Would you believe me if I told you that right here in Downtown Saratoga Springs, hidden practically in plain sight, in a nondescript, red-brick building on Broadway, just above Max London’s, is an arm of one of the world’s largest entertainment businesses? If you’re not familiar with Creative Artists Agency (CAA), you will be with its roster: CAA represents everybody from Tom Cruise and Tom Hanks to Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande. Also: Jane Fonda, David Beckham, Sean Penn…and James Bond himself, Daniel Craig. Stars. Big stars.
While CAA’s currently headquartered in Los Angeles, it has a number of incorporated subsidiaries throughout the country, one of which is located in Saratoga. Mills Entertainment, as it’s known, acts as a live entertainment content studio, creating, financing, developing, distributing and marketing new shows and branded live experiences throughout the US. Speaking of Fonda, whom we honored in saratoga living’s 2019 Design Issue, Mills has worked with her; as well as Star Trek’s Captain James T. Kirk, William Shatner; comedy legend Mel Brooks; and bestselling author and star of the Food Network’s Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten. “The diversity of our portfolio is really fun and exciting for me and the team,” says Michael Mills, the company’s CEO and founder. “One night, it’s John Cleese onstage doing a one-man show; the next night, it might be an original musical that we’ve produced.” Many of these shows even pass through Albany and other parts of the Capital Region.
Mills, a Scotia native, had a surprisingly auspicious start to his career in the rough and tumble world of the entertainment biz. In 1998, while still a student at the University at Albany, Mills, a trained magician who owned a magic shop in Colonie—and who paid his way through college doing magic shows—booked his first professional gig for a rather well-known act. Through a connection made at a magic convention in Las Vegas, he wound up with the telephone number for Penn & Teller’s agent. With no prior booking experience, Mills successfully landed his heroes a show at Proctors in Schenectady. “That show worked, which was sort of a miracle because I didn’t know what I was doing,” says Mills. “Fortunately, that event not only came together, but was also successful enough that I craved the opportunity to do more.”
Mills did a whole lot more. That same year, he officially founded Mills Entertainment in Rotterdam, NY, and the company presented its first big hit tour in 2003, with Colin Mochrie and Brad Sherwood of the popular improvisational comedy show, Whose Line Is It Anyway? (the show came to Proctors a number of times). “I was a big Whose Line fan, so being able to work with them was very exciting, and still is,” says Mills.
Eventually, Mills Entertainment grew big enough to open its main offices in Downtown Saratoga in 2010 and five years later, it was acquired by CAA, becoming what’s known as a nonintegrated subsidiary; or an entity that, though technically owned by CAA, still retains the majority of its independence. “CAA is a great strategic partner on a lot of fronts,” says Mills. “They help us access new talent and projects, of course, but they also support us in a number of less obvious way. For example, they’re industry leaders in research and insights, which helps us identify trends and evaluate potential opportunities.”
Mills Entertainment’s decision to join CAA has certainly paid off: The company opened a second office in Los Angeles in 2016, and it’s having a successful year in 2019, with shows being created or produced by it in 200 cities across the country. Locally, the company announced earlier this year that it’ll be launching a new Christmas musical based on the popular Elf on the Shelf brand (the show will swing through Albany’s Palace Theatre in December).
Even though Mills spends most of his time on the West Coast these days, he hasn’t forgotten his Upstate New York roots: “My wife and I kept our home in Saratoga and are still doing summers and holidays there with the kids.” Who knows? Maybe one day I’ll run into him at Max London’s—and I can almost guarantee that no one within eyeshot will know how interesting a life he leads but me.