Quietly Building a Talent Force
In the brash, bare-knuckled world of Hollywood talent agents, Sam Gores is an anomaly.
Competitors of Paradigm’s chairman laud him as a gentleman, and actually mean it. Unlike agents obsessed with headlines and their place on the latest power list, Gores would rather do business out of the limelight.
For the record:
12:00 AM, Aug. 23, 2006 For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday August 23, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 54 words Type of Material: Correction
Paradigm talent agency: An article in Monday’s Business section and a Monday Briefing item in Section A about the Paradigm talent agency referred to actress Felicity Huffman as a client. Huffman, who stars in ABC’s “Desperate Housewives,” is a client of Creative Artists Agency. Paradigm represents another of the “Desperate Housewives” stars, Teri Hatcher.
“He is the most un-agent-like agent in the business because he’s a human being first,” said actor and longtime Paradigm client Laurence Fishburne. “Sam is working for me in ways that I have no idea about until it happens.”
Working quietly is a hallmark of Gores’ style. Lately, he has been bulking up the agency by pulling off a series of under-the-radar deals, largely in music, the most recent of which will be unveiled today when Paradigm is expected to announce it is buying Little Big Man Booking.
The New York music agency, which represents such top artists as Blue Man Group, Coldplay and the Arctic Monkeys, fits Paradigm’s acquisition mold: a specialty boutique that has carved out a strong niche.
“They are smart about who they are and where they fit in the marketplace,” Patrick Whitesell, a partner at rival Endeavor, said of Paradigm. “As a result, they run a very profitable business.”
In addition to Fishburne, clients at Paradigm include Oscar-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman and Oscar nominee Felicity Huffman. Paradigm also helped package such hit television shows as “Desperate Housewives, “24" and “Rescue Me.”
Still, Gores knows that to keep up with his better-known competitors -- Creative Artists Agency, Endeavor, International Creative Management Inc., United Talent Agency and William Morris Agency -- he has to keep growing, even if it’s in small increments.
Those agencies frequently try to lure clients by using their size, global reach and corporate connections as selling points. Gores eschews those tactics, vowing, for example, to shun representing athletes and corporations.
“You don’t want to be so big that you risk losing focus,” Gores said. “Still, in order to make an impression you have to be a certain size and if you are a certain size, people have to pay attention.”
Beverly Hills-based Paradigm is housed in the former headquarters of MCA Inc., once the most powerful agency in Hollywood under the late Jules Stein and Lew Wasserman. With elegant columns, marble floors, a spiral staircase and an orchard, Paradigm conveys old Hollywood splendor at a time when most agencies want to emulate tightly run corporations.
“I think they run a first-class shop over there,” Warner Bros. President Alan Horn said.
But it’s in music where Gores sees an opening now. Some agencies have ignored music, saying it’s too high-maintenance and the money isn’t as easy to make as it is in film and TV. Among the three talent agencies Paradigm bought in 2004 was Monterey Peninsula Artists, one of the nation’s best-known music bookers. Its roster included such lucrative touring groups as Aerosmith, the Black Eyed Peas and the Dave Matthews Band.
Born in Israel, Gores, 51, grew up near Flint, Mich., where his father supported six children by running a small grocery store. Gores studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, then decided to go into the business end of entertainment by becoming an agent. In 1993, Gores founded Paradigm, a name he came up with after reading a book on leadership.
Gores is one of a trio of high-achieving brothers making their mark in Southern California. Alec, 53, is the founder of Gores Technology Group and estimated by Forbes magazine to be worth $1.2 billion. Financier Tom, 41, heads Platinum Equity and has an estimated net worth of $1.7 billion.
Although he doesn’t depend on his brothers for financing, Gores has occasionally arranged for them to bankroll movie deals or Paradigm clients’ projects.
Longtime client Andy Garcia once confided in Gores his 16-year dream to make a movie about his Cuban homeland. When the idea failed to garner interest from studios, Gores arranged for the actor to play golf with brother Tom. During a single game, Tom Gores decided to write Garcia a check to make “The Lost City,” released this year.
“Sam is like a brother to me, and his brothers are like family,” Garcia said. “These are people who are in this to do the best for me.”
The deep pockets of the Gores brothers mean Paradigm has to be taken seriously when it comes to potential acquisitions involving competitors, including some of its biggest.
Agents consider the agency business ripe for consolidation as entertainment companies tighten their belts.
According to several people familiar with the discussions, Paradigm held talks about buying the much larger International Creative Management before financier Suhail Rizvi and investment bank Merrill Lynch pumped $100 million into ICM last fall.
As for his own company being a potential target, Gores says he has no desire to sell should rivals come calling. In the meantime, he said Paradigm would continue picking acquisitions and projects that would keep his agency competitive.
“I have my entire life wanted to be very successful,” Gores said. “I just have absolutely no appetite for being in second place.”