West Hartford has a little bit of Hollywood nestled right in its downtown. You may not know it by its inconspicuous exterior and business name, but Dale Street houses a boutique talent agency that moved to town two years ago. The Directors Network (TDN) represents freelance directors and directors of photography (DPs) for major TV commercials and films. Most of their business is currently in Los Angles, NYC, and the Midwest. The agency acts as a conduit between a production and their talent, handling the deal making and scheduling. Their roster of talent has done commercials for companies like Subway, Bud Light, BMW, Nascar, and Target.
The Directors Network was founded in LA in 1985 by Steve Lewis. About six years ago Steve’s son, Jeff, took over the business. Before this time, Jeff was a senior-level producer for TV commercials and music videos. He has worked for large clients such as Starbucks, Ford, Disney, and Pepsi, along with music videos by the Black Eyed Peas, Jay Z, Aerosmith, and Eminem. His production career had him involved with well-known directors like Quentin Tarantino, Oliver Stone, and Spike Jonze. Similar to his father, he was carving out his career in Los Angeles.
As is often the case in life, Jeff’s career path changed because of a relationship. The woman Jeff was dating, Jill, grew up in West Hartford and was looking to move back within a few years. Jeff promised her that he’d move to West Hartford to be with her. At the same time, Jeff knew that this would pose a problem for his career. “I knew I couldn’t continue being a producer and live in West Hartford.” On the other hand, a business like The Directors Network was transferrable. Jeff talked to his father about joining TDN and eventually taking over the business. Jeff married Jill and soon took over TDN. Four years later he was able to move the company to West Hartford.
Since moving to West Hartford, Jeff Lewis has been able to continue to grow the agency. “West Hartford is a great hub,” says Jeff. So far he has been enjoying his new life in town, although he spends a lot of time travelling to build up a roster of talented directors and DPs that do projects throughout the country. Currently 90% of the work done by TDN’s roster is for TV commercials. Although TDN currently does most of their work outside of Connecticut, Jeff is trying to establish the business as an active member of the community by joining groups like the West Hartford and South Windsor Chamber of Commerce. Jeff would also like to see Connecticut grow in the entertainment industry. “I’d love to be able to bring in more filmmaking to Connecticut.”
I’m also a big advocate for filmmaking in Connecticut. If sheer passion could translate into success, we really would be living up to the Hollywood East moniker. There are numerous committed groups that have popped up to promote and assist area filmmakers. To the general public, Connecticut’s entertainment industry is seemingly underground. In reality, you just need to know where to look. Nearly every week I talk to a new person, or hear about someone, with a fascinating background in entertainment.
I met Rae Lucas about a year ago at a Playhouse on Park event. I was really impressed by Rae’s background, and it seemed like she was looking to make more local connections.We were discussing area filmmaking, and I mentioned that she might want to attend a Farmington Valley Film Commission (FVFC) meeting. Sure enough, a few months later I saw Rae at a FVFC event. Katherine Frisoli, who I interviewed a few months earlier in Patch, was also at the event. Both Katherine and Rae have outgoing and warm personalities, so before you know it they had connected.
Rae Lucas has been in the entertainment industry since the age of twenty two, when the Georgia native moved to Los Angeles to try and make it as an actress. After a few auditions, Rae saw that her true passion and skillset was more aligned with a different part of the entertainment industry—working with the talent. By 1999 she was booking the on-air talent as a casting assistant for E! Entertainment, setting up celebrity appearances for Talk Soup, red carpet events, E! News Daily, and E! specials. In 2001, she moved to Chicago to be a talent agent at Ford Models/Aria Talent, where she represents actors and models for film, TV, and commercial work.
In 2005, Rae moved again. This time she was off to New York City to be a talent agent for Don Buchwald & Associates as well as Innovative Artists. Her position was to run the Beauty Departments, representing some of the most successful models in the industry. A job change for her husband in 2009 had Rae in Boston, and a two years later here to West Hartford. After having a successful career in the entertainment field in LA, Chicago, and NYC, Rae was worried that her move to West Hartford might signal an end to her career. Although Connecticut is actively working on expanding its standing in the industry, it still pales in comparison in terms of infrastructure and level of professionals in the field in the cities Rae had previously worked in.
Our entertainment community, given that it is relatively small, is tightknit and easily connected. This worked out to Rae’s advantage. In June 2012 Rae got a job with The Directors Network, working on their sales and marketing. She was introduced to Jeff Lewis by Katherine Frisoli, who met Jeff at a West Hartford Chamber event. In other words, there are far less degrees from Kevin Bacon in West Hartford. This was a huge benefit to Rae who found more success in West Hartford than she did Boston. “The contacts in the industry got me back in my career.”
Jeff also sees a major advantage living West Hartford—less traffic. Compared to LA, well, it’s not even a comparison. “The time I get back from not sitting in traffic is probably five hours a week.”
Polgar is the author of Wisdom in the Age of Twitter. Do you have an idea for a column or profile? Email dpolgar [at] gmail.com