Hailey Wierengo of UTA
Hailey Wierengo of UTA

HAILEY WIERENGO, UTA Independent Film Group

Age: 26

Education: University of Michigan, Communication Studies, Art History

Career background: My first experience in the business was as a college intern at Picturehouse and Greenestreet Films in New York, which was my introduction to independent film. After graduating, I came to Los Angeles and joined the UTA agent training program. A year into it, I became assistant to UTA partner Rich Klubeck, co-head of UTA’s Independent Film Group, which reintroduced me to the indie world from a completely different side of the business. When Rena Ronson joined the agency to co-head the indie department, I had the unique opportunity to work with her and to continue to train in film packaging and the international side of the business. I started attending the Sundance, Cannes and Toronto film festivals and began developing business relationships and my own point of view on material, which UTA really values. When I read “Beginners,” a really special script, and saw how the department surrounded the client and the project to help bring it to life, I was hooked.

Agency tenure: Five and a half years. I started in the mailroom right after graduation, and my first desk was working for two motion picture lit agents who between them covered almost every studio. From there, I worked for Rich Klubeck for two years, then Rena for one year before getting promoted.

Ambitions: I want to build on the skills I’ve developed thus far and to continue to grow in this constantly changing area of the business. The things that excite me about my job are being involved in every stage of the process, working with visionary filmmakers and the challenge of putting films together. It’s a job where people are constantly telling you no — this movie isn’t financeable, that movie doesn’t have an audience — and the onus is on the agent to do everything possible to make it happen. I believe that if I can do great work in this job, I can do anything. And, simply put, my goal is to get more of our clients’ films on the screen. 

Filmmaking and filmmakers that inspire you: I love dark and twisted comedy and satire. On the other hand, I’m a sucker for the catharsis from a beautifully rendered drama, and I cry early and often at the movies. I’m also a nerd for production design, so I enjoy period pieces that really transport me to another place in time. The devil is in the details!

What you spend your time doing at Sundance: Thankfully, by the time we are in Park City much of the work has already been done by making sure all the buyers are fully briefed on our slate, that we have a complete picture of the buyer landscape and competing titles and that we have a good idea of sales strategy for our clients’ films. I’m usually stationed at the back of the theater at our sales screenings to take note of the buyers in attendance and to gauge audience and buyer reaction. I work closely with Rich and Rena, and also David Flynn and Bec Smith, the two other supremely talented agents in the department, when the sales process begins. Admittedly, my favorite part starts when the craziness dies down and I can sneak in several movies for myself.

What young or new filmmakers could learn from you in a five-minute conversation on the street in Park City: I think half the battle is knowing exactly what movie you are making. This means trusting your creative vision and making difficult choices to achieve your goal. Getting perspective from others is helpful, but in the end the vision has to be your own, and everyone you hire has to be on board with your film. Getting a film finished and in front of an audience is not an exact science and not at all easy, so having the passion for the project and trusting your team is essential. 

Heads of your department: Rich Klubeck and Rena Ronson

Best/most useful thing learned from those above you: I’m very lucky to be surrounded by supportive colleagues whom I admire, and they and the rest of the agency have empowered me to push myself and to learn everything I can. Rich has taught me about what goes into representing filmmakers and structuring deals. Rena has taught me everything from the nuts and bolts of film financing to the nuances of the international marketplace. They have both taught me the global reach of independent film, and it has been really instructive to work on projects that involve international directors, casts and financing. Bec and David have taught me perseverance and above all never to give up even when something seems utterly impossible. Rena is also a great example of a woman balancing professional success and a personal life.

The keys to making the most of the junior position, from Rena Ronson, co-head of UTA Independent Film Group: The key to making junior agents successful is to not treat them as junior agents. There is a strong spirit of entrepreneurship at UTA, and we want young agents to feel empowered and supported. They participate in negotiations and key meetings as consistently as possible. The only way to understand how to manage a negotiation for a client or to figure out the most advantageous distribution deal when the best one may not be obvious is to be involved. Training agents is a key part of the agency’s growth strategy, and we view it as an investment in UTA’s future.