February 2010 | David Seltzer '87

David Seltzer '87 (Writer, Producer, & Director, THE OMEN, BIRD ON A WIRE)

By D. Dona Le '05

Seltzer.jpgProactive, versatile, and entrepreneurial are three words that perhaps best describe David Seltzer '87, founding partner of Management 360, and explain the upward trajectory of his career. Seltzer’s path from Harvard to Hollywood is marked by the well-engineered pursuit of his interests, driven by a true passion for the creative arts. Today, Seltzer manages an impressive group of actors, including Eva Mendes, Holly Hunter, Josh Hartnett, Christina Ricci, Eric Dane, and Ben McKenzie, among others.

Seltzer was raised outside of New York City, where he studied drama and voice in high school. He continued performing at Harvard where his concentration was History and Literature. He wrote his senior thesis on Laurence Olivier’s film adaptation of Shakespeare’s Henry V.

After performing for his first two years at Harvard, Seltzer turned his energies to working behind the scenes. He was actively involved in the Hasty Pudding Theatrical Film and Talent Group, which hosted a directors’ series, in which the organization screened movies by significant Harvard filmmakers and invited them to campus for Q&A sessions after the screenings. He also produced several cabarets at the Pudding featuring talented Harvard undergraduates.

Having heard about a number of Harvard graduates who had gone on to have successful careers in Hollywood as studio executives, producers, and agents, Seltzer decided to explore potential careers in the motion picture and television industries. "I spent a lot of time as an undergrad getting in touch with people whose careers I admired who work in the entertainment field, some of whom were Harvard graduates, and many of whom were not. A lot of people I respected were very generous with their time and advice.”

Perhaps the most significant of these individuals was the legendary Jack Lemmon (Harvard ’47), who starred in such films as Some Like It Hot, The Apartment, The Odd Couple, and Grumpy Old Men. During Seltzer’s sophomore year, he learned that Lemmon would be making an appearance in New York City. Having admired Lemmon’s work since childhood, Seltzer wrote a letter to Lemmon, suggesting that he could travel from Cambridge to meet with the actor in New York. Lemmon agreed, and from then on they shared "a wonderful relationship that grew out of our shared Harvard background.” Through Lemmon, Seltzer was introduced to the producer who would provide him with his first Hollywood job on a low-budget film after Seltzer’s sophomore year at Harvard. Lemmon became Seltzer’s mentor and close friend, and Seltzer represented the renowned actor during the final years of his life.

Under Seltzer’s management, Lemmon starred in Tuesdays with Morrie (1999), for which he received an Emmy award. Together, Seltzer and Lemmon also remade the classic film Inherit the Wind for television. "Jack had wanted to do it on stage, but I said, ‘Why don’t we do it for Showtime instead?’” Lemmon was awarded a Golden Globe for his performance in the film.

When Seltzer applied to the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, Lemmon wrote him a letter of recommendation. At this point, Seltzer had worked in Hollywood for a few years and believed that earning an MBA would complement his academic and professional experiences. Seltzer was particularly attracted to the Wharton School because of its emphasis on entrepreneurship, as reflected in his later decision to found his own talent management company.

After receiving his MBA degree, Seltzer returned to Los Angeles and spent ten years as talent manager at Industry Entertainment. In 2002, Seltzer decided to create a new company, Management 360, with five like-minded colleagues. "I had come to a place in my career as a talent manager where the idea of starting my own company became very attractive to me. My background at Wharton helped prepare me for the challenges involved in starting a new company and nurturing its growth.”

Management 360 is currently thriving as one of the preeminent management/production companies in Hollywood, despite the recent global economic crisis that has affected the entertainment field as well. Seltzer’s savvy perspective of the industry is certainly integral to the company’s success: "The business is changing due to new technology and other factors beyond our control, and much of our continued success will depend on our ability to adapt to these changes. The Internet alone impacts us in so many ways. For our actors, it means that whatever privacy they might have left is virtually eliminated by the way that gossip and news is now conveyed to the masses on a global basis.”

Seltzer has pursued his devotion to the arts with a single-minded intensity, astutely recognizing invaluable opportunities and – more importantly – seizing them. He optioned the rights to Speed Racer for only $1 over twenty years ago in order to transform the Japanese anime series into a movie. Seltzer remained involved in the project for 22 years, and he executive produced the Warner Bros. film which was released in 2008.

When tackling new projects and approaching new talent, Seltzer seeks qualities that his own contacts and mentors in Hollywood must have recognized in him. "In terms of younger clients, you try to identify people who you think have the potential to go the distance – people who have the potential to be major forces in the business. Some of that requires that you rely on your instincts. My partners and I have been involved in discovering talent very early in their careers. We have also enjoyed working with already established talent who are looking to us to help them maximize the opportunities available to them.”

Indeed, professional success has not deterred Seltzer from remaining extremely appreciative of those individuals who helped him to navigate the film and television industry as a college student. He speaks fondly of Harvard graduate David Frankel, director of The Devil Wears Prada, who offered Seltzer a summer job after his junior year at Harvard as his assistant on the TV series The Ellen Burstyn Show. "Apart from giving me the chance to work for him which was a tremendous opportunity to learn, he went through his Filofax, and gave me about 10 or 15 names of friends of his in Hollywood to call when I graduated from college. He was a fantastic early mentor to me as well, and I met him through Harvard circles.”

Seltzer is warm, frank, and engaging in conversation, which reveals just how he has become one of the top talent managers in Hollywood today. Moreover, he dispels the misconception of Hollywood as insular and cutthroat. On the contrary, Seltzer encourages current Harvard students and recent graduates interested in pursuing careers in film and television "to avail themselves of the extraordinary network of Harvard alumni working in the entertainment industry. But don’t limit it to just the Harvard network. People are generally open to sitting down and giving advice to young people who they think might have potential, and I think the best approach is not to ask somebody for a job, but to ask them for a few minutes of their time for advice.” Seltzer himself has hired and mentored several Harvard graduates who have gone on to enjoy great success in Hollywood, and he takes great pride in watching them do so well. Seltzer remembers how Lemmon helped him early on, and the wonderful example the two-time Oscar winner set for him.

Clearly, given the career Seltzer enjoys today, his advice is foolproof.

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