Agencies plucking writers in post-strike craze

Count big-ticket screenwriters among the flood of talent and dealmakers switching agencies.

In a short time span, “The Ring” scribe Ehren Kruger has moved from Paradigm to UTA; “Rush Hour 3” scribe Jeff Nathanson jumped from UTA to CAA; “National Treasure: Book of Secrets” scribes Cormac and Marianne Wibberly moved from UTA to WMA; writer-director Steve Pink (“Accepted”) left WMA for Endeavor; Ed Solomon (“NowhereLand”) went from WMA to CAA, and Michael Goldenberg (“Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix”) moved from CAA to UTA.

Along with those high-profile names, “Sahara” scribes Thomas Dean Donnelly and Joshua Oppenheimer moved from ICM to Gersh and Jay Martel — who scripted the Jim Carrey-attached comedy “Me Time” — just moved from CAA to Endeavor.

The scribe moves aren’t as sexy as the spate of stars who’ve switched — think Robert De Niro, Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn and Paul Thomas Anderson — but these elite writers make seven-figures for assignments and rewrites, and as much as $250,000 per week to polish scripts.

By all accounts, the writers who’ve moved recently were skillfully represented. Kruger, for instance, leaves Paradigm just after he got the job rewriting “Transformers 2.”

So, why are they leaving?

Writers and their agents say that the post-writers strike and pre-actors strike funk has ramped up agency raiding of rival clients.

Agents suggest that of all segments, writers are most susceptible to sales pitches by rivals, and every prominent writer agent is in a courting mood. In the best of times, writers work alone in rooms, don’t get the adulation, paychecks or gross deals given actors and directors, and are often rewritten.

Add in stress-inducing factors — expected post-strike writing assignments that never materialized; studios squeezing quotes on the few jobs that do exist; studios having filled out slates through 2009; and the lack of greenlights until a SAG deal is in place — and the combination is a perfect storm of anxiety that has made talent, writers included, particularly susceptible to sweet talk from other agents.

“There are two sure-fire ways to get a writer’s attention,” said one big-ticket scribe who has heard the rival sales pitch many times. “They bring up a script you wrote and love that never got made, and say, why is this great script sitting on the shelf? Or the bigger agencies like CAA can say, you should be directing, and we will plug you into our stars who will make it happen.”

Writer moves range from Solomon’s decision to rejoin his longtime rep Doc O’Connor, to the Wibberlys looking for producing opportunities outside their lucrative writing gigs, to Kruger hoping to direct and produce as well as write, to Martel joining his partner Ian Roberts at Endeavor.

Nathanson moves with the hope that his new agency can help him get a cast and start date for a film he is trying to direct at Universal about Milli Vanilli — though the scribe said that’s too simplistic an explanation for his decision.

“You can’t be with one agent for 15 years, with all the highs and lows, and have this come down to one project,” Nathanson said. “It’s as complicated as a marriage.”

Greener pastures don’t always work out, but agents and writers said CAA agents are helped in their signing efforts by the star stable, and some feel Endeavor has helped the sales pitches of its writer agents with a spate of recent star signings.

The most formidable evidence of how a writer can benefit in that regard is Tony Gilroy. One of the best paid Hollywood writers after his work on the Bourne films, Gilroy moved to CAA in hopes that he would get a star that would trigger a production start for “Michael Clayton,” the drama that Gilroy wrote specifically to serve as his directing debut. CAA quickly put him in a room with George Clooney.

While some point out that a writer of Gilroy’s stature shouldn’t have to be a CAA client to get a Clooney meeting, it is difficult to argue with the results. Gilroy is shooting the Universal drama “Duplicity” with Julia Roberts and Clive Owen.

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