Agents look on longingly as managers reinvent themselves as entrepeneurs
I keep running into talent agents who tell me they’d rather be managers. Managers, they say, have all the fun. Managers can buy and sell companies and they can produce movies and TV shows, while agents can only make deals for their clients. Pretty boring stuff, some complain.But here’s what I don’t understand: If managers have such a great life, why does the management business resemble a demolition derby? Not a day passes without some lurid tale of betrayal — clients defecting, managers suing, entire firms capsizing. Does this sound like a cool business? Just a year ago, the agency business sent out the equivalent of a terror alert. CAA was feuding with Endeavor, William Morris with ICM. Major client shifts will occur, even among the superstars, we were forewarned. Well none of that really happened. Despite an occasional glitch, the agency business seems to be purring along rather peacefully. Even the always-rough sports agenting business promises to settle down after a jury last week awarded Leigh Steinberg $45 million, finding that a protege started a rival agency and stole his clients. The managers, on the other hand, have gone haywire. There has been a blizzard of exits and entrances at places like Industry, 3 Arts, Talent Entertainment Group, Catch 23, Handprint and so forth. You need a scorecard to keep track of who’s leaving whom or who’s buying what. Frankly, I’ve always wondered why so many filmmakers, actors or writers want to pay both an agent and a manager. This is especially true now that you have to update your Rolodex weekly just to keep up with your manager. Clients tell me it’s mandatory to have both an agent and a manager in order to get your phone calls returned. When agents are “rolling” their calls, chances are they’ll roll right past your name unless you’re a superstar. I can see how this might happen. When I talk with agents these days, they seem to dwell on their corporate clients or salivate over some big package, but they don’t talk about building careers. Abe Lastfogel, the William Morris chief of yesteryear, liked to boast that show business was propelled by only one force: Talent. I don’t think that notion is too widely held today. Not that managers are much better. The Firm, a management company, keeps putting out announcements about the products it wants to sell, like Pony footwear and Build-a-Bear Workshops. Last week it disclosed a 50-50 deal to sell Virgin beverages in the U.S. Now I think it’s great for managers to reinvent themselves as entrepreneurs, provided they still have time for their clients. If I were an actor, I’d be embarrassed to interrupt a Build-a-Bear meeting with my trivial career problem. Also, do you want your manager to work for you or to be your partner? It’s a delicious display of consanguinity for Brad Grey to be partnered with Brad Pitt in a new production company, provided each knows what he expects the other to deliver, and at what price. And what happens to the relationship if the deal goes south? I’m sure the various clients at Gold-Miller, which is part of Mosaic, were delighted to learn a new company named Signpost was going to help finance their projects. Until, that is, Signpost imploded and Mosaic became less of a mosaic. And things keep imploding around us. Jeremy Barber, John Carrabino and Patrick Dollard are asking for exit visas from Catch 23. Three of the managers defecting from Industry say they are “grateful to Keith Addis and Nick Wechsler for being unbelievable mentors.” Wasn’t that what Rick and Julie Yorn said before they defected to the House of Ovitz? (They’re now at the Firm and less grateful.) Well, I like evidence of gratitude. I just hope it’s shared by the clients. Some of them may be trying to figure out who’s going to get them their next gig. I ran into a bright young agent the other day who said, “I’m grateful to managers, because I don’t have the time to hand-hold all my clients.” All I can say is, I hope he confides that to his clients. Also to their managers. Remember what Abe Lastfogel said, guys. It’s all about talent. No, not your talent — the clients’ talent.