Betting that a talent agent can put some bite back into its business, MGM Pictures announced Wednesday the appointment of Creative Artists Agency’s Michael Marcus as president of the studio.
With agencies increasingly involved in the business of putting together films and TV shows — once the domain of studios — the hiring of an agent to run MGM is perhaps not surprising. Nonetheless, the tapping of Marcus, who joined CAA in 1981, caught many industry observers off guard.
The hire comes two days after veteran studio exec John Calley was named president of United Artists Pictures. With the appointment of the two executives , MGM/UA chairman Frank Mancuso now has his two top production executives in place.
Unlike Calley, a former head of Warner Bros., Marcus does not bring production experience to his new post. What he does put on the table, however, is a high-profile reputation as one of Hollywood’s savviest dealmakers and packagers — in addition to strong relationships with important A-list talent.
Among the big-ticket talent that Marcus, 48, has repped are Tom Cruise, Robin Williams and directors John Landis and David and Jerry Zucker. Marcus also supervised CAA’s burgeoning New Technology department.
“He has great experience indealing with talent,” said Mancuso, who had a number of dealings with Marcus during his tenure as chairman of Paramount Pictures. “He has a great ability to represent his clients and at the same time, represent a studio position. I liked his ability to act quickly to close a deal. He had the ability to get it done. He’ll bring that to MGM, which is great, given the competitive marketplace.”
Asked about Marcus’ lack of hands-on studio experience, Mancuso replied, “Lew Wasserman started as an agent. Mike has done everything that you can do as an agent. This will allow him to take the years of experience, the reading and selling material, and put that to use as a studio executive.”
And others echoed Mancuso’s sentiments: “The way that Mike and CAA put packages together is almost the same as being at a studio putting films together ,” said an agent from a rival agency. “The process is the same. He is probably involved from when a deal is made all the way to when a film is about to released. It’s all the same.”
“He’s savvy and he’s a decent guy,” added producer Larry Turman. “It’s a smart move by MGM. He’ll do a good job. His motivation is to do a good job.”
Marcus, who could not be reached for comment, said in a statement, “Working with the team Frank Mancuso has assembled and the magical name of MGM is a tremendous opportunity that I simply could not pass up. I believe that our team has the energy and experience to create an ideal environment in which talent can thrive.”
While Calley will be dealing with a start-up situation with no product in the development or production pipeline, Marcus is taking over a studio where there are 75 to 90 projects already in development. One of his first assignments as the new studio topper will be to find a slate of films to put into production. According to Mancuso, both he and Marcus will greenlight films together.
Because of CAA’s ties to Credit Lyonnais, the current owner of
MGM/UA, there was some talk by industry observers about the powerful agency’s influence over the studio and how that might have affected the hiring of Marcus.
“That was never a consideration,” said Mancuso. “He was the best person for the job. Believe me, I won’t hire CAA talent that we don’t need, nor would I hire ICM talent that I don’t need.”
Pushed to the limit
Last April, Intl. Creative Management topper Jeff Berg challenged how far CAA’s role as consultant to Credit Lyonnais extends, since the bank currently owns MGM.
While Berg was not available for comment, an ICM spokesman stated: “We’ve said all there is to say on this issue. Our position remains unchanged. We wish Mike the best of luck, look forward to working with him and will do everything we can to help him succeed.”
CAA and the three Hollywood guilds signed an agreement last May stating that the agency will not tamper with the creative decisions of CL-indebted companies or with other talent agencies’ involvement with them.