Talent agencies are working overtime to figure out how they can help fill empty studio pockets — for a fee, of course.
The top five agencies have put money-hunting on the top of their to-do lists. They’re leaving no stone unturned, whether it’s relationships with foreign distributors, banks, bond companies or young rich people who have money to burn.
Ken Kamins at ICM and Cassian Elwes and Rena Ronson at William Morris are all working to develop film-financing funds.
Heading the charge at CAA are John Ptak and Rick Hess, with Modi Wiczyk at Endeavor and Howard Cohen and Jeremy Barber at UTA all redoubling their efforts to find film financing for their clients.
For some agencies, the rationale is simple: no movies, no jobs. No jobs, no commissions.
“There are a limited number of films the studios will make and a lot of people are not working,” says one agent. “Rather than having to wait around for available opportunities, agencies are in a better position as a species if we service our clients by putting funds together.”
Indeed, the species of indie agent needs to prove its worth or face extinction. Cost-cutting has hit agencies, too, and most indie agents don’t rep members of the $20 million club. In rooting out this cash, the jobs they save may be their own.
While most agencies are working to develop their relationships with billionaires eager to make their mark in Hollywood, William Morris and UTA are also developing funds specifically targeted for a slate of low-budget films.
Agencies are also looking at the possibility of treating production-distribution companies like Adam Krentzman’s Outlook Films or James Stern’s Endgame Fund as their go-to source for independent financing.
Of course, agencies have to be careful not to get carried away.
State Labor Commissioner Arthur Lujan has made it clear that California’s Talent Agency Act precludes agencies “splitting profits” with employers, and that Lujan has the authority to review any individual transactions involving agencies.
However, Lujan has remained mum on last year’s SAG-ATA deal and whether its provisions easing ownership restriction were in conformity with state law.
The commission, which licenses talent agents, received a copy of the SAG-ATA tentative agreement but Lujan never commented beyond saying the Talent Agency Act gave him authority over individual transactions if the deal went through.
“Any agreement reached between SAG and ATA must provide for compliance with the section insofar as it is applicable to any financial interest transaction,” he wrote.
Despite the agencies’ enthusiasm, their efforts are unlikely to show real results until 2004. While the money is out there, the market has a lot of demands before it will hand over the loot.
The bar was a lot lower a few years ago, when the average guarantee outside North America was 60%-65% of a film’s budget.
Today, no one expects to see much more than 50% out of foreign and that makes banks anxious. To soothe their nerves, they need to see equity — large cash reserves, the very thing that studios wish they had more of in the first place.
As Bill Mechanic could tell you, that’s no small task.
(Dave McNary contributed to this report.)