Michael Ovitz’s departure from Creative Artists Agency to become president of Walt Disney Co. will accelerate the already changing dynamic among talent agencies that began shifting earlier this summer when CAA partner Ron Meyer left to run MCA/Universal, industry insiders said Monday.
Officially, the Ovitz announcement was greeted with the expected hosannas from CAA’s rivals.
“I applaud Mr. Eisner for landing Mike Ovitz in this important role,” said Arnold Rifkin, worldwide head of motion pictures for William Morris Agency. “There are few people with his resume. I look forward to the opportunity of working with Mike in his new position at Disney.”
Added Elaine Goldsmith, senior vice president at International Creative Management: “I think Mike Ovitz is a brilliant businessman, and I also think that change is good. I think the two combined should bring great results.”
But behind the scenes, emergency meetings were called at several of the major agencies around town to discuss strategy in a post-Ovitz agency world.
“They’re celebrating in the halls of ICM and UTA [United Talent Agency] like it’s New Year’s Eve,” said talent manager Keith Addis, whose clients Whoopi Goldberg, Ted Danson and Ray Liotta are represented by CAA.
A knowledgeable source at one CAA rival said Monday was a day for intense meetings, “not to poach clients from CAA or that sort of thing, but to solidify relationships with managers and lawyers around town. There’s a lot of instability right now in the agency business.”
“I would think that that would be a smart thing for agents to do,” said manager Bernie Brillstein, whose Brillstein-Grey Communications has strong ties with CAA. “It’s usually the lawyer, the manager or the publicity person who has the strongest contact with the talent. I’d cover all the bases.”
However, the departure of Meyer and Ovitz, added Brillstein’s partner, Brad Grey, “doesn’t take away from the fact that CAA has some of the strongest agents in the business. It doesn’t affect our day-to-day dealings with them.”
Since the agency business, even at CAA, has always been personality-driven, the loss of the company’s two most powerful ones is being viewed as an event as significant as the creation of CAA 20 years ago. In addition to finding actors work and collecting 10% for it, agents are everything from confidants to hand holders.
It could be a unique opportunity for CAA’s rivals to lure back former clients and to wrest away some of its more dissatisfied agents. UTA’s president, Marty Bauer, was cautiously philosophical. “It may level the playing field,” he said, particularly in the film talent area, where CAA’s dominance is most pronounced.
While he would not predict a major defection of current CAA clients, Bauer added, “I don’t think you’ll see anyone defecting to CAA over the next six months.”
“It could mean the creation of a lot of several successful small agencies,” said J. J. Harris, another principal agent at UTA. “Then maybe agents will go back to being more like agents and it’ll become less of a volume business.”
Even before the Ovitz announcement, change had begun to occur within CAA.
After Meyer departed, there was rumbling from the likes of actors Goldberg, Sylvester Stallone, Michael Douglas and Alec Baldwin, according to one top manager. Ovitz placated the talent somewhat, and the recent $60-million, three-film deal hammered out between Ovitz and MCA’s Meyer was seen as proof of CAA’s continued clout. But the loss of Ovitz “has to make clients more anxious about what’s going to happen,” said Addis, who is watching closely on behalf of his CAA-represented talent.
But, confided the senior studio executive, when he recently negotiated a deal with a former Meyer client at CAA, Ovitz had to step into the breach and appeared uncomfortable doing so. With Ovitz gone, the executive expressed confidence in playing hardball with CAA, especially since “right now, there’s nobody running the store.”
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Creative Artists Agency
The future of Creative Artists Agency, known for pioneering non-traditional agency activities such as advertising and brokering studio sales, is uncertain after a decision by founder Michael Ovitz to become president of Walt Disney Co. The company and the industry’s two other major players--International Creative Management and William Morris Agency--have had fierce turf wars for control of Hollywood talent. Some highlights of CAA’s 20-year history:
* Founded: In 1975 by Ovitz, now its majority stockholder, and four colleagues who defected with him from William Morris Agency
* Employees: The agency’s 100 or so executives earn anywhere from $50,000 to $1 million a year.
* Clients: Many of Hollywood’s most expensive actors, including Tom Cruise, Kevin Costner, Demi Moore, Robert Redford and Sylvester Stallone. Has tried to diversify its client base by brokering deals for studio executives and corporate clients. Known to keep a list of hundreds of unemployed Hollywood executives in an effort to find jobs for them. Also known as the king of motion picture packaging, in which it assembles the writer, director and stars for a project.
* Ovitz’s business philosophy: “Every client has something he wants to do. They all have a passion about it. So our job is to take the client’s passion and to ... extend it into reality.”
* Studio deals: Ovitz orchestrated the sale of Columbia Pictures and TriStar Pictures to Sony Corp. in 1989. He also brokered the recent $5.7-billion sale of MCA Inc. to Seagram Co. and before that to Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. in 1990.
* Other deals: In 1991, Coca-Cola Co. announced it had hired CAA as its worldwide media and communications consultants, expanding Ovitz’s sphere of influence beyond the world of entertainment. CAA advised Pacific Telesis, Nynex and Bell Atlantic on TeleTv venture. The agency lost money when it bought 10% interest in Century City Mercantile National Bank for $6 million in 1990 and then watched the bank’s stock lose half its value. It helped negotiate three of the biggest recording contracts in recent history: for Michael Jackson, Madonna and Barbra Streisand.
* Disney-CAA rocky past: In the early 1990s, Disney accused CAA of trying to force a last-minute negotiation of Dustin Hoffman’s contract to star in the film “Billy Bathgate.” Jeffrey Katzenberg, who was Disney Studios’ chairman at the time, accused the agency of having “this ‘80s mentality,” saying, “With them it’s just kill, kill, kill.” The studio and the agency also clashed over Robin Williams’ contract to star in the animated film “Aladdin” and the purchase of the Muppets characters.
Source: Times reports
Researched by JENNIFER OLDHAM / Los Angeles Times