When not in class at Fordham Law, Michael Moore ’19 is helping Broadway playwrights, composers, and other creatives land jobs through his own theatrical agency.
An ambitious theatrical agent is mounting not one but two musical revivals this year (The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas and Children of a Lesser God). In New York, such Broadway news is quite typical. However, the man behind the agency is not your typical impresario; he’s an evening student at Fordham Law. Michael Moore has just completed his first semester at Fordham Law, and he runs his own theatrical literary agency.
As a boy growing up in Wichita, Kansas, Moore longed to be on the stage instead of in his seat whenever his parents took him to a live theater performance. When he was a junior in high school, he joined a summer program offered to interested theater kids at Northwestern University. There, he worked with Peter Hedges (who wrote What’s Eating Gilbert Grape) and acted with fellow student Thomas Lennon (best known for playing Lt. Jim Dangle on Reno 911!). When he was accepted into Northwestern, his parents could not afford the tuition. Instead, he attended the University of Kansas after winning a number of scholarships for voice, acting, and academics.
While a freshman at Kansas, Moore was cast as the lead in Cabaret. John Kander, the composer of the musical (as well as Chicago, Zorba, and the famous song “New York, New York”), was sitting in the audience. Kander spoke with the cast and crew after the show and asked Moore what he wanted to do. Moore replied that his goal was to become a professional actor, to which Kander replied, “Unfortunately, kid, I think you’re cursed with a career.” Kander was not criticizing Moore’s performance but rather observing that Moore seemed to possess the talent and personality to successfully endure in the unforgiving business of entertainment.
In the fall of 1992, Moore moved to New York City with the aid of the Kansas Cultural Trust (now the Koch Cultural Trust), which subsidizes young emerging artists in their transition from amateur to professional. During these years, Moore worked at the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, New Jersey, where he earned his Actors’ Equity Card. Some of his credits include the Broadway production of Cyrano: The Musical, the original cast of Alan Menken’s A Christmas Carol at Madison Square Garden, the national tour of The Scarlet Pimpernel, Bette Midler’s remake of Gypsy on CBS, and HBO’s Mrs. Harris with Annette Bening and Sir Ben Kingsley.
Around 2001, Moore became interested in the other side of the business; he was especially curious as to how and why actors landed their roles. As an actor himself, Moore felt as though he had no control over his own career.
“Not that I didn’t love it,” Moore hastens to add, “but I was 30 years old and I wanted, you know, a savings account.” When Nicole Kidman’s manager offered him an assistant position in Los Angeles, Moore packed up and headed west. Soon after, Moore was hired at Universal Pictures and worked directly under then co-president Scott Stuber. Moore recalls his interview with Stuber as a moment in which he was very honest with himself and his potential employer. His honesty paid off; he was hired.
Over the next few years, Moore learned that “movie magic” had less to do with magic and more to do with administrative tenacity. In 2004, Moore struck out on his own and founded his own management, booking, and production company in Los Angeles, which was devoted to representing directors, designers, choreographers, and other artists. After several years in management, Moore concluded that most of his clients didn’t need a manager; they just needed a really good agent.
He was also inspired, and shaken, by a landmark court decision.
According to California state law, only agents—not managers—can procure work for their clients. In 2008 in a California Supreme Court decision, Marathon Entertainment Inc. v. Rosa Blasi et al., an actress successfully sued her manager when he illegally procured work for her. When Moore learned of this action, he began contemplating the merits of earning a law degree.
Missing the energy and immediacy of New York City, Moore flew back east where he folded his extant agency into Paradigm Talent Agency under the mentorship of legendary theatrical literary agent Bill Craver. After two years at Paradigm and with Bill’s blessing, Moore again went the entrepreneurial route, and, armed with new agency knowledge, founded the Michael Moore Agency, which represents playwrights, composers, directors, set/costume/lighting/projection designers, music directors, and casting directors on Broadway and in film and television.
One night at the Metropolitan Opera House, Moore met a law professor from NYU who specializes in negotiating film rights. Moore expressed a desire to learn more about net profits, so she invited him to audit her class at NYU. Moore learned why studios, legally, never show that their movies earn a profit on paper, and why his clients would never see net profits. Fascinated by the legal aspect of the entertainment industry, Moore started studying for the LSATs and applying to law programs.
Because he still wanted to run his business during the day, Moore knew he could apply only to schools with an evening program, and he knew that Fordham Law has the best evening program in New York. Not only is Moore a self-proclaimed “Catholic school kid” familiar with Jesuit pedagogy, he was pleased at the idea that he could ride his bicycle from his home or office in Chelsea to school at Lincoln Center. Although he arrived 45 minutes late to his LSATs (he was stuck on the subway), he was ultimately accepted into one of the nation’s most prestigious evening programs, at Fordham.
At 44 years old, he “had a little fear of law school,” but he told himself, “If these ‘kids’ can do it, I can do it.” Having completed his first year, Moore envisions himself studying entertainment law or tax law.
Moore likes his evening program peers and says many of the entertainment lawyers he works with have earned their JDs from Fordham. He cites, for example, alumnus Jonathan Gray ’90 as one of the most important lawyers for independent film in New York City.
While Moore says he envies those who know exactly what they want to do with their career, he has many different interests and is glad to work in entertainment. “I may no longer have that burning desire to be on stage or film, but what I find really exciting now is putting projects together with my clients and putting teams together to create plays and musicals.”
Moore wants to keep his options open after obtaining his JD. “In order to continue to learn about the law, you have to practice it, and I would do myself a disservice not to practice,” he says. He may merge his existing agency into entertainment law, as he would like to represent Broadway and film producers. He also has pondered the position of in-house counsel to a studio or network.
Whatever his ultimate decision, Moore is grateful to be in a professional position that is mutable, creative, and, above all, within his control.
“It’s a very exciting time in film and television, and on Broadway,” he says. “With a law degree it becomes that much more exciting.”