A three-decade relationship between ICM and famed agent Ed Limato ended Friday, with both parties expected to battle it out in an arbitration hearing that will take place as soon as Aug. 1.
One of the key issues is a non-compete clause in his contract. Limato is expected to challenge that clause, which would keep him tied to the agency for several years and forbid him from taking star clients like Mel Gibson, Denzel Washington, Steve Martin, Liam Neeson, Richard Gere and Billy Crystal to another agency.
Another issue will be commissions. Attorney Tom Hansen is pressing the case for Limato, but both sides expect this to be settled before it goes to court.
Limato was said to be surprised when ICM on Friday put out an announcement that he would no longer be co-president, a move that chairman-CEO Jeff Berg said in the press release was designed to “support the next generation of leadership.” Almost immediately, Limato and the agency began discussing ways to negotiate a settlement of the remaining time on his contract.
Even though rumors of discord between the agency and Limato have wafted for more than a month, his exit promises to have huge repercussions throughout the industry. Limato was long the face of ICM’s film department, a dealmaker as storied as Swifty Lazar, Stan Kamen, Freddy Fields and Ted Ashley, known for his effectiveness and skills at social networking. (He was noted for being the host of an exclusive pre-Oscar party that was a hard, sought-after ticket — and that the agency paid for.)
Limato’s exit is the latest seismic personnel change for the agency since Berg recapitalized the company, bought out the tenured shareholders, and then acquired Broder Webb Chervin Silbermann.
Limato suddenly found himself sharing the agency president title with Chris Silbermann, who was given the mandate to overhaul the culture at the agency to more closely replicate the one that had worked for the BWCS, which was known primarily as a TV packaging powerhouse boutique.
This would mean, in effect, a TV vet trying to redefine Limato’s three-decade format for the film division. But ICM says that the film side of the agency is still strong, with clients including Stephen Frears, Rob Marshall, James L. Brooks, Len Weisman, Len Becker, Roman Polanski, Nancy Meyers, Halle Berry, Jodie Foster, Samuel Jackson, Beyonce, Laura Linney, Peter Morgan, Ronald Harwood and David Mamet.
There is a Rashomon to what happened next. Limato supporters say he was disrespected and marginalized from the moment Silbermann came on board. Others said that Limato, set in his ways, had become an impediment to Silbermann and Berg’s attempts to change the culture of ICM.
When the first rumors of a Limato exit cropped up and were denied by both the agent and ICM, speculation had Limato landing at either Endeavor or CAA. More recently, William Morris and UTA have been mentioned as possible landing spots as well.
While no discussions can take place until Limato is free from his contractual obligations, a move to Endeavor is complicated by the fact that that agency chief Ari Emanuel encouraged an industry boycott against Gibson following his anti-Semitic comments after a drunken driving arrest in Malibu. While Limato worked with Berg on Gibson’s behalf, he has been one of Limato’s most tenured and important clients.
The remaking of ICM has created many casualties. Limato becomes the largest name to leave since the restructure. Most of the others who left, from Nancy Josephson to Robert Newman, Matt Solo and Richard Abate, went to Endeavor.
Friday’s press release was short and hinted at no discord. “Ed Limato is no longer co-president of the agency. Mr. Limato will continue as a motion picture agent at the company,” it said.
The release indicated it was simply “part of a restructuring of ICM’s motion picture department to deliver long-term growth” and that “Further developments with regard to the department’s restructuring for growth will be announced in due course.”