Service Helps Agents Spot Parts for Actors : Firm Finds a Script for Profit

Times Staff Writer

At first glance, they appear to be the kind of personal ads one might find in California magazine.

But, in fact, "a 40-ish stockbroker who is feeling a strong desire for marriage and a family" or a "professional, blue-eyed, blonde photographer who aspires to greater (career) opportunities" are snapshot descriptions of characters in a coming TV revival of "The Twilight Zone"--written and released by a little-known company for 500 Hollywood agents who might have just the actor for the part.

The company is Breakdown Services Ltd. The brainchild of Gary Marsh, 31, the Los Angeles-based firm "breaks down" soon-to-be-produced television or movie scripts into descriptions of their individual characters, allowing agents and personal managers to see quickly what roles are out there for the actors and actresses they represent.

"It's invaluable for an agent to be able to look at the breakdown to see all the different parts for actors and all the stories," said Scott Zimmerman, a motion picture casting agent at the giant William Morris Agency. "It's also the best way for those (smaller agents) who don't have access to studio heads to know what's happening."

Billing itself as "the communications network for the entertainment industry," Breakdown Services charges each agent $28 a week for summarizing the scripts, identifying the roles and dispatching the breakdowns within 24 hours.

Way to Finance College Education

"There is no way an agent can cover the entire town as effectively as we can . . . or a casting director can call 500 agents and say, 'Come and pick up a script, this is what I'm looking for,' " Marsh said.

But as Marsh, a former actor, tells it, that's how the system worked before he conceived the idea as a way to put himself through college in 1971.

"Before, all the agents would run around to all the studios to pick up scripts," Marsh said during a recent interview in his West 3rd Street office. "The favored few were given copies or invited into a casting director's office to read them. Everyone else would frantically run around town trying to get their hands on the same information."

Recalling those earlier years of going from studio to studio with pictures of his clients in hand, Len Kaplan, a Los Angeles agent for 27 years, said: "He's (Marsh) changed the face of the business."

Scripts that have been assigned to a casting director are either sent to Marsh or picked up by three field representatives who each day scout the 10 major studios, three TV networks and about 100 independent casting directors for new material.

With a staff of 39 scattered among offices in the talent-rich cities of New York, London and here, Breakdown Services releases between 30 and 50 breakdowns a week.

The company's five drivers each make about 70 stops between midnight and 6 each morning delivering the breakdowns to agents' homes or offices. In addition, the studio gets a complimentary copy of the breakdown of the script it provided.

Spawned Several Sister Ventures

While Marsh declined to say how much his privately held company has done in annual sales over the years, the breakdown service has been successful enough for him and company Vice President Peter Weiss to spawn several sister ventures, including Go-Between, a courier service tailored to the entertainment industry; Commercial Express, a computerized casting service for agents whose clients appear in TV commercials, and RSVP, a ticket reservation service for small theaters and special theatrical events.

Asked whether the studios were nervous about handing over copies of their confidential scripts, Weiss, who is also Breakdown Services' computer expert, said: "Not anymore. They know that we have the reputation of being a highly reputable service. We don't give NBC's script to ABC."

Weiss, 37, added that, to ensure confidentiality, the company has a 10-page contract with its clients outlining what both parties can and can't do with the information.

Still, some of the bigger names in the entertainment business prefer to keep their projects under wraps and don't subscribe to Breakdown Services. An awestruck Marsh recalled the day when, in his words, "the man himself, Steven Spielberg, called" and politely asked him to destroy a copy of the script for Columbia Pictures' "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," which was accidentally released to him.

"At first we were tested," Marsh said. "We'd get a project and a day after I'd get a call from somebody saying, 'I want that script. How much money would it take to get a copy of it?'

"The answer always has to be no amount of money," Marsh said. "The basis of our ability to do what we do is that people trust us implicitly."

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