Archis 2007 #3

Conversation with Ben Katz

— by and

Jeffrey Inaba We believe architecture public relations is still in its infancy and we suspect there is much more that architecture can learn from PR professionals in other fields an in particular the entertainment industry. We want to speak to you because of your knowledge of the movie industry to figure out possible ways for architects to manage notoriety more effectively. Can you explain what you do?

Ben Katz I love architecture. At one point in my life I actually wanted to be an architect. Architects are a big deal. When Brad Pitt formulates the guest list for his wedding to Angelina Jolie, when gays get their right to marry, the first people on that list will be architects – that’s the kind of status architects have in Hollywood. Long story short, I am a film producer, I run Ben Katz Productions. We do movies, generally filming in third-world countries. I also run a company called Etchstar that makes etch art for iPods. I can put virtually any artwork you want on the back of an iPod…

JI Can you talk a little about your movie industry work in the past?

BK I worked in the independent film department of Creative Artists Agency. Basically, I sold independent films to the DVD and feature film markets. At William Morris I worked with one of the senior agents in the Talent Division who represents Kirsten Dunst, Mandy Moore, and other great minds like that. [laughs]

JI What does an agent do?

BK Well, an agent acts as a clearinghouse between an actor and movie and TV projects in the making. The goal is to represent the actor by finding projects that fit his or her creative goals. For example, Kirsten Dunst’s agent is Theresa Peters at William Morris. She helps Kirsten develop her career by looking for movie projects that fit her artistic agenda. Kirsten Dunst might say, ‘I’m fine to play in romantic comedies as long as every once in a while I get to do something a little different.’ Translation: an agent will try to find her projects that keep her artistically relevant so when she does movies like Spiderman her fans don’t think she’s a sell-out. [laughs] For actors like Christina Ricci, their goal is to be a classic actor. She might say, ‘I only want to play tortured women.’[laughs] To get established – and I imagine this is true too in architecture – an actor has to keep reinventing him or herself as an artist. At the end of the day if you represent Adam Sandler it’s hard to see where the growth potential is. As an agent it‘s your job to say, “alright what movie can he do that‘s between Happy Gilmore and I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry that that can bring out a new side of him?”

JI In architecture there are no agents. There isn’t an official part of the profession that gets a commission for matching up architects with clients. In Hollywood what is the power pecking order? Is it the talent [actor] who has the most power, then the agent, followed by the publicist?

BK Do you ever watch Entourage? That will give you a good understanding. The idea is that the agent and publicist work together to create value for the actor’s reputation or brand. They create value by keeping an actor hot as far as public interest. Entourage gives a good example of the dynamics between the sway of the publicist and the sway of the agent in creating value for an actor. A publicist can create value through exposure, promoting a client through event-based opportunities like TV appearances, or attending award shows. An agent creates value through projects, like movies. For a client like Mischa Barton, the publicist is going to be just as important as the agent. Thanks to her agent, she is already the star of a popular TV show. To propel her celebrity beyond that recognition, it‘s important for the publicist to keep her hot and in the
press. The goal of a publicist who has a client like Lindsay Lohan is to keep her in the press for the right reasons, rather than the wrong ones. Her publicist doesn’t have a lot of value to create at the moment because no one is doing any project with Lindsay until she stops putting powder up her nose… An agent also will be involved in trying to create value for younger actors. An agent can promote a less established actor by leveraging bigger talent. An agent representing an A-List actress for a particular film project might say, ‘there are some actors I want you to look at to fill the four or five younger roles in the movie.’ It’s kind of a trade.

Harmony Murphy So an aspiring actor might come to you before they actually have a body of work? It would be your job to propel a less established actor?

BK Yes, the agent’s job is to get them out there.

JI Does it ever work the other way around? Does a publicist ever come to an agent and say, I have an idea for creating value for an actor? Would a publicist propose to re-invent an actor’s character range (like Adam Sandler’s) by asking the agent to look out for a new kind of role or script?

BK Absolutely. There are publicists who tend to just work with one or two particular agents. The head of the most powerful agency has a brother who is a publicist. In fact, two or three of the biggest publicists are
siblings of the most powerful agents. The creation of value between the agent and publicist is clearly a two-way street.

JI Who are the big players?

BK PMK-HBH and Rogers & Cowan. Entertainment is a big business, but architecture is a much bigger business. I’m not saying that an architect will ever be as highly compensated as Kirsten Dunst. I just feel that
architecture touches a bigger industry. Hollywood is only a pimple on the giant butt of the corporate elephant of General Electric or Viacom.

JI What are some possible ways for architects to better monetize their services and be compensated more for what they do?

BK What it may come down to is that architects are too humble. They are really good at creating, but not necessarily good at talking about themselves. My advice is to get out there in the community as much as possible.
When I do anything I try to send as many free samples out so people get a sense of what I do. You have to really build up the message of what you do, how you are unique.

HM That might be the solution for architects: graduate and get a publicist.