In 2008, UCLA alumna Joannie Burstein was invited to stay at the Versace home in Milan with her client, “Grey’s Anatomy” star and the face of the brand’s ad campaign, Patrick Dempsey.
Not knowing that her career would lead her to such places, Burstein landed an assistant job at a talent agency 31 years ago, after graduating from UCLA. After working as a talent agent for 10 years, she founded The Burstein Company, a management firm where she now represents actors and writers across the entertainment spectrum.
Currently, Burstein works with entertainment professionals including Dempsey, Jason Ritter from “Girls” and Keri Russell from “The Americans.”
The Daily Bruin’s Maryrose Kulick spoke with Burstein about her experiences as a talent agent and manager and her advice for students looking to make it in the entertainment industry.
Daily Bruin: Can you explain how you made the switch from being a talent agent to owning a management company?
Joannie Burstein: At the time I had a son who was a year old, and I wanted to have fewer clients. Rather than working in a corporate arena at an agency, I wanted to kind of control my own destiny so to speak. So management seemed more appropriate for me, which is overseeing the client’s career – helping them not only get their jobs, but with their press, making sure their travel and all of their accommodations are okay for them when they’re on location, making sure that their financial matters are in place with their accountants or their business managers.
As a manager, I oversee a career from soup to nuts and look at the short-term goals and help them with their long-term goals, whereas an agent is about booking and getting them jobs.
DB: You represent actors that have been nominated for Golden Globes, Tony Awards and more. How did you build your company to represent this group of clientele?
JB: I think really honing in on projects that they would be right for. Introducing the talent to different writers and directors and studio executives, producers. And knowing that they’re talented, trying to marry their abilities with their interests and sticking with them. A lot of it is hopefully you stay with these clients for the long haul or for a long period of time so you can grow together. So when I first got involved with their careers, many of them had had careers or were reinventing their careers. Like Patrick Dempsey did a movie, “Can’t Buy Me Love,” way back when, so we started getting him involved in the television arena, and that’s where “Grey’s Anatomy” came along.
DB: In working with such a wide variety of people in the entertainment industry, you must have built up a substantial collection of stories. What’s one of the most interesting things that’s happened in your career?
JB: I had a boss when I was an agent who wanted me to negotiate a deal when I was in labor with my son. He didn’t want another agent to do it. So I was negotiating right before I was giving birth, which is probably why I left to go be a manager. But it exemplified the long hours, and how people don’t really wait for you to have a life. This job is so all encompassing. I feel like I’m a doctor on call sometimes. I’m getting calls on the weekends and emails at night. Your time is not always your own. So it was just really apparent to me when I was giving birth to my child, the fact that I was asked and pushed to make a deal for an actor.
DB: Do you have any advice for students looking to make it in the entertainment industry after college?
JB: My advice is to never give up. My advice is to stick with it and to start on a desk as an assistant no matter what capacity you’re in and to be willing to say yes to everything. Be willing to work long hours, be willing to take it all in, be willing to read on nights and weekends, be willing to understand who’s who in the business. To immerse oneself in every aspect of it, and if you can do that, it will all fall into place one way another. It may take time. And give yourself time.
Compiled by Maryrose Kulick, A&E senior staff.