Agent/23"/dt1st/mark2nd

By FRANK SWERTLOW

Staff Reporter

Richard Weston is on the phone with a producer a nervous producer. It's Weston's job to calm him down.

At issue is a TV movie that would star an actor with a troubled past. Weston's client will direct the movie if the producer gives the green light. But the producer is worried that the actor attached to the project might cause problems.

Weston assures the caller that the actor has changed, dramatically. "He's a pussycat," Weston says. "He's been transformed by ageism. He understands that it's not about pride; it's about working."

The producer listens and does not say no. Weston will get back to him with more information to bolster his argument. But, sounding more like a psychologist than a talent agent, he adds that if negotiations progress, the producer must confront the actor about his feelings.

"You'll have to be blunt, get it on the table," Weston says. "Hit it square and be honest."

Weston and his partners Stephen Rose and Jeffrey Benson run Major Clients Agency in Beverly Hills, a boutique for writers, producers and directors in television and feature films. They don't handle actors and actresses, preferring not to compete with giant agencies.

Major Clients has a dozen agents. A major agency like William Morris might have 150. "It's a niche and it works for us," Weston says. "We offer an alternative to getting lost at a big agency."

This morning, when he is not on the telephone, he is sending e-mails or responding to them. He e-mails his secretary to save time. He e-mails clients in London and Canada. He uses the Internet to comb the British papers to find reviews of plays in which he might be interested. Scripts and treatments fly through cyberspace to and from clients across the globe.

"A script can be on my desk in minutes," he says. "I wish more people in Hollywood could e-mail."

The telephone rings again. Weston talks to a New York agent about a literary agent in Los Angeles he's thinking about hiring. He wants the juice about the West Coast agent first.

"What do you hear?" Weston asks, and then listens intently. Then he asks the agent if he has any projects or clients on the table.

In Hollywood, information is gold, and advance information is platinum covered with diamonds. Conversations about people and projects fuel the Hollywood machine.

For instance, Weston has learned that a major film star has a TV production deal that's in trouble. One of his clients worked with the star on a TV show and might be able to fix the problem. If the problem does get fixed, the star will owe Weston's agency a favor.

"In the past, TV was simple," Weston says. "There were three networks. It was like the pizza man sliced the pie into three pieces. Now those pieces are eight to 20. Who would ever have imagined that we would be involved in German, French, Quebec and U.S. TV production? It wasn't on the radar screen."

If Weston is not having breakfast with a client or TV executive, he arrives at his office at about 9 a.m. He'll break for lunch, which will be with a client, producer or network executive. This is where pitches usually occur. Evenings are often occupied with screenings or at tapings of his clients' shows. If not, he's home by 7.

On Fridays, when many sitcoms are taped, Weston will only spend a few minutes at the sound stage and head home to be with his family. Weston, who is Jewish, observes the traditional Sabbath with his wife and three daughters, meaning he must be at home by sunset.

"My family comes first and my religion is important," he says.

Weston did not start out as an agent. A graduate of Brooklyn Law School, he worked for New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller and New York Mayor John Lindsay.

While working at Lindsay's office, he met another mayoral aide, Jeffrey Katzenberg, who would become the head of Paramount's film division years later and would open the door to Weston in 1977.

At Paramount, Weston started as a vice president of merchandising and later as president of the studio's TV production division. He left in 1984 to co-found Major Clients. Politics is tough, he says, but Hollywood is tougher.

"Here, it is not an uncommon practice to gloat on people's failures even if that success or failure will, in no way, affect your career," he laments, "It's sad."

While the stereotype of a Hollywood talent agency pictures a supercharged office filled with screamers, it's pretty quiet at Major Clients. "I won't tolerate screaming," Weston says. "This business is tough enough."

As Weston speaks, staffers move up and down the hallways working on their assignments. Friday is bagel day, a tradition at the agency, and workers stop at the office kitchen for coffee and a snack.

Weston's office is nearby. It is neat, large and filled with photos of his wife and family. His phone rings again. One of his clients, a producer, wants to hire Kathy Bates to star in a new play. Does Weston know how she can be convinced to sign on?

"Why not ask her to direct and star," he suggests. "It would be a challenge. She wants to direct. Offer it to her."

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