Veteran literary agent David Wirtschafter, who recently ankled his senior post at International Creative Management, has been named worldwide head of motion pictures at the William Morris Agency.
Wirtschafter joins his friend and longtime colleague Jim Wiatt, who last month joined WMA as president and co-CEO of the agency (Daily Variety, Aug. 10). In addition to being the highest ranking executive within the WMA feature department (which has offices in Beverly Hills, New York and London), Wirtschafter joins WMA’s 15-seat board of directors as well as taking an executive vice president title at the agency.
With the announcement of Wirtschafter’s hiring, John Burnham and Mike Simpson, who have served as co-heads of the motion picture department, were named worldwide co-heads of motion pictures at the agency. While the titles would seem to imply that the duo will report to Wirtschafter, the execs were more circumspect about the new executive structure.
“We’ll all report to one another and we will try to de-standardize the reporting mechanism,” Wirtschafter told Daily Variety. Noting an intended change in WMA’s operating structure, Wirtschafter said “there will be groupwide and companywide checks and balances that will allow people at higher levels and lower levels to evaluate each other.”
Burnham and Simpson also hold seats on the WMA board of directors and serve as executive vice presidents.
While Burnham and Simpson have assured staffers that they are staying at the agency, with Wirtschafter’s ascension in the WMA hierarchy, insiders are watching to see what changes take place among the company’s senior and junior reps. It’s understood that former ICM lit agent Amy Ferris will soon join Wirtschafter and Wiatt at WMA. Ferris also recently decided not to re-new her contract with ICM when it expires at the end of the year. It’s understood that Ferris, too, has negotiated an early exit, leaving her available to join WMA immediately.
Wirtschafter will significantly bolster WMA’s literary client list. Among clients he has represented at ICM are Spike Lee, Allen and Albert Hughes, Carl Franklin, Doug McGrath, Bryan Singer, Gregory Hoblit, Chris Cleveland, Pen Densham, Randall Wallace, Wayne Wang, Andy and Larry Wachowski and Stephen Hopkins.
Wirtschafter would not say which clients are joining him, but sources at both his new and former firms expect the majority of his list to be re-established down the road.
Simpson and Burnham, meanwhile told Daily Variety that they welcome Wirtschafter’s presence.
“We feel great about this,” Burnham said. “We’ve spent some time with David, and with he and Jim (Wiatt), we’ve jumped up to a new level with the agency. It’s a real coup for Jim to pull off getting a guy like David.”
Asked whether there’s any basis to rumors he and Simpson might be leaving, Burnham said “that’s complete rubbish. We are completely committed to the agency and never have wavered from that.”
“For me personally, this is terrific,” Simpson said. “We do truly see things similarly. We have the same goals, and we’re now in a great position to actualize those goals.
“You can see it in the reaction of the younger agents, who are on fire with enthusiasm. The motion picture department has gone through a lot of changes, a lot of different faces, but we’re now by far in the best position we’ve been in.”
Talks with CAA
Wirtschafter’s move to Morris had been expected, although it’s understood that he had spoken with other possible employers in recent weeks, including Creative Artists Agency, where he once worked in the business affairs department.
Wirtschafter, whose contract with ICM was due to expire at the end of 1999, chose last week not to renew his pact with his employer of nearly 13 years.
Wirtschafter was reportedly disillusioned with ICM after Ed Limato and Nancy Josephson were upped to co-presidents last October. While Wirtschafter, who many in the agency had viewed as heir apparent to chairman Jeff Berg, said he wasn’t upset at being passed over, he did say that “during the process of events, no one communicated what was going on with me, and I felt I should have been involved.”
After notifying ICM chairman Jeff Berg of his desire to leave, Wirtschafter negotiated an early exit with ICM that was finalized Monday. He officially moved into his WMA digs — the office of former WMA prexy Arnold Rifkin — on Tuesday. (Rifkin was the last agent to hold the title of worldwide head of motion pictures, before he was upped to president in 1997.)
Wiatt, who was in New York visiting WMA’s Gotham staffers, made the announcement to staffers via e-mail Tuesday morning.
Asked what Wirtschafter’s hiring means to the agency, Wiatt said, “I can’t tell you how excited I am to be with him. It’s a dream come true. It means that I have my closest professional partner of the past seven, eight years, working with me. He’s an extraordinary agent and friend. He’s very collaborative and we’ll all work as a group.”