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20 Under 30: Neil Kohan

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LAist's "20 Under 30" series about interesting Angelenos under 30 continues with Neil Kohan. Unlike most moviegoers, Neil assesses a film's qualities more with his ears than his eyes. Neil works for Greenspan Artist Management, an agency for film composers. Neil works with agency principal, Anita Greenspan, to guide the careers of busy film composers like Mark Mothersbaugh (Devo, The Royal Tenenbaums) and Marco Beltrami (I, Robot, T3, The Omen). Neil describes himself as "a talent agent that doesn't wear a suit and doesn't have a Blackberry, yet I have a picture of myself holding a client's Academy Award."

Age and Occupation:
28 y/o. Film Music Agent (-well, Manager. Both actually, but we'll get back to that later).

How long have you lived in Los Angeles, and which neighborhood do you live in?
18 years in the Valley. 6 years in the L.A. (currently: Burton Way between Robertson and Doheny).

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Why do you live in Los Angeles?
After spending 4 years in college in the frozen, gray cold of Wisconsin (Madison), I realized I took LA for granted. I needed sunshine and color. Wisconsin is very white; the snow, the people. It can get boring fast, and LA has so many different ethnicities. The sun, food and diversity are what I like best about it.

How did you become an agent for film composers?
I emailed a music supervisor/KCRW DJ looking for a job as an assistant music supervisor. She wasn't looking for an assistant but her agent was. I was extremely lucky that the timing worked out so well. My boss and I make a great team, and she has given me so many opportunities. I owe her a lot.

What do you like about your job?
I like that it's a boutique. It allows us to work under a different set of rules than most talent agencies. As cliche as it sounds, we really do care about our clients' careers and don't just look at them as sources of profit. We don't take on new clients that would overlap with existing clients (we rarely take on new clients at all). It's a long-term approach, which is rare in Hollywood. I also like not needing to wear a suit every day.

How do you acquire clients?
We hardly spend any time looking for new clients, and rarely consider adding clients to the roster. We spend our time getting our current client's jobs. Of course there are a handful of top composers that we would consider if they decided to switch agents.

What talents should a film composer possess?
The obvious answer is musical talent. These days having strong orchestral chops is a must. Beyond that composers must be adept at the digital side; for demos, synths for low budget films and television and electronic sounds that can be incorporated in the score. To succeed in the film industry composers must also have friendly personalities and strong industry contacts, which (fortunately or unfortunately) are just as important as musical skill.

What makes a good film composition?
The most important thing is that it has to work for the film. Film composing is a collaborative effort between the composer and filmmakers. For a score to be outstanding it must work for the film AND stand alone as a beautiful or thrilling piece of music. The best known scores have memorable melodies. Examples are Chariots of Fire, Indiana Jones and the success of last year's "Crazy Frog," which was simply a dance remix of "Axel F" (the theme to Beverly Hills Cop).

What exactly IS the difference between an agent and a manager?
For actors it's different than for composers. We act as both for our clients. We help get jobs, negotiate their contracts, guide them with career choices, we've helped organize events, press, guide gift purchases, etc.

How do you find work for your clients?
The stork drops off movies on Tuesdays and Fridays. We give them to our composers based on how many "gold good-behavior stars" they have.

What is the stereotype of agents that's true and/or untrue?
The stereotype is Ari Gold (Jeremy Piven's character) from "Entourage": Slick, lying, money-hungry, fast-talking. Obviously many agents are not like this. But the worst kind make for the best television, thus the popularity of "Entourage."

What's your favorite movie(s) or TV show(s) that are based in LA?
Stock answer: The Big Lebowski. "Parker Lewis Can't Lose" (don't know if it was specifically LA). I'm hoping to add Richard Kelly's Southland Tales when it comes out.

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What's your favorite soundtrack from a movie or TV show based in LA?
Stock answers: Boogie Nights, Swingers. (Judgement Night — was that LA?) "Six Feet Under" had a great theme and song-placements.

Best LA-themed book(s)?
Case Study Houses

What's the best place to walk in LA?
To and from my kickboxing class. The other night I saw a girl dressed in a full school girl uniform, running down the street at 10pm. Usually, I would think something was wrong, but it's totally normal for that block in Hollywood.

What is the "center" of LA to you?
Between Monterey Park, Santa Anita, LAX and Malibu — So I guess downtown is the center, although I skew west day-to-day.

If you could live in any neighborhood or specific house in LA, where/which would you choose?
I would take a house in Beverly Park if you were just handing them out...

People stereotype Los Angeles as a hard place to find personal connections and make friends. Do you agree with that assessment? Do you find it challenging to make new friends here?
With so many actors and actresses here, I've found it's easier to pay them to act like they're my friends than to actually find real friends.

What is the city's greatest secret?
California is on a slip-slide fault line. So in an earthquake it could never fall into the ocean as many LA-haters hope.

Where do you want to be when the Big One hits?
I always wondered what an earthquake would look like from a helicopter.

If you could make one thing be different in LA for your 30th birthday, what would you change?
Every lawyer and bad script would magically turn into an In-N-Out Double-Double.