research in the shark tank

There’s nothing like working at a New York ad agency to help you round out the backbiting characters in your screenplay.

From 1996-98, Patrick Stettner made the rounds of Manhattan’s temp circuit as he toiled away on the script for his first feature film, The Business of Strangers. The movie, a study in psychological warfare, opened in New York and Los Angeles last week. It stars Stockard Channing as a newly minted CEO who battles the sadistic wits of a company teenie-weenie, played by Julia Stiles, while the two are stranded in a hotel during a business trip.

Stettner tells Shoptalk that working as a temp (at several law firms and one ad agency, which shall remain unnamed) allowed him to observe the travails of female executives. He could be “invisible,” he says, and witness situations and conversations the permanent staff might not.

“I watched the dynamics, the power struggles and how they affected relationships,” he recalls. The two main charac ters, he adds, are not based on actual people but are composites of women he worked with during his temping days.

All in all, the 35-year-old Columbia film-school grad came to the following conclusion: “Advertising is much more cutthroat than law.” In fact, he says, only one other industry compares to the shark tank that is advertising: Hollywood.