Fast Company

The Hitmen

Hollywood's emerging crop of online talent scouts are dedicated to discovering talent online, matching up creators of obscure Web videos with the online divisions of traditional media companies, portals, and ad agencies, all of them hungry to try a new sort of storytelling. Meet the United Talent Agency.

Ryan Reber, Brent Weinstein, Barrett Garese, and Jason U. Nadler

United Talent Agency

At 6:45 a.m., a 27-year-old guy rolls out of bed, flips open his laptop, and burns the first 45 minutes of his morning browsing online videos of amateur drummers and speed painters. But he's not a slacker. Jason U. Nadler is one of Hollywood's emerging crop of online talent scouts. The morning regime is his equivalent of an A&R guy hanging in the back of a smoky bar. "I allow myself to get lost [online]," he says. "It's where you find the gems."

Last fall, Nadler and two other assistants at United Talent Agency were tapped to form a new division dedicated to discovering talent online. UTA had already exported some online stars to traditional entertainment tracks (exhibit A: Andy Samberg of TheLonelyIsland.com fame, who's now a Saturday Night Live regular). But Nadler's team was charged with pioneering an entirely new model: matching up creators of obscure Web videos with the online divisions of traditional media companies, portals, and ad agencies, all of them hungry to try a new sort of storytelling.

"We're not going to sign someone just because they have a lot of hits on YouTube or a lot of friends on MySpace," says Brent Weinstein, who heads the group. "What we try to do is drill down and distill whether the artists behind that wacky Internet video are people who can replicate that success over and over again." Among the two-dozen-odd artists UTA Online has signed: the creative team behind Rednecks TV, an episodic online talk-variety show, and Big Fantastic, a team of five twentysomethings behind a serialized online murder-mystery soap opera, which has already won funding for its next project from Michael Eisner's production company.

The online scouts are starting to chip away at the ethos--and let's face it, the etiquette--of the Hollywood ecosystem. At most talent houses (including UTA), agents routinely blow off any screenplay or reel that lands unsolicited in the mail room. But Weinstein's team revels in the unusual, uncredentialed suspects. It recently brokered a deal with the peer-to-peer video-sharing site Veoh, which allows aspiring talent to submit videos directly to UTA's agents. "If we see something we're passionate about, we go after it as quickly as possible," Weinstein says. "Because if we're seeing it, chances are other people are as well. And we want to get there first."

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