British agents happily Independent

Heath joined fellow agents to buy out co.

Five years after buying back his talent agency from International Creative Management, Duncan Heath has finally gotten around to changing the nameplate on the door.

From Sept. 3, the company formerly known as ICM London will be called Independent Talent Group — or just plain Independent for short. As cosmetic makeovers go, it’s a significant declaration of intent.

Of course, it’s not just Heath’s agency any more. Having sold his original company to ICM back in 1984, he joined together with his fellow agents to buy out the business in 2002.

They financed the purchase with their own future earnings, with the final installment due to be paid off at the end of this year. ICM retains a small stake in the company, but has no voice in the management.

According to Heath, the timing is psychologically right for a new name that proclaims the agency’s freedom from its former parent, and clears up the confusion in the marketplace that has lingered for the past five years.

“In fact, we have been independent of ICM since 2002, so it’s madness that we’ve carried their name,” notes Paul Lyon-Maris, co-chairman alongside Heath.

“This business has expanded so much since then, but we were adding value to their brand, not to our brand,” adds managing director Lyndsey Posner.

In any case, it’s a propitious moment for the British company to disassociate itself from the ICM brand, which has gone through a rough time in Hollywood of late, notably with the exit of Ed Limato.

Even when they were under ICM’s ownership, Heath’s team always shared some clients with the other big U.S. agencies as well. But the latest departures from ICM have had the side effect of further eroding the special relationship, by spreading the Independent roster even more widely around Hollywood.

The British outfit has grown from 15 agents in 2002 to 27 agents today. Clients currently in the spotlight include Daniel Craig, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Paul Greengrass and Joe Wright. Alongside its core talent and literary divisions, it has branched out into commercials, TV presenters and models. For Heath, the next big step will be to launch the film development fund that he’s been talking about for years, and which is finally close to fruition.

U.K. agents have more latitude than their American colleagues to get directly involved in their clients’ projects. That was one reason why Heath wanted to buy back his business in the first place. But he insists that Independent isn’t about to follow the path into production of rival London agency Curtis Brown, whose Cuba Pictures label will premiere its first film, John Crowley’s “Boy A,” at Toronto.

“We’re not interested in producing,” Heath says. “Our job is to enable our clients to work, and people like to develop more at home, instead of having to go to Hollywood to do it.”

The renaming of Independent symbolically completes the withdrawal of the big Hollywood agencies from the London’s frontline. A few years back, William Morris challenged ICM for dominion of Blighty’s talent scene, but took heavy losses and retreated into the book biz. After Heath’s buy-out, ICM also opened a new lit office in London, ICM Books. But the job of repping directors, actors and screenwriters remains in the grip of the key local players, such as Independent, PFD, Casarotto Ramsay and Curtis Brown.

“We export a lot of our clients to the States, and the Hollywood agencies have recognized that people like ourselves and PFD know the market better than they do,” Posner says. “So why should they go to the trouble of having an overhead in London when they can sign the clients from us?”

It’s hard to recall a time when so many British directors, actors and writers have managed to carve out viable Hollywood careers without actually moving to Los Angeles. The London agents have played their part in bringing that about, and in return it has given them more transatlantic clout than ever. It’s often Brits who drive the Hollywood deals for their clients, even though the U.S. co-agents get the lion’s share of the commission (and typically, of the credit too).

No wonder Heath and his cohorts feel the time has finally come to make their declaration of independence.

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