What does all this portend?
1. The agency business is always in flux.
Just as Mike Ovitz and Ron Meyer and their cohorts left top dog William Morris Agency to found Creative Artists Agency in 1975, and ICM agent Ari Emanuel and his team left ICM to found Endeavor two decades later, it’s no surprise that top-heavy CAA was vulnerable to losing some of its talent. CAA has long dominated its rivals on the sexier movie talent side and has been moving into sports, intensely competing with Ari Emanuel’s giant William Morris Endeavor (WME), which leads on the burgeoning television side, and last year acquired sports/fashion giant IMG for $2.4 billion in cash. But Silver Lake Partners is now the controlling shareholder of WME, which is expected to mount an I.P.O.
There have always been groups of agents who are in with the CAA top brass (Richard Lovett, Bryan Lourd, Doc O’Connor and Kevin Huvane, the “Young Turks” who inherited the agency from Ovitz and Meyer) and those who are not. The in-group these days is led by Joel Lubin, Nick Sullivan and Michael Cooper, while some others are made to feel like second-class citizens, not one of the cool people who will inherit the power mantle when there is an inevitable changing of the guard.
That high school clique culture contributed to CAA losing 10 agents and their entire comedy department to United Talent Agency in one week — and possibly some 75 clients led by already UTA-committed Will Ferrell, Chris Pratt and Melissa McCarthy. It was a severe blow. As CAA was reassuring its deep bench to proceed with business as usual, WME chief Ari Emanuel (the subject of a March Vanity Fair article) rubbed his hands with glee and sent framed CAAN’T posters to new UTA partners Jason Heyman, Martin Lesak, Nick Nuciforo, Greg Cavic and Gregory McKnight, along with UTA CEO Jeremy Zimmer, who masterminded the raid. Heyman and Lesak had left UTA in 2005, devastating its comedy department. Now they’re back. And CAA is suing some of the defecting agents and UTA, citing a “lawless midnight raid.” Arbitration will be in the offing for the other agents.
As CAA and WME move to diversify and protect themselves from the vicissitudes of representing clients in the percentery business (as Variety calls it), bringing in outside investors in order to buy other satellite companies, they are no longer as solely focused on their core purpose. WME is asking agents to take raises in the form of equity for the promise of going public one day.
And TPG Capital, which owns 35% of CAA, is perceived to be forcing the agency not to spend too much on salaries. That, along with a perceived lack of potential upward movement, made it easy for still-private UTA–which is leaner and meaner and more digitally focused– to promise the disgruntled CAA agents and their loyal clients much more attention and loving care.
2. The studios are more in flux than usual. With so many studio management changes in the last year, there’s bound to be continued fallout.
We still don’t know what will happen at Fox as Stacey Snider has only recently reported to work with chairman Jim Gianopulos.
Spielberg’s DreamWorks deal at Disney is coming up in 2016. Paramount’s Brad Grey has scapegoated production chief Adam Goodman for a slim upcoming slate, but Grey is responsible for having lost DreamWorks live action and animation as well as Marvel to his rivals.
Sony is still reeling from the switch in roles of talent-friendly free-spending Amy Pascal and tough fiscal conservative Tom Rothman as studio head and star producer, which has led to Sony/Columbia producer-turned-production co-chief Michael De Luca taking his producing shingle to Universal, where chairman Donna Langley seems to be righting the ship. She was responsible for launching blockbuster franchise “Fifty Shades of Grey,” which De Luca will now return to as a more active producer. She needs his help, with producer Dana Brunetti, to keep the sequels on track, as demanding author E.L. James drove away director Sam Taylor-Johnson. De Luca’s great strengths as a producer are script development, casting and talent mongering.
3. Middle-aged men like young women. Also on the chatter vine was the humiliation of veteran Hollywood player Harvey Weinstein by a young Italian model who went public with sexual assault accusations. Commanding the front page of the tabloid New York Daily News must have been a low moment for Weinstein, who values his status and value as a top Democratic Party fundraiser–aside from his prominent role as a New York movie mogul and Oscar perennial. But being covered in The New York Times in its way might have been even worse.