When in doubt… #CreateMeaning by Pamela Francis


I once worked as the receptionist at a talent agency in Hollywood.  We represented Tyrese Gibson before he quite became the international R&B heartthrob and star of the Fast & Furious series he would later become.  We represented Regina Hall before the Scary Movie parodies.  And we had Wilmer Valderrama swiped right out from under us just when That 70s Show took off and made him a Latinx television A-lister.  During my earlier days at the agency I would receive scads of manila envelopes from all the young and no-so-young hopefuls looking to get represented by my beautiful and gifted boss, Pervis Atkins.  Pervis had played professional football for the LA Rams and the Oakland Raiders and was quite the celebrity in his own right, being the only Black talent agency owner on the block, as well as an independent filmmaker and socialite.  He would tell you that he repped Demi Moore back when she was this or that and had the photos on his always overflowing desk to prove it.  He would regale you with tales of parties and meetings and showcases attended.  Under his employ I had my most successful and meaningful times in the industry, going on to become his Vice President of Acquisitions, as well as selling my own writing inhouse eventually.  But I can recall a time where the envelopes coming through the door and the headshots piling up in the drawers gave me a feeling of hopelessness both for the actors and for us as an agency.  The showcases failed to inspire.  The projects being created and cast just seemed hollow and stupid to me.  This was pre-Shonda Rhimes, right before that eruptive 1999-ish time in Hollywood when the African-American community became very vocal about the lack of diversity on television and the big 3 networks (NBC, ABC, CBS) rushed to remedy that by looking over at the WB for what to do better.  In any event, my mind was on something more edifying than Jamie Foxx dressed like a woman with his teeth bucked, and I began to look for ways to make myself believe that what I was doing for a living had any merit at all. Because the headshots were coming in by the bushel, and the follow-up phone calls too, I latched onto the idea that rather than tossing them into “the round file”, I might really look at each one, read their cover letter, and actually jot down a note or two to be able to tell them something concrete when they inevitably called or in some cases just showed up at our doors on Crescent Heights Blvd in west L.A.  I started bringing the envelopes home, splaying them out on my livingroom floor and taking stock of people’s feelings rather that just being really adept at spotting our winning types and cultivating a relationship with them only.  I was not getting paid any extra for this, and at the time it did not occur to me that this is what dedication and superior CRM actually looks like in any workplace.  But for me, creating meaning where it had flagged almost to nothing came down to seeing the human on the other side of the bottom line and making a commitment to taking care of them.

PS, this was in early ’98. I left the entertainment business in late 2000 and went full time into educational philanthropy where I would later become, you guessed it, a learning coach to celebrities and their struggling kids.  My students included Kirstie Alley and Parker Stevenson’s kids, Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman’s children, and fledgling Oprah junior Rolanda Watts.

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