A University of Arkansas at Little Rock graduate who launched and has run a successful talent agency for more than two decades returned to UA Little Rock Oct. 11-12 to share stories of her experiences in the entertainment industry and tips for success with the campus community.
Susan Ferris, CEO of the international management group Bohemia Group, represents musicians, actors, and athletes from across the entertainment landscape. Some of her group’s more than 500 clients include actors Bronson Pinchot (“Perfect Strangers”), Maxwell Caldwell, and Alison Fernandez (“Once Upon a Time”).
“All of my clients are wonderful. I could spend hours talking about all of them,” she said. “At the end of the day, there is always a story to tell. Every day, you never know what is going to happen. That is what is cool about my job.”
A native of Boston, Ferris graduated from UA Little Rock in 1986 with a bachelor’s degree in theatre and minor in film and television. Her true love was theatre while her Achilles’ heel was biology.
“Being in the theatre was really my passion,” Ferris said. “It took me six times to get out of biology. Every semester, I was doing something cool, and I still had to go to biology class.”
She recalls the skills she learned while being a stage manager for various theatre productions as a real asset to her future career.
“In the theatre department, I was a stage manager a lot,” Ferris said. “When you are a stage manager, you really have to learn how to be in charge without being a complete jerk. I learned how to temper myself and be the boss. That went with me a long way. Also, there is a not a whole lot I can’t do in the theatre. Being a good stage manager really helped me be a good manager.”
After graduation, Ferris moved to Los Angeles. She worked as the assistant manager for the band Slayer, which she left in 1992 to start Bohemia Group. At first, The Bohemia Group represented only three actors and two bands out of a one-room office. During this time, Ferris also launched the record label Long Live Crime, adding a second label as well as a music publishing company.
Ferris recalled the hard work, attitude, and tenacity that it took to overcome the male-dominated talent industry in Hollywood.
“As a woman, management was a very male-dominated world. I started Bohemia with a partner who was a guy, and everyone assumed that because he was a guy, he was the boss,” she said. “They learned pretty quickly that was not the case.”
Bohemia Group has offices in Auckland, Berlin, Los Angeles, New York, London, New Orleans, and Seattle. In addition to Bohemia Group, Ferris opened a production company, Bohemia Group Originals, four years ago that is in the midst of producing films, plays, and television series.
“We have recently acquired a best selling book series based in the South that we are turning into a TV series,” Ferris said. “And we have optioned the best selling book in New Zealand called ‘The Deniston Rose’ that we are making into a movie.”
The secret to her more than a quarter century of success in spotting talent?
“For me, it’s 100 percent gut instinct,” Ferris said.
Ferris was happy to return to her alma mater for the first time since she graduated to visit with faculty and students.
“I haven’t been back to the campus since 1986. Walking into the theatre department was a little overwhelming, since my whole life was in the theatre department,” Ferris said. “This is something I have wanted to do for a while; give back to the university that has allowed me to do what I do.”
During her visit, Ferris met with students and employees from the Department of Theatre Arts and Dance and the Center for Performing Arts, gave tips to students in Professor Jeffrey Condron’s Essential Elements of Fiction class, and led a session on headshots and resumes for students aspiring to work in the entertainment industry.
“The biggest advice I give, not just to students but to anyone who sits at my desk, is that there are no shortcuts and don’t try to take them,” she said. “There is no window. There is no rush. These are the two things that happen in my business. Everyone looks for a shortcut, and everyone thinks there is a window that is going to close if they don’t rush.”
In the upper right photo, successful alum Susan Ferris visits with UA Little Rock students from the Department of Theatre Arts and Dance.