COMPANY TOWN : Does Kevin Costner Need an Agent? Industry Types Weigh In

I'm Kevin Costner and I'm one of the most bankable stars in the world. Forget that I've made a few bum movies recently. I'd dare say there's no studio in town that wouldn't green-light a film if I were to agree to make it. I have what they call "marquee value." I can pretty much guarantee big box office dollars around the globe.

So with that kind of clout, why do I, or for that matter why do any of my fellow superstars like Cruise or Gibson or Hanks, Schwarzenegger or Redford or Spielberg--who now owns his own studio--need an agent?

Don't get me wrong. I'm eternally grateful to agents for the fact that I make $15 million or more per picture. But how do I justify paying someone 10% of that when my lawyer can negotiate my deals and I'm sure to get my hands on every piece of available material anyway?

Last week, I decided to leave Creative Artists Agency because my career guru, Mike Ovitz--the bum--jumped the fence to become a top executive at Disney.

I haven't signed with another agency and I don't know whether I will.

All of CAA's biggest competitors--International Creative Management, William Morris Agency and United Talent Agency--want to sign me. And CAA's present management wants a crack at re-signing me.

Naturally, I'm going to listen to what everyone has to say once I wrap my current movie, "Tin Cup," here on location in Arizona. I'll probably make a final decision in January.

On Monday, I had some preliminary conversations with some agency heads, studio executives, a major manager and a big entertainment lawyer. They gave me their various opinions about why I should or shouldn't seek agency representation in the future.

Off the record, here's how some of those conversations went. [Editor's note: OK, Costner's dialogue is made up, but the agents, studio executives, lawyers and managers really said this stuff.]

Me: So, convince me that I need an agent.

Agency head: First of all, nobody but the four large agencies have the information reservoir and access to material that you need. Size is what's selling. You can't get from a manager or lawyer what 30 of us can do for you in terms of gleaning information and material. You need the manpower.

Secondly, once a deal is made and your movie is put together, our job starts. We're bridge builders. We make sure the studio and artist can continue to talk to each other. Since there is constant commerce being done between us and the studios, we can advocate your position. We have the credibility to do that.

Then, you have to have a personal, primary relationship with someone who you can trust and who can advise you not to do something.

Me: Hold on right there. My last four movies were considered flops. Nobody convinced me not to make "The War," or that "Waterworld" would get so out of control.

Agent: No comment.

Another agent: It's an imperfect science.

Me: Then there's the economic issue. Tim Allen doesn't have an agent. And since I make a lot more than he does, I have to figure out if it's worth paying you more than $4 million a year when I have my own production company and presumably get every script submission on the planet. I may not have a personal manager like Allen, but my trusted attorney, Harley Williams (whom I pay 5%), is certainly capable of negotiating any deal I may make.

Agent: You big movie stars are big businesses. And that's the cost of doing business in today's world. And it's very cheap. Most businesses today have a 5% to 7% profit margin. You're making a 90% to 95% profit on a $40-million-a-year-business, because [our commission] is tax-deductible. You're really only playing us half--5% after taxes. There's no business in the world that turns over that kind of profit margin!

Me: No comment.

Another agency chief: In the course of a business day, a lawyer is not involved in how projects get going or what the politics are at a studio. It's about [agents] using the ultimate leverage you have and being able to position one studio against another and making sure the client's position doesn't slip.

The reason everyone needs an agent is for that occasion when you don't know about a particular project, even though you're a big superstar. From an ego standpoint, you want to make sure you're seeing everything. If one of your competitors gets a movie you might have wanted, that would make you crazy.

Me: It would.

Prominent entertainment attorney: I don't want to get you jobs. I don't read scripts. And managers [under state law] cannot procure employment for their clients. Agents are the only ones who can. Agents also provide a creative service in that they balance opinions. And the more input [you] have, the better off you are to reject or accept offers.

Then again, maybe the economics is an issue today. . . .

Top talent manager: Think of it like paying an insurance premium. Having an agent becomes an insurance policy because of what an agent controls in other areas. They have become the studios. They control the material.

Studio head: The fact is most big stars and big directors don't need agents. They need people who can negotiate very well--which lawyers do--and people out in the community who get material ahead of anybody else, which most do. Do you think Spielberg or Mel or Cruise don't get material? Stallone has his next six pictures set. We at the studios are happier for stars not to have agents. We build closer relationships [with you] than if an agent is playing us off the star to get him jobs.

The problem in my mind is money. At $20 million a pop, twice a year, is it worth $4 million to hear someone say, "Do this, don't do that?"

Me: The only thing my gut tells me at this point is not to do "Waterworld II." And I know I don't need an agent to tell me that.


Haber or Haber not: Bill Haber, a co-founder of Creative Artists Agency with Michael Ovitz and Ron Meyer, will at last announce his plans today. Haber personally informed journalists Monday that a packet revealing the secret information would arrive on their desks precisely at noon. He assures it is a "non-event."

The most persistent speculation has been that the top television agent is working on a plan to take Spelling Entertainment private in a leveraged buyout with company founder Aaron Spelling. The prolific television producer of such hit shows as "Charlie's Angels," "Beverly Hills 90210" and "Melrose Place" has long been Haber's biggest client. But sources Monday discounted the Spelling rumor and suggested that Haber will do something outside the industry.

Times staff writer Sallie Hofmeister contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World