Straight Shooting with Jai Khanna, Hollywood Talent Agent and Executive Producer Extraordinaire
Posted by Vivek on September 20, 2009 | 10 Comment
One of the most respected and professional talent agent and manager, in Hollywood, is Jai Khanna. Jai has been a manager for 8 years at Brillstein Entertainment Partners
(BEP). BEP is one of the leading management and production companies, which represents A-list clients such as Brad Pitt, Jennifer Aniston, Natalie Portman, Adam Sandler and Orlando Bloom. They have produced hit shows including Just Shoot Me, News Radio, Bill Maher and The Sopranos. Their film producing credits include Troy, The Departed, Time Travelers Wife and the upcoming Julia Robert’s film Eat, Pray, Love. But like our webzine, it is not only about A-list and the film world. Some of the non A- list folks that Jai represents, in television and film, are the following (credit listed):
Larenz Tate – on RESCUE ME (FX)
Tiffani Thiessen – on WHITE COLLAR (USA)
Esai Morales – on CAPRICA (SyFy)
Sean Astin – on LORD OF THE RINGS (New Line Trilogy)- Film
Christina Cox – on DEFYVING GRAVITY (ABC)
Navi Rawat – on NUMBERS (CBS)
Stephen Root – on TRUE BLOOD (HBO)
Josh Holloway – on LOST (ABC)
Over and above, being a manager, Jai is also a credited executive producer.
Jai came across as a straight shooter, who gave some very thoughtful insights into Hollywood and how it impacts the South Asians. Read on:
What got you into the Entertainment industry?
I’ve always had a passion for Film and TV. I’m intrigued with these mediums as a creative form of communication. It translates and reaches all over the world. I wanted to be involved with cultural influence. I started in an entry level position at a talent agency and worked my way up the ranks.
How does it feel to be one of the flag bearers as a South Asian American, in Hollywood, in the corporate side of the Entertainment Industry?
I’m very proud to be in Indian. I was raised with strong ties to my culture and that has played a major influence in all facets of my life and career. In regards to the Hollywood industry, I’m fortunate to be working during a time that a number of talented Indians are excelling and their commercial appeal cannot be ignored. Some executives and artists have paved the way to make my path a little easier. I’ve always been treated with respect and been given every opportunity available to succeed. That’s all I can expect. In addition, I’ll always be a champion of fellow Indians making their way thru this business, all the while remembering and reminding those that this is still a business, and decisions are formed in that manner.
What are the opportunities and challenges for South Asian talent in Hollywood, both the film and television world?
Opportunities and challenges for Indian talent are the same as others. People of Indian ethnicity are excelling, in all facets, and, now even in Entertainment. If that was not the case, then one might focus on the cultural or ethnic aspect of being Indian and South Asian, but this is not an excuse any more. I can point to a number of individuals who are leading by example. As with anyone, the main challenge is the ongoing level of high competition. Talent, with perseverance, rises to the top.
With Globalization and Slum Dog Millionaire upon us, what initiatives are you undertaking from an Indian film industry perspective, specifically with regard to talent from India to the US and vice versa?
I work with a number of actors from India. The process is still very unclear and the motivation is lacking from the India side. However, I completely understand it. Assuming we are talking about A-list stars from India, their motivation is limited to work here and engage in our process. They are big stars in India and treated like royalty. Hollywood doesn’t work the same way. It’s a longer and humbling process to get the roles you want. Indians actors won’t get treated in a special way, and I don’t blame them. They work in their industry and have earned a level of respect. I have yet to see it, but it will take a special person, either someone somewhat aging, or one with a limited ego, to work in our system. In the meantime, there is no rush. Both industries are thriving and a need to globalize may be a bit premature.
What are the challenges that you feel when dealing with the Bollywood film industry and where do you see the future of collaboration between the two “woods” Hollywood and Bollywood?
The infrastructure of both industries is vastly different. Just because some films have crossed over, and a few actors are experimenting, the mentality and work ethic is much different. Motivation for an American to work in India, either a script writer or actor, is challenging because the pay will be a lot less than one earns in the US, and there is no union jurisdiction that protects them from any wrong doings. Having negotiated with Indian producers, the process is frustrating due to their rigidness and lack of compromise. The long drawn out process is discouraging enough for us to pass on these opportunities. Most dealings have to be based of good faith, which is a difficult philosophy for us to comprehend, especially when we are very contract oriented.
You have also worn the cap of an executive producer (“EP”), how did that come about?
Our company has a number of resources, which include representing financiers, producers, writers, directors and actors. When we develop a script, we are able to package it with strong elements, thus playing the role of an EP. Our track record is extensive and our name alone in the EP capacity gives productions much needed credibility. It’s a fun process as well, and one that exercises my creative juices. I’ll continue down this path, since I’ve built strong relationships in town to help package exciting projects.