Lion tamers enter ring

HOLLYWOOD — When Creative Artists Agency became an adviser to Credit Lyonnais on MGM five months ago, CAA’s rival agencies and the three Hollywood guilds complained about the potential for a conflict of interest.

But since one of CAA’s top agents was tagged as the new MGM president — and the producing partner of a CAA client picked to helm MGM’s revamped sister United Artists — not a peep about conflicts has been heard.

The appointments of UA president John Calley and MGM president Mike Marcus happened within two days of each other — Aug. 23 and Aug. 25, respectively. Calley was a producing partner of director Mike Nichols, who clipped his 20-year relationship with International Creative Management agent Sam Cohn and jumped to CAA the week before Calley’s appointment.

Of course, the hirings were done by MGM chairman/CEO Frank Mancuso, not CAA. And any carping by conspiracy buffs was probably muted because neither guilds nor agents cared to complain about the two newest buyers in town.

Town without memory?

“This is a town that doesn’t seem to have a memory or care about anything for more than a day and a half,” says one CAA competitor who asked to remain anonymous.

ICM topper Jeff Berg, who fired off a 3-inch-thick briefing to the Justice Dept. requesting an investigation of the CAA-MGM linkup, was on vacation the week of Aug. 23. His spokesman issued a statement: “We’ve said all there is to say on this issue. Our position remains unchanged. We wish Mike (Marcus) the best of luck, look forward to working with him and will do everything we can to help him succeed.” But he added this footnote late that same week: “Any action now has to come from the Justice Dept.”

Earlier this summer, Berg and other agencies said they were concerned that CAA would have an unfair advantage in knowing what packages or projects they would be pitching to MGM and UA — or that CAA would have some say in whether other agencies’ projects would be greenlighted.

“The agencies are being quiet because being a coward comes with the territory ,” says one Directors Guild of America member. “But you have to consider that (CAA topper Michael) Ovitz is well aware of what people would say. These appointments are so blatant, he must have really covered his butt to make sure no conflict claim would stick. All people want now is to get more films in production.”

On to something new

“Once you change jobs you’re on to something new,” says William Morris topper Jerry Katzman, noting his agency never took a public stand on the conflict issue. “Your past job is your past job and I think (Marcus) will be more sensitive to that than anyone else.”

Others aren’t convinced. One agent says, “There is that heavy imprint of CAA, like it or not. But Ovitz is a smart enough man to have the bases covered.”

The three guilds declined comment. So did Ovitz.

Meanwhile, Calley, 62, and Marcus, 48, have their work cut out for them. Calley and UA will probably have to funnel a lot of co-productions through MGM and Marcus, because MGM has an established operation and more money, sources say.

Unlike Calley, Marcus is heading an established studio. But to Marcus, “It’s like starting from scratch, because it’s new with Frank as well.” As for depending solely on CAA clients, Marcus says, “I would be dumb to do that.”

The 25-year veteran agent, known for being a voracious reader, says he’ll have to step up his habit even more. What he plans to build on is “my ability to bring aboard talent.”

The talent Marcus has nurtured in the past include his clients as a CAA agent: Tom Cruise, Robin Williams and directors John Landis and David and Jerry Zucker.

In the ’70s and ’80s Calley built ties to such filmmakers as Stanley Kubrick, Clint Eastwood and, of course, Nichols, with whom he co-produced “Postcards From the Edge.”

Calley, who was president of production at Warner Bros. from 1975 to 1980 and later a consultant to the studio, has also been a filmmaker and indie producer.

During his years at WB he was known as a man with quirky but literate tastes — involved with such pix as “A Clockwork Orange” and “The Exorcist.” He produced “Catch-22,””The Loved One” and “The Americanization of Emily” with Martin Ransohoff.

“The one thing that both will find out quickly is they have become corporate employers and buyers,” says one rival agent. “I’m not concerned as a seller. Believe me, on this conflict issue … there’s more made out of it than there really is.”

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