CAA poaches UTA partner

CAA hired UTA agent and partner Dan Aloni last Thursday, a move that triggered a frantic Friday as both agencies tried to secure his clients.

As the dust settled, CAA claimed it had signed Tom Shadyac, Christopher Nolan, Dean Parisot, David Seltzer, Raja Gosnell, Michel Gondry, Dominic Sena, Joel Gallen and Andrew Fleming. UTA had persuaded “40-Year-Old Virgin” director Judd Apatow and writer Jonah Nolan to stay. “Wedding Crashers” director David Dobkin hadn’t officially declared but was expected to follow Aloni.

Aloni, who was co-head of UTA’s lit department, is the third UTA partner that CAA has hired in the last four months, following the move by Jason Heyman and Martin Lesak in July. The Aloni exit marks the latest instance in which CAA cherry-picked a rival agency’s star and client list. It is also the second raid on a comedy roster of actors, directors and writers that UTA developed from scratch.

While Heyman’s hire brought Will Ferrell, Aloni brings a slew of solid directors to plug into the CAA packaging machine. Shadyac, who’ll next direct “Evan Almighty” with Steve Carell, is among the biggest comedy directors in the game; Parisot just completed the Jim Carrey starrer “Fun With Dick and Jane,” and Dobkin has emerged as a star after the summer hit “Wedding Crashers.” On the drama side, Christopher Nolan directed his first blockbuster with “Batman Begins” and follows with the Hugh Jackman-Christian Bale film “The Prestige.” Some defecting directors will leave future commissions behind at UTA, such as the “Batman Begins” sequel that Nolan is planning.

UTA learned of Aloni’s abrupt exit Thursday evening, and not from him. But the signs were there: Aloni wasn’t elevated to the UTA board in the last restructuring, something that was important to him. Sources said that there were signs of strain in his relationship with partners after that. UTA higher-ups were absorbing the blow over the weekend, professing a determination to develop a new crop of directors to fill the gap, just as they did when John Lesher moved to Endeavor several years ago.

Aloni, a Berkeley grad who joined UTA from Gersh in 1994, also met with Endeavor, which also pursued him aggressively before he chose to join CAA as an agent, not a partner. Cash-rich CAA, which christens spacious new headquarters in Century City next October, has been willing to out-spend rivals in its efforts to broaden movie business market share and to line its new hallways with top agents along with the ones already in place.

In recent months, CAA has recruited Aloni, Heyman and Lesak, WMA’s Todd Feldman and Hylda Queally, Endeavor’s Spencer Baumgarten, ICM’s Bart Walker and UTA’s Rich Green.

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