17 Feb Public Relations | Jane Owen and Max Perkins
Inside Jane Owen’s living-room-like West Hollywood PR office, where English countryside meets streamlined wood and metal modern décor, Jane manages to be both professional and inviting in the midst of addressing an intense flood of non-stop correspondence.
“Do you need anything…coffee, tea? Just one moment…” Jane’s melodic British accent sails from where she is perched; her long dark hair is loose, framing her classically beautiful face against the white of her chair. “I have four million emails to address!” she laughs. It’s difficult not to be swept up in the elevated sense of urgency and excitement that fills the room and adjacent office areas, as the clack of typing intermingles with bursts of announcement. “We secured the venue!” and “On the celebrity poker invitation all requests will be referred through you personally, Jane…” fill the air. Her colleagues’ voices overlap, taking calls, collaborating and occasionally commiserating about some aspect of something that has not yet come together. “This is how it always is.” Jane says, relinquishing her grip on her MacBook – placing it down, but not far. “We handle a large number of clients in entertainment; there’s not enough time in the day but we make up for it with determination.”
What made Jane, who was born in New York, raised in Greece and educated in London decide that entertainment public relations (PR) was her passion? Jane concedes that at first she was preoccupied with a different aspect of the silver screen. “When I was a kid you couldn’t have convinced me that I would do anything in my life other than acting,” she muses, “but when I found PR after University I realized that it encapsulated all the skills I had; communication, being sociable, writing…it brings you into all of these projects and these amazing people’s lives, around all these great movies and amazing actors. My favorite part is that after the endless hours in the office, you also get to go to the premieres and do the red carpet. You get to enjoy a little snippet of the movie star life. It’s fun.” It’s not only PR’s moments of limelight that Jane gravitates toward; she also likes fighting for the little guy. “Almost all of my clients are not huge A-list celebrities, they are up-and-coming. When you’re working with up-and-coming talent or a small indie film, you’ve got a huge mountain to climb. You’ve got a lot of barriers in the way. People aren’t falling all over themselves to interview an up-and-coming actor or to write about a small budget movie. You really need to bash the doors down and be inventive,” Jane’s eyes spark; you can see the PR torch burning in her.
Jane’s fighting impulse may be genetic. Her great-grandfather was Max Perkins, an Editor at Scribner’s publishing firm in New York City at the turn of the century. Max is credited for discovering and nurturing such huge talents as Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Wolfe, and F. Scott Fitzgerald among others. “He discovered all these great authors and fought to get their work published, and one of the writers that he really worked the hardest with was Thomas Wolfe,” Jane articulates this with such fervor that, given a podium, she would bring a full room to rapt attention. “Thomas was a giant man, extremely tall, he used to write using the top of a refrigerator as a desk because he was so tall. He’d write these books, but he’d write them all over the place in no particular order. He used to throw the pages behind him into crates–wooden crates–and he would write thousands and thousands and thousands of pages. He brought this book to Max Perkins–the first book they did together–and it was literally tens of thousands of pages that Max had to work with him to edit down to a readable size of a few hundred pages—which is a huge feat. Especially in those days when, you know, they didn’t have computers, they couldn’t press delete.”
Having someone as remarkable as Max Perkins in her family history has caused to Jane pause in considering her own contributions to the world through PR. “I was always told how I had this wonderful legacy…this wonderful lineage. I always looked at what he (Max Perkins) did for Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Wolfe, and tried to see the similarities between what he did for them and what I do in my work.” Though Jane notes the vast differences between PR and publishing, humbled by her grand father’s accomplishments, the similarities between what Jane and Max have dedicated their lives to are striking. Jane describes the majority of her work as “knocking down doors for clients.” She gets on the phone with magazines, TV shows, radio shows and on-line blogs in order to generate as much press coverage as possible for artists, actors, writers, directors, movies and TV series. She travels on press junkets – most recently with Adam Rodriguez of Magic Mike fame – protecting, promoting and furthering her client’s interests. In contrast her great-grandfather, Max Perkins, with his keen editor’s eye also knocked down doors – giant societal doors of resistance to publishing little-known authors whose literary styles challenged the norm.
What’s more is that at this very moment, on a set in London, in a twist of fate where Jane’s life skips the idea of imitating art and instead becomes it, Jane’s family legacy is being immortalized in the up-and-coming film, Genius. Genius has had its own winding road to discovery. Its conception began with A. Scott Berg, a Pulitzer Prize winning American biographer. Berg’s first book Editor of Genius, which won a National Book Award, was about Max Perkins’ life. “It took him (Scott Berg) seven years to write and he spent a long time living and being with my family,” Jane explains, caught in the awe of it all. Editor of Genius was published in 1978, then sometime in the 80’s a young screenwriter named John Logan bought the rights to the book–rumor has it, with his first screenwriter paycheck. “When I heard that, it made me really happy because it’s such a passion project,” Jane smiles. John Logan went on to write such huge screenwriting successes as Gladiator, The Aviator, Skyfall and a slew of others, winning Oscars along the way. Though Editor of Genius may have appeared to disappear into wishful-filmmaking obscurity, Logan’s intention to bring Max Perkins’ story to the big screen had not.
Now Logan’s Genius is afloat in a sea of production, with first time film director, Michael Grandage at the helm. Colin Firth is bringing his exceptional talents to the role of Max Perkins, Jude Law stars as Thomas Wolfe and Nicole Kidman plays Wolfe’s mistress alongside other actors gracing the cast. Jane is riding the wave, finding the entire experience otherworldly. “I recently had the honor and privilege of visiting the set of Genius with my father, which was a really wonderful experience to share with him because this is such a huge deal for my family. We are so proud that this movie is being made. It’s amazing to us, literally incredible, that people of this caliber–this writer, director and these actors–found this story of this man who no one really knew anything about…this book that was published decades and decades ago, and they found it worthy to be celebrated.” For Jane the making of Genius is cathartic. “I love the fact that by making this movie they are really celebrating the people who help behind the scenes. It’s really beautiful because a lot of times these movies come out and they only focus on the talent…you don’t necessarily see the people around them that helped them get there. This film is equally focused on both sides. It makes me proud, obviously of him (Max Perkins), but also of all the people out there who do jobs similar to mine, where we are really helping someone else’s light shine.”
In fact there’s a little light shining in Jane’s direction. Jane Owen PR has recently won an award from the 2014 Los Angeles Business Awards in the category of PR small business agencies. “I’m still considered a small business,” Jane laughs. “I think in order to be considered a large business you must have over 100 employees.” Jane sees her PR future as ever-growing, and though she will always be a publicist, “I love PR and I’m going to do it till the day I die,” Jane also has her sights set on producing. “Producing is kind of my hobby…my ten year plan…” Jane points out that her role as a publicist in Hollywood for the last thirteen years has naturally furthered her filmmaking connections. She can’t help but see the bigger picture. “I want a legacy of my own…maybe it will be a book, or maybe it will be a film, or both and all of those things I will do on the side of my PR.”
How do you know if you need Jane Owen PR’s services? “I would say only get a publicist when you really have something to talk about. Don’t get a publicist when you just have a script or an idea of making a movie, but you should get a publicist on a movie as early as your first contractual attachment. There’s a lot to be said for making the industry aware of the progress of a project.” In the PR world the name of the game is exposure. Jane points out that some people wait too long to get a publicist, thinking that PR is only appropriate for promoting massive scale projects, “when in fact it can simply get you a job.” Jane will tell you first hand that everyone in Hollywood wears the price tag of notoriety on their heads. “For actors, directors–the more well-known your name is, the more jobs you get. The more people will think of you for a job, the more people will pay you for a job. You’re building your value up every time you get press. No you shouldn’t get a publicist if you’re just hoping to be an actor or a director, but the minute you get a job the goal is to get your name out there.”