After weeks of speculation, William Morris Agency president and co-CEO Jim Wiatt began making large-scale staff cuts in the percentery’s Beverly Hills and New York offices, including veteran reps Johnnie Planco and Gene Parseghian.
In all, 10 agents were let go on Wednesday; three from New York, and seven from Los Angeles. According to insiders, some of those let go were at the end of their contracts, while others had some time left, but it’s understood that all will be exiting the agency within four weeks.
Sources point out that more cuts are expected and that some agents may have already been informed that their contracts will not be renewed when they expire in the coming months. It’s unclear why some reps were laid off and others allowed to serve out their contracts.
William Morris brass declined comment.
As part of a restructuring that will whittle WMA’s New York office to four agents in the motion picture department, talent agents Planco, Parseghian and lit agent Carol Yumkas were let go on Wednesday.
In Los Angeles, those let go include motion picture literary agents Jeff Field and Stephen Bulka; motion picture talent agents Rachel Shapiro, Niki Mirisch and Christian Donatelli; and television talent agent Steve Caserta and Jack Leighton.
It’s expected that more cuts will be made in both Los Angeles and New York as well as WMA’s London office, where staffers escaped the axe on Wednesday.
“They are making a radical adjustment in the motion picture department in New York,” said Planco, who along with Parseghian, were the most senior of those laid off. “The operation that I am in will no longer exist.”
Planco, 49, started in the Morris mailroom 27 years ago. His clients include Willem Dafoe, Lauren Bacall, Scott Glenn, Franco Zeffirelli and Paul Schrader.
The pony-tailed agent was the most public and well-known face of the agency in New York, and is a fixture at Gotham premiere and industry parties.
“This is a slap in the face to New York,” added Planco, alluding to the recent crystallization of the entertainment industry to the West Coast after years of bicoastal cohabitation.
Parseghian, a founding partner of Triad, represents such clients as Daniel Day-Lewis, Joseph Fiennes, Franka Potente and Judi Dench.
“I am in the process of determining what is best for myself and for my clients,” said Parseghian,
Both Parseghian and Planco are former heads of WMA’s New York motion picture department.
WMA management addressed the cuts during a staff meeting Wednesday afternoon in Los Angeles. During the meeting, Wiatt and worldwide motion picture head David Wirtschafter said that the decision to lay off the 10 agents was a tough one, but it was a business decision “we needed to make.”
The duo also spoke about a changing working atmosphere at the company, in which staffers would be rewarded more for how they work with their colleagues than for their individual bookings.
“They said everyone’s clients are everyone else’s and that there would be no hoarding of information and clients,” said one staffer who attended the meeting.
Another attendee said that the WMA brass said that while trimming overhead is behind some of the cuts, several of the positions will be filled in the future.
Additionally, sources said that WMA CEO Walt Zifkin told the gathered flock that the agency would also be looking to trim its client list. One WMA rep said that Zifkin pointed out that “rather than focus on the volume of bookings, we want net.”
In addition to the three let go Wednesday in New York, film agents Frank Frattaroli and Craig Gering and TV reps James Dixon and Mike August recently announced that they were leaving the agency. Frattaroli is considering becoming a manager, while Gering is expected to join CAA in November after his contract expires.
Dixon and August, on the other hand, will head up Artists Comedy Group, the latest addition to the growing sphere of Artists Management Group (Daily Variety, Sept. 29).
In Los Angeles, motion picture literary agent Carl Waynberg recently resigned from the agency and will be leaving sometime next month.