HRTS Member Profile: Ron West

Ron West Headshot

Ron West

Ron West is a founding partner of Thruline Entertainment. I recently had a chance to interview Ron to discuss merit, managers versus agents, and Dustin Hoffman.

Q: Can you tell us about your background and what made you want to work in Hollywood?
-for me, the choice to go into entertainment was both out of nowhere and, in retrospect, quite obvious. I had just dropped out of law school and was married to an LA native at a very young age. (I’ve since divorced and remarried). I was 22, had a new wife to support, a BA in history and absolutely no marketable skills. In reflecting on what made my college experience meaningful, one of the highlights was the time I spent producing theatre. Brandeis University had a terrific Masters program in theater and some very gifted undergrads. I aligned with a few of them and produced several plays. Not very well, mind you. But it was a blast and gave me focus at a moment in my life when I had very little. So, you’re in LA, you’re broke and you’re a “producer?” Entertainment, of course. I took meetings to join the trainee program at all the big agencies and got job offers from CAA and ICM. At CAA you needed your own car for the messenger runs. I had nightmarish visions of dropping my old Audi transmission on Dustin Hoffman’s lawn and getting fired. So I started in the mailroom at ICM in January of 1994.

Q: How did you first get involved with the HRTS?
-my first exposure to HRTS was, like that of most agents, at the luncheons. I have always been drawn to the business side of the business. I would read the Wall St. Journal and Forbes for a perspective on things, not Variety and the Reporter, which always felt like recycled press releases, not real reporting (at least in those days). So I always appreciated the opportunity to hear from execs and writers directly, independent of the usual spin. HRTS afforded me that opportunity. And, as a young agent, that was a level of access I wouldn’t have attained on my own for several years.

Q: How has the business changed since the day you signed your first client?
-how has it not changed? As a talent representative, the business became so predatory, for one thing. Just as sports teams have stars and role players, agencies have agents whose primary jobs are to agitate and sign outside clients, many of whom have no reason whatsoever to make a move. As a result, it becomes much more difficult as an agent to really guide a client’s career. Advising a client to say no is tantamount to facilitating unemployment. Of course, that’s often the right move. But it leaves the agent vulnerable, since an unemployed client is chum in the water for the sharks. It was one of the reasons I made the move to the management side of things, a certain distaste for that. On the programming side, other than HBO, cable was something of a dirty word back then. Now, it goes without saying, it’s where much of the best work is being done. Unscripted was an even dirtier word. Of course, I imagine the view from Mark Burnett’s jet is probably pretty nice.

Q: How do you identify someone with the potential to become a star?
-you know, that’s a skill set that took quite a while for me to sharpen. I have seen so many thousands of unknown actors evolve (or, overwhelmingly more often, not evolve) into stars that I have developed much finer instincts into that intangible amalgam of qualities that culminate in stardom. There is this certain combination of accessibility and aloofness that people in Hollywood (and, I suspect, the larger world) find very compelling. Some of the biggest stars I’ve met have this innate ability to make you feel like the center of their universe and, at the same time, they feel a million miles away. The process of being discovered has also evolved. You used to need an access point: a family friend, a college drama professor, etc, to be noticed. The playing field has leveled somewhat. Anyone with a Flip cam, a laptop and talent can find an audience beyond his/her immediate circle now. It’s more of a meritocracy, in my opinion, and that’s great.

Q: What’s the best thing about being a manager? worst?
-I love what I do. I get to pick and choose who I work with, much more so than when I was an agent and had 45 clients and 300 colleagues. I purposely maintain a small list (about 10 clients) and am involved in every aspect of their professional lives. I tend to attract, and am drawn to, entrepreneurial clients. I used to be a talent agent. Now I rep writers, package movies, produce television series, sell books and help curate and cultivate ideas. It’s much more suited to who I am at this point in my life. I wouldn’t trade my agency days for anything. It was a phenomenal training ground, a trial by fire every day for nine years. But, literally and figuratively, I can breathe now. That’s better for me, and better for my clients.

There is no “worst” thing about being a manager but it is certainly a transition, both in terms of mindset and in terms of discipline. When you go from repping 45 clients and running a department of 13 agents—I mean, we’re talking four meetings and 150 calls a day on the phone sheet—to, in some ways, starting over, that requires an adjustment. Information doesn’t flow as quickly and you are, almost by definition, no longer a hub of all this activity. My challenge when we started Thruline ten years ago was to take the best of my training and experience and channel it into this new, more entrepreneurial venture. I was probably arrogant at the outset and didn’t allow myself to believe that the adjustment takes time. It did. I was pretty awful at first.

Q: How do you see the business changing over the next few years?
-change is inevitable and to be welcomed. And, though it’s certainly someone’s focus, I am largely unconcerned with the “platform” conversation. Where we eventually watch our content is not my concern – a phone, a TV screen or a computer. My eyes are on our unique prize(s): the content creators. We are in the software business, and our clients are the assets. As long as we do a good job identifying, nurturing and protecting clients, we can thrive. Of course, I am as eager as anyone to know how a $59 billion/year business—television advertising—will evolve in an age where skipping commercials is as simple as reaching for the remote. And I’d be lying if I said it didn’t concern me. But hit shows can still be monetized and there are two beasts—the syndication pipeline and international—that need constant feeding.

Q: Anything you would like to add?
-the “R” in HRTS is, of course, radio. And I weep at the thought that radio might be a dying animal. I am, by nature, much more analog than digital. I have a vintage 1950s art deco radio in my living room. I stare at it all the time. I’m drawn to its beauty and simplicity but also to what it represented: a passageway from your home to some larger world. Television was, of course, a natural progression. And television is my business—I love it. But the intimacy of radio is so much a part of the American experience in the 20th century. I hope it remains so in this century.


Comments: 1

  1. Just uncovered and read your interview, now over a year old! Very refreshing and thoughtful, I really enjoyed it. And I too keep my fingers crossed that Radio continues to play a meaningful part in our lives, as a child in Scotland and now a grandfather in Australia, I listen every day while I paint, garden, even write. Best wishes for all your ventures, you seem well-grounded so I’m sure you’ll continue to filter out the distractions and enjoy what’s around you.
    Andrew Page-Robertson

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