Close to finalizing his exit from WME, David Lonner is launching a management venture.
Lonner, who many expected to join an established firm, hasn’t named his new company and won’t have all the pieces of the venture together until the fall. But he will start out repping longtime clients J.J. Abrams, Jon Turteltaub, Brad Silberling, Audrey Wells, Kevin Wade, Rick Famuyiwa, Peter Sollett and “Lost” co-exec producer-director Stephen Williams. Several others are pending.
His exit deal from WME is nearly complete, bringing closure to a lingering storyline in the WMA-Endeavor merger.
Lonner was abruptly informed by WMA chief Jim Wiatt and Endeavor chief Ari Emanuel in April that there would be no place for him at the new company. That notice came right after Lonner and WMA colleague John Fogelman completed a commission-rich five-year Paramount reup for Abrams and his Bad Robot label to produce movies that include future “Star Trek” installments and the next “Mission: Impossible.”
Some were stunned by the move, since Wiatt scored a coup in 2003 by hiring Lonner and Steve Rabineau away from partnership positions at rival Endeavor. Rabineau, faced with the same situation, quickly left with his client list to become a UTA partner. Lonner’s exit was trickier: If he joined a rival agency, he would forgo any proceeds from the Paramount pact.
The lingering tug-of-war for Abrams wasn’t good for WME, either, because he is big business. Aside from directing “Star Trek” and films produced by Bad Robot, Abrams’ prolific work creating or co-creating TV series like “Lost” and “Fringe” makes him as lucrative a client as any in the WME mix.
Abrams said Lonner’s move to manager was the best compromise for all concerned. He has been Lonner’s client for 20 years, signing right out of Sarah Lawrence when he and Jill Mazursky were writing the 1990 pic “Taking Care of Business.”
“It feels like the right time for David to create his own culture and business,” Abrams said. “My loyalty to him is evidenced by my having had only one agent my entire career. David introduced me to John about five years ago, and his aggressive business mind made him the right person to help us get Bad Robot off the ground. No one person does everything. There is a great dynamic here, and I’m excited that doesn’t have to change.”
There has been other fallout from Lonner’s pending exit: Alexander Payne jumped to CAA, and Williams, the co-executive producer and director of 26 “Lost” episodes, has left for UTA, signing with Rabineau and Jay Sures.
Turteltaub, who directed the “National Treasure” films and just wrapped “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” said he hadn’t yet decided whether to stay at WME.
Turteltaub said: “We’ve all been given the opportunity to step back and say, ‘David is no longer our agent, where do we want to go?’ This is a chance to re-evaluate. With David, this was a matter of ‘Wherever he goeth, so shall I go.’ ”
Lonner met with several management firms but sparked to the idea of a startup.
“I admired what a lot of those companies had put together, but it was their companies,” he said. “I had a dream to do something on my own. This is a more entrepreneurial route, and I’m hoping it allows me to dig deeper into the lives and careers of my clients.”
Lonner, who’d been an agent at ICM, CAA, Endeavor and WMA, said he is eager to work with all of the agencies.
“It should be a competitive advantage to my clients, the fact that I know how they operate,” he said.