter of minutes. If they didn’t sense my sincerity, it wouldn’t work.

 

So far I’ve attended 6 days of the event and handed out at least 20 thumb drives. Only two didn’t want to take them but asked me to call their office assistant, one of which gave me her name and direct number.

 

Does all of this 007 effort work? Time will tell.