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Gersh exits WMA for new game

Percenter to hang shingle

Brian Gersh, co-head of the William Morris Agency’s motion picture talent department, is ankling the percentery Oct. 31 to establish a multimedia management and production company, the agency announced Friday.

Though Gersh’s exit had been anticipated for some time, his departure leaves WMA without one of its most senior talent reps. In addition to overseeing the talent department with Michael Gruber, Gersh served as primary agent for such high-profile actors as Sean Penn, Kevin Spacey, Drew Barrymore, Harvey Keitel and Jackie Chan, as well as director Anthony Drazan (“Hurlyburly”).

Gersh would not give details of his new venture, but said he will be announcing the company in the coming weeks.

“I’ve had a yearning for some time to see if I have the ability to build a company I can call my own, or my own with some partners,” Gersh told Daily Variety. “But because of my relationship with the people here (William Morris), I made a conscious decision not to put everything in place prior to discussing it with my clients and colleagues.”

According to insiders at the agency, it’s expected that several of Gersh’s clients will join him in his new venture, although Gersh remained mum about who those might be.

Sources said that Penn, who at one time had been rumored to be establishing a production banner with Gersh, is likely to join his agent’s new management shingle.

Mike Simpson, who runs WMA’s motion picture department with John Burnham, said, “Brian has handled this in a respectful, coordinated way, and we look forward to working together.” He added that “all the indications we’re getting is that no one (clients) is leaving.”

WMA insiders said Arnold Rifkin will take the lead position handling many of Gersh’s clients, although the day-to-day agenting has been divided among those reps who have worked with the clients in the past.

Gersh joined WMA as head of feature talent in 1992 when the firm acquired Triad Artists, where he served as head of motion picture talent. Gruber will continue to oversee the feature talent department on the West Coast. His newly upped counterparts, Michelle Stern (who relocated to New York from L.A.) and Frank Frattaroli, will run the agency’s East Coast motion picture talent department.

Gersh joins a growing number of senior agents who, looking for a career change or driven by entrepreneurial desires, have set up shop as managers/producers in recent years. This year has seen such agent-to-manager switches as former United Talent Agency president and co-founder Marty Bauer and veteran ICM agent Lou Pitt, and the industry awaits what, if anything, comes of the management/production venture that former CAA topper Michael Ovitz is said to be scheming.

In a contrarian move last week, however, Brian Swardstrom, Gersh’s former colleague at Triad and William Morris, left the management ranks to once again become an agent, this time at Endeavor.

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