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April 18, 2012

The Formula for Success

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Meryl Poster President of television production, The Weinstein Company

AT HER 32ND BIRTHDAY PARTY, Meryl Poster realized that her Hollywood career had really taken off. When she looked around the room at Delia's, a Manhattan supper club, she saw famous faces everywhere. "Brad Pitt and Gwyneth Paltrow were there, Sylvester Stallone, Matt Dillon, Jon Stewart, and John F. Kennedy Jr.," recalls Poster, now 47. "I guess that's when it dawned on me: I think I'm kind of successful!"

Fifteen years later, Poster is decidedly less fazed by celebrities in her midst. It's par for the course when you are the consigliere to famed movie producers Harvey and Bob Weinstein (the former hailed as "God" by Meryl Streep at this year's Golden Globes). Last year, Poster was named president of The Weinstein Company's lucrative television division, where she oversees hit shows like Project Runway and its spin-off Project Runway All Stars, along with more than 20 series in various stages of development, including a much-anticipated television adaptation of The Nanny Diaries. "When I decide I want something, I go for it. I'm totally persistent," Poster says. "My boyfriend says that if I were a superhero, I would have a big R on my chest for relentless."

The daughter of a swimsuit manufacturer, Poster grew up in Fort Lee, New Jersey, where her grandmother would sneak her out of school to take her to the movies. Watching Bedknobs and Broomsticks and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Poster was bitten by the fame bug. "When people would say, 'What do you want to be when you grow up?' she recalls, "I knew I wanted to walk in somewhere and have people know who I was."

She landed a gig in the legendary mail room of the William Morris Agency, famous for turning out Tinseltown rainmakers, including Michael Ovitz and David Geffen. After just three months, she was plucked from mail to work for the firm's then-president Lee Stevens, to whom she made it abundantly clear that she was no career gofer: "One day I was spilling coffee as I walked across the room, and my boss said, 'Uh-oh.' I told him, 'I don't want to get too good at this.'" Soon after, she got a call from Miramax Films, then a hot foreign- and indie-film distribution company helmed by two brash no-name brothers. Did Meryl want the job as Harvey's assistant?

At first she balked at leaving a powerful Hollywood agency for an upstart company, but ultimately she took the job, itching for a chance to carve out her own niche. "The company grew quickly. I wasn't his assistant that long," Poster explains. "I grew and took on responsibilities as the company grew. Harvey always encouraged us to take as much opportunity as we possibly could."

Poster spent 16 years at Miramax, ultimately working her way up to co-president of film production, where she oversaw the development of critical darlings like Chocolat and Chicago. The pace and responsibility were relentless—at any given moment, hundreds of people around the world would be hanging on her decisions.

She left in 2005 for a less demanding development job with NBC Universal—"I needed that time to recharge my batteries"—but returned to the Weinstein fold last year to head up their television division. "She is the ultimate," Harvey Weinstein told Marie Claire. "Meryl's taste is impeccable, and her vision is extraordinary."

Poster, divorced for five years, lives in Manhattan with her 10-year-old son and 13-year-old daughter, juggling the way all working moms do. She's taken her kids to castings, and they often tag along on her business trips to Los Angeles. "My son fell in love with Rachel Roy on the set of Project Runway," says Poster, who spends downtime taking her kids to movies and plays. That is, when she's not locking herself in the bathroom to do an uninterrupted magazine interview. "My son is outside, stalking me," she laughs.

Poster thrives on the adrenaline only a high-octane career can generate. "I'm more comfortable having power than not," she acknowledges. It also has its perks—like being an Oscar voter and getting Academy member DVDs to watch at home. "I'm always able to get a reservation at Nobu," she says. "And I still get a thrill when Robert De Niro says, 'Hi, Meryl!'"

MERYL POSTER'S TIPS FOR SUCCESS

1. BE PERSISTENT. Despite initially being turned down for a job, Poster hounded the well-known William Morris talent agency until she landed a spot in its legendary mail room. "When I decide I want something, I go for it," she says.

2. SMALLER FIRMS USUALLY OFFER MORE OPPORTUNITIES. Poster left William Morris to work as an assistant at Miramax, then an unknown movie studio. "I grew and took on responsibilities as the company grew," Poster says. "I wasn't an assistant that long."

3. KNOW WHEN IT'S TIME TO STEP BACK. After 16 years building up Miramax into a Hollywood powerhouse, Poster felt burned out and accepted a development job at NBC Universal. "I needed that time to recharge my batteries," she explains.


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