Indie unit head says, Forget the gray suit, pass the Grey Goose!
When William Morris and Endeavor merged in May, most of the indie biz had decamped to the Cannes Film Festival.Over strong coffee and glasses of rose, many speculated on the fate of Endeavor Independent topper Graham Taylor. He’d been at Endeavor for 4½ years, after weathering the treacherous indie producer jungle. (When he interviewed for the job, he emphasized his eagerness to earn a more steady paycheck by joking, “I’ll go into that room over there and start making calls now.”) His counterparts at William Morris Independent, Cassian Elwes and Rena Ronson, were veterans who’d navigated the independent and international film world for many more years. Some thought the duo — or at least one of them — would remain in place atop the newly renamed WME. But as the Morris body count escalated and Cannes came to a close, it was announced that Taylor would be the one to head the newly dubbed WME Global Finance and Distribution Group. The 38-year-old, who rarely dons the agent’s standard-issue gray suit, said his goals remain the same: to build “global brands” out of the agency’s clients by combining talent with the ability to raise private equity, distribution and now also advertisers. He’s also looking for solutions to the indie world’s distribution dilemma and is getting involved in P&A facilities. Sitting in his office on the fourth floor of the original Endeavor building in Beverly Hills, he said not much has changed since the merger. His small team, including Alexis Garcia, Mark Ankner and Liesl Copland, all stayed. And, despite the division’s new name — Taylor calls it WME Global — the mandate remains the same as before. “The name is much more accurate for what we do,” Taylor said. “Independent is a bit of a misnomer. We do tons of studio deals. ‘Independent’ almost denotes low-budget suicide dramas.” He said his group helped put together 30 films of all sizes last year and currently reps 20 or so financiers around the world. “The practice has really evolved from what these groups were,” he said, adding that it’s now about “building alternative distribution pipes or finding other ways to access the studio pipe.” Taylor really likes the word “pipe.” He said WME Global is working with several equity investors to build a “global distribution pipe” across film, TV and digital. He couldn’t give specifics just yet but said he’s working with producers, financiers and distributors in Europe, Japan, China, South Korea, Brazil, Argentina and Colombia. Taylor said the difference between WME Global and other agencies’ indie and international units is that his group spans the agency — across lit, talent, TV, publishing, music and corporate/marketing. “The reality is that you need every aspect of the agency, all the different departments and pieces, to help create game-changing businesses,” he said. “We’re now in the fortunate position that 1+1=3.” “For a definition, see: New Math,” Taylor deadpanned, as he often does in almost any conversation, with a joke or an attempt at levity when it all becomes just a little too serious. It’s that humor and Taylor’s easygoing nature that financiers and producers say is one of the most compelling reasons to do business with him. Taylor said there are still lots of film financiers around, but many of them don’t have a distribution strategy. Among the biggest distribution-related concerns these days is the lack of real P&A financing, which Taylor thinks is changing. “P&A is where all the money is going,” he said. “The state of the economy is creating much better deals for P&A investors. They’re like the mezzanine piece (in the financing structure) now, with stronger returns.” He added, “between Toronto (film festival) and Christmas, you’ll see three real P&A structures emerge.” So what are Taylor’s great hopes as the indie world continues to morph in the face of technological and financial upheaval? Taking a deep breath, he said, “As distribution converts to digital, and the way P&A is constructed changes, if we’re smart about it, we can hopefully help our filmmakers own more of their own intellectual property and have a greater say in how their films are marketed and distributed.” But he admits there is no secret recipe, joking about his own personal preferences: “The answer is Grey Goose, Camel Lights and a cockapoo named Gypsy.”