Seven months after ICM re-capitalized with a $100 million cash infusion, agency watchers are asking: Has ICM squandered the momentum that could have come with a restructuring?
Is it repeating past mistakes and letting key agents walk out the door with their clients?
As the agency closes the books on its fiscal year on June 30, some feel the new ICM, which is prepping a move to the MGM building in Century City, is looking very much like the old ICM. This despite the war chest that came from Connecticut-based investor Suhail Rizvi, and from the Merrill Lynch’s Asset Based Finance Group.
That sentiment has echoed with the exit of Chris Andrews, a 16-year ICM vet who joined CAA.
Since his exit, there has been much debate over the strength of his list, and if longtime client Josh Lucas’ jump to CAA preceded the Andrews defection. But few deny that Andrews was a loss; he had the ear of chairman-CEO Jeff Berg, and backed up some of the superstar clients of ICM stalwart Ed Limato. Some felt Andrews had the potential, growing up in the agency, to help steer it into the future.
He became just the latest ICM-raised dealmaker to leave, a storyline for the percentery which the cash infusion was expected to halt. ICM is hardly the only agency to lose plum agents to CAA, which has bolstered its own packaging machinery by cherry-picking dealmakers from every rival. CAA has been particularly predatory, helping itself to such ICM stars as Nick Styne, Bart Walker and Tracy Brennan.
Critics of the new ICM said a look at the ledger sheet shows that while ICM has lost many big agents, it rarely brings in a rainmaker from elsewhere.
Berg has used the proceeds of its recapitalization to cash out vested vets like Marvin Josephson and Sam Cohn, and clear the way for new shareholders. The move was meant to keep the next generation of ICM leaders in place, and to give the agency a better shot at a free agent, or even the acquisition of another agency.
ICM’s resolve toward keeping agents in the fold will be tested again this fall, when the contracts of four well-regarded agents expire within a year: Nick Reed (who reps Jay Roach), Doug McLaren (Rob Marshall), lit agent Nicole Clemens and Eddy Yablans (a film and TV agent whose clients include Ellen DeGeneres and Jim Belushi).
One manager who works often with ICM said criticism spurred by the Andrews’ exit is unfair.
“Chris has a good list of working actors, but not the kind of superstar that really hurts,” the manager said. “He moved because he’s a perfect fit at CAA. He can talk to actors and takes some of that servicing burden away from the top guys like Bryan Lourd and Kevin Huvane.”
One ex-ICM agent said, “There was plenty of incentive for CAA to raise his salary, down to his familiarity with Ed’s clients, which CAA will be after, if and when Ed should ever decide to retire.”
Work in progress
Agents inside ICM said trying to evaluate ICM’s restructuring at this point is unfair, because the pieces are still falling into place — witness established agents like Toni Howard, who won Halle Berry as a client. The insiders said that the percentery has made solid strides in a branding division.
An agency spokesman said, “As people in business know, making the right strategic moves takes time. ICM will do the right deals at the right time and when we have something to announce we’ll announce it.”
ICM has also made strides in an independent financing sphere. The agency is closely aligned with NewBridge Film Capital, a gap financing fund hatched by Rizvi and Merrill Lynch.
Among the recent films that the ICM division has helped coin is “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead,” a drama directed by ICM client Sidney Lumet, which will star Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke, Albert Finney and Marisa Tomei, with Michael Cerenzie and Brian Linse producing.
Still, many felt the Andrews exit would serve as a wake-up call as more agent pacts expire in the coming months.