Major moves impact talent landscape

Size does matter.

With Hollywood’s talent agencies buffeted by change last week, the question of how big is big enough is again on the minds of many in Hollywood.

Agents were sizing up the impact of major moves at Endeavor, led by its hiring of longtime UTA agents Nick Stevens, Sharon Sheinwold and Lisa Hallerman as well as Robert De Niro’s shift there from longtime home CAA and the signing of Topher Grace, who left William Morris.

Endeavor, though, also saw a pair of notable exits: Ashton Kutcher, who joined the agency as a model from Iowa then became a star and a growing TV powerhouse with his Katalyst banner, moved to CAA. Comic thesp Chris Rock returned to ICM.

The Kutcher exit was painful, but for those scoring at home, Endeavor now looks to have a far stronger hand. Last week’s moves bolster a movie talent roster that a few years ago had been a soft spot for an agency always strong in TV and lit. De Niro and Ben Stiller, who immediately followed Stevens from UTA, add to an Endeavor star list that includes Adam Sandler, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Steve Carell, Kevin James, Mark Wahlberg, Sacha Baron Cohen, Viggo Mortensen, Paul Giamatti, Edward Norton and Javier Bardem.

While initial reaction around town was that UTA was crushed by the exit of the Stevens troika, insiders say that aside from some potential client losses, they’re actually happy with the exits of Stevens, Sheinwold and Hallerman, saying the talent department had become toxic and dysfunctional. Stevens, the board member who oversaw the division, often wasn’t in the office enough, and Sheinwold and Hallerman — whom Stevens empowered to oversee day to day activities — clashed with many of the other agents, insiders say. UTA’s board sought to change that structure, a discussion which precipitated the Endeavor move.

While the exodus of Stevens and company sparked the question of whether a merger with Paradigm, ICM or another partner would be in the cards for UTA, agency chairman Jim Berkus dismissed such talk. By week’s end, the buzz was that UTA might not suffer a crippling client loss. While Jack Black, Jason Segel, Jonah Hill and Amy Poehler are expected to follow their agents to Endeavor, Owen Wilson, Patrick Dempsey, Jason Bateman and most of the current cast of “Saturday Night Live” are now expected to remain at UTA.

And there are challenges ahead for Endeavor as it absorbs its new dealmakers and clients.

Chemistry is crucial to running an agency with so many working parts, and Endeavor partners Ari Emanuel, Patrick Whitesell and Adam Venit will have to make sure all their star agents can play in the same sandbox.

Endeavor saw some partner turnover in the last few years, as when David Lonner and Steve Rabineau left for WMA because of dissatisfaction with moves the agency was making. The Endeavor newcomers will have to buy into the system in order for it to work. Nancy Josephson and Robert Newman did just that, despite being ingrained in ICM culture, and quickly became assets.

The next big battleground among percenteries could well be comedy hyphenate Judd Apatow, the longtime UTA client who was labeled as “in play” when the three agents moved to Endeavor.

It will be important for UTA to demonstrate stability, because both Endeavor and CAA will be coming hard after the one-man comedy factory.

Stevens worked on Apatow’s team at UTA, but he has a bad relationship with Apatow’s manager, Jimmy Miller, stemming from the exit of Jim Carrey. But Miller has a strong relationship with Endeavor chief Emanuel, with whom he steers the career of Baron Cohen.

CAA will emphasize the presence of Dan Aloni, who was part of Apatow’s rep team while he was at UTA.

At UTA, Apatow’s primary rep is David Kramer, considered one of the best dealmakers at the agency.

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