Interview: ICM’s Ava Jamshidi

Ava Jamshidi, literary agent at ICM

Ava Jamshidi, literary agent at ICM

You don’t have to play ball like a man to make a great play in Hollywood. That’s the unspoken motto of Ava Jamshidi, literary agent at ICM. She embraces her love of classic cinema with a bit of feminine instinct to go after great stories and bring writers home with the sale. In this interview, Script sits down with Jamshidi to learn what makes her stand out, apart from her gender.  

How does your love for classic cinema affect your daily work? 
At a really young age, I saw the film Charade, and it changed my life. It opened my eyes to what film can be in a pure form. I was blown away by Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant, how sophisticated they were without bad language, how much great romance they had, but with no nudity. There was such suspense but without a lot of action sequences. This proved to me that great actors, great direction, and great suspense make for a great film. I was fully hooked. 

You got your start working for female director Penny Marshall on the film Riding in Cars With Boys. What was it like? 
I was assistant to Penny’s producer Amy Lemisch. It was very interesting. Penny is a brilliant filmmaker and sees things in a specific way. It was also interesting to see how the studio ran things. You had Penny and multiple other producers on one hand. You also had Drew Barrymore, an emerging star, on the other. It was an amazing learning experience to see what difficulties came up outside of their control and to see what it takes to handle a big production. 

Are there more or less obstacles in Hollywood for female agents? 
It’s different at different agencies of course — but at times, it can be a boy’s club. Some people think a woman can’t be as aggressive as a man. And it’s true, women tend to care much more and be emotionally invested in things. It can’t be helped. We take a natural maternal role. But that doesn’t have to hinder your performance. You can still be nice and be successful and command respect.

What are you looking for in clients? What stands out to you? 
It’s a combination of things. People have to have a voice. Something distinct that catches my attention. The writing has to rise above the fray of hundreds of other scripts. On top of that, if their ideas are commercial and timely, it’s even better. I am probably a little more action-oriented than drama-oriented. A little more comedic. I like ideas to be fun and big and unique. But it’s not just about one piece of material. I want to know what’s coming in the next couple of years. I’d rather sign a writer off a smaller script but know they have bigger ideas down the road. 

What makes you different from all the other agents in town? 
I had an epiphany a couple of years ago. I was reading a script and was laughing so hard. I thought to myself: Why is it that I haven’t had a comedy script before this that’s made me laugh this hard? Because they are few and far between. I decided that any script I’m getting behind has to be visceral. Stupid for the sake of being stupid isn’t going to cut it. I’m fan of horror, but it has to be smart. It has to be elevated. I don’t mind silly, but it has to be smart. If it’s a thriller, when I’m reading it, I shouldn’t stop turning the pages. If it’s a horror, I should be scared. If it’s a comedy, I should be laughing out loud.