Boutiques rattled by poaching encroachment

So you’re a youth agent, and you’ve discovered a bright new talent, developed the talent, won over the talent’s parents and have built a cozy, familial relationship.

Then along comes CAA. Or ICM. Or whatever big name — they want your client.

“It doesn’t matter what age your client is, everybody wants talent,” says Cindy Osbrink of youth-centric the Osbrink Agency.

“We boutique agencies are the bread and butter of the industry. We do the groundwork, we get them up and running. It’s very easy for someone to ride on the coattails,” says Lynn Eriks, commercials department director for Howard Talent West. “The other week, I had a couple kids doing very well, and all of a sudden I get a call saying that Ford Models had contacted them.”

Big agencies want potential movie stars, but won’t invest the time booking commercial gigs that give younger talent experience working with directors and being on camera. “That’s where kids get their feet wet and really get going,” Eriks says. “When they do well commercially, then you can pitch them theatrically.”

So how does a youth agency hold onto talent till they’re old enough for adult representation?

The answer is complex. “Tons of patience, tons of hand-holding,” Osbrink says. Youth agents know the ins and outs of child labor laws in every state, as well as abroad. They are loyal and protective of their young charges. They often work in close partnership with the parents, which is key to everyone’s career success.

Osbrink has so far kept Dakota Fanning and her sister Elle in her fold, putting their partnership down to “very loyal parents and the great communication between us. That’s about it.”

Indeed, the Fanning team is always looking for roles to stretch Dakota as an actress, and Osbrink enthuses about the young thesp’s role in “Push,” which she’s filming now in Hong Kong. “It’s ‘Heroes’ meets ‘Alias’ action; it’s something she’s never done before.”

But is there a right time for a young actor to jump ship?

“You have to take each individual case and say, ‘Hey we can really add to this team.’ It’s always better to be proactive than reactive if it’s going to benefit your client and the client understands” what’s entailed in the move, says Coast to Coast’s Meredith Fine, who co-reps Michael Angarano (“Forbidden Kingdom”) with ICM.

Youth agents stress that the big agencies aren’t in the development business and don’t have the patience with young talent’s careers that you get with boutiques.

“The right timing is when things are cooking and grooving, when you want to add content (to the client’s repertoire),” Fine says. “The bad time (to leave for a big agency) is when there’s a lull, and they want to resurrect their career; they think, ‘Oh, someone else will want to make things better.’”

“Also what happens is the parents come into our agency pretty naive and then they go out to these auditions and they talk to the other parents, and that’s when the nightmare happens,” Eriks says. “I think they get overwhelmed and they don’t trust their agents.”

Sums up Fine: “My feeling is that in this business, there’s a time for change. In the youth world, there’s an understanding that we don’t go after other people’s clients. In the ‘big world,’ they go after talent whether the talent is 10 or 30. I understand the benefits of teaming with big agencies, and I co-rep with big agents, and it is a good way to transition (youth clients) to the adult world. It’s also a nod of respect and understanding where these kids have been all this time.”

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