Last week, CAA got into the business of making publishing deals when it hired Simon Green to marry clients of the agency to book opportunities.
Literary agents around New York — who have long brought their author client books to CAA and watched books blossom into star-studded film and TV projects — were instantly on high alert.
They wonder if the agency’s aspirations will expand — as Endeavor’s has since it formed a book division in 2007 — and if they do, how long will it be before those lit agents stop feeling comfortable giving CAA access to author clients?
“Let’s face it: Poaching is in the DNA of Hollywood agents,” says one dealmaker.
Top CAA agents spent days assuring indie lit agents that the percentery made the move to cater to clients and to eliminate the embarrassing fact that it didn’t have a person to help star clients with book deals when rivals WMA, ICM and Endeavor have divisions dedicated to just that.
CAA promised lit agents it won’t sign established authors — or even rep ghostwriters — according to those who heard the placating pitch.
Several agents, noting that Green isn’t a superstar dealmaker and that he brings zero clients, say they believe CAA. One says: “At the cost of a tiny office, I can see the business sense, and I don’t think it will go beyond that.”
Still, when Michael Ovitz launched AMG and courted indie lit agents for material he could match with his management firm’s clients, Ovitz told the agents they needn’t fear his reputation for raiding. Then he poached heavyweight author Tom Clancy, and indie lit agents snubbed him.
Indie agents say they’ve shied away from Endeavor since it formed a book department, one that has made strong deals for Tina Fey, Artie Lange and, most recently, client James Franco, who just got a deal with Scribner to publish his short-story collection.
CAA and UTA have eschewed book departments so they could welcome lit agents and co-rep rights for properties that are catalysts for projects populated with agency clients. UTA, which has selectively made publishing deals in the past, will stay almost completely out of the book deal space, the agency says.
A recent example of the value of co-agenting can be found in UTA’s brokering with the Writers House a Summit film deal for “New Moon” and “Eclipse,” the second and third installments in Stephenie Meyer‘s “Twilight” series, with UTA screenwriter client Melissa Rosenberg also in the mix. UTA co-repped with lit agent Theresa Park an untitled Nicholas Sparks novel that sold to Disney with Adam Shankman producing and client Mylie Cyrus starring. Shankman, Cyrus and Sparks are UTA clients.
As for CAA, the agency recently auctioned Isaac Asimov’s “Foundation,” which sold to Sony for a film that will be directed by client Roland Emmerich. That book came to CAA through Trident Media Group, which reps the Asimov estate.
“For any major agency, choking off access to material is against that agency’s interest,” says Trident CEO Robert Gottlieb. “Having worked at William Morris, I know how important material is to the Hollywood client base. Given the competitive nature in Hollywood, agencies that can deliver the largest quantity of material to their talent are ultimately going to have the greatest advantage in signing talent.”
Another consideration is that the celeb book deal biz CAA is getting into is notoriously fickle.
“I remember at the height of the celebrity book bubble, when Whoopi Goldberg got $6 million for her memoirs,” says Gottlieb. “The book didn’t succeed, and publishers ran for the hills, and it took years for that business to come back.”