Paula Wagner received her B.F.A. from Carnegie-Mellon University. Moving to New York, she acted on and Off-Broadway and in regional theatre, including several Yale Repertory productions. She co-authored and performed in a New York stage production called Out of Our Father's House. Los Angeles-based agent Susan Smith recruited Wagner to work in her agency.

Wagner worked as an agent for the next 15 years, the last 12 of them at Creative Artists Agency. Her clients included Oliver Stone, Demi Moore, Val Kilmer, and her future partner Tom Cruise.

Tom proposed that they start their own production company, which opened in 1992.

Wagner told Dramalogue/Back Stage West 11/19/98: "As an actress I really understood character, script development, the actor's psyche, working with directors--hands-on experience. And then, as an agent, I was able to observe how production worked, how producers worked, studio systems, and financing. I got to know all the talent and how to put things together.

"The producer is the conduit, or a buffer, between the financing and the creative team. He or she has a fiscal responsibility to the budget, to the schedule, and to making an organized and efficient movie. And the producer has a creative responsibility to making the best possible movie and pulling all the elements together and setting the stage so that each creative entity--the director, the actors, the production designers, etc.--can function at their best and not be distracted by the myriad of details during production."