×

Agencies battle for overseas talent

Client lists grow as international business becomes more important

With the international landscape taking on a greater role at the box office and beyond, top talent agencies are making a concerted effort to zero in on the next crop of new talent — no matter where in the world it is.

An example is Korea, where three helmers are traveling Stateside to make their domestic directing debuts in 2013.

Park Chan-wook, represented by WME, and Bong Joon-ho and Kim Jee-woon, both repped by CAA, already are icons in their native country. Kim’s Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle “The Last Stand” opened over the Martin Luther King Jr. weekend to better than $7 million for Lions-gate, placing it in the top 10. Park’s “Stoker,” a kinky thriller starring Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode and Nicole Kidman, which Fox Searchlight just picked up out of Sundance, opens in March; and Bong’s sci-fi thriller “Snowpiercer,” starring Chris Evans, John Hurt and Jamie Bell, bows this summer via the Weinstein Co.

CAA agent Spencer Baumgarten says what has made these directors so appealing is their willingness to push the envelope.

“What stands out is their boldness, which is evident by the risks they are taking onscreen,” Baumgarten says. “You can’t define them by any one genre.”

While the Asian market, and specifically Korea, is hot right now, agencies, driven by the success of Scandinavian films, recently have been targeting talent like UTA-repped director Daniel Espinosa and thesp Joel Kinnaman (“Easy Money,” “Safe House”), WME-repped helmer Baltasar Kormakur (“101 Reykjavik,” “Contraband”) and Magnolia Entertainment-repped actress Noomi Rapace (“The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”).

The worldwide battle for talent has grown to the point where agents are bringing translators with them on scouting trips, and agencies are looking to set up offices in foreign markets. CAA, for instance, has an office in China, where helmer Zhang Yimou is a client.

Some say it’s harder for budding talent to make the leap from culturally restrictive nations like China, however, because they have to follow an established path in order to make a name for themselves.

But UTA agent David Flynn sees few absolutes in the talent game.

“Territories that have a rich filmmaking culture tend to develop the most new talent,” he says, “but there are plenty of exceptions to that rule.”

International festivals have always been a good place to look for talent. For instance, UTA signed Swedish actress Alicia Vikander after her role in 2011’s “Beloved” out of Cannes, Spanish director Miguel Angel Vivas after “Kidnapped” wowed in Sitges in 2010, and Espinosa out of Berlin; WME inked “Hijacking” helmer Tobias Lindholm last year out of Toronto; and CAA signed Aussie director Justin Kurzel (“The Snowtown Murders”) last year out of Cannes, and Michel Hazanavicius after “The Artist” unspooled at Cannes.

The competition to land the best-known names has gotten so fierce that before a fest opens, agents and managers often sound out festival directors to identify the rising talent they should be looking for. When UTA was pursuing helmer Joachim Trier, an agent called an associate of the Karlovy Vary festival, looking for information about the “Oslo, August 31st” director.

Agents also are staying in touch with buyers and sellers in particular markets who are watching films that aren’t making the festival rounds. And they’re logging air miles to fests like Busan and Gijon in Spain — events they may not have attended in the past.

Television, too, has become a place to find emerging international talent, particularly in Israel, where shows like “In Treatment” and “Homeland” got their start. Reps say they’re also building relationships with TV producers in other English-speaking countries, like New Zealand and Ireland.

And sometimes markets are of interest because that’s where the action is — or will be. Brazil will host soccer’s World Cup next year, with Rio getting ready for the Olympics in 2016.

Ascend Entertainment founder Brent Travers, whose Brazil-based agency reps such talent as actor Wagner Moura and director Afonso Poyart, says that another reason Brazil may be becoming a market where more and more reps are scouting around has to do with the nation’s deep roots in theater.

“It’s surprising to people at how rich the theater tradition is there,” Travers says. “There are parts of Brazil that have such large theater districts that the country begins to bear similarities to Great Britain.”

Bill Edelstein contributed to this report.

More Film

  • The Lion King

    ‘The Lion King’ Tops Studios’ TV Ad Spending

    In this week’s edition of the Variety Movie Commercial Tracker, powered by the always-on TV ad measurement and attribution company iSpot.tv, Walt Disney Pictures claims the top spot in spending with “The Lion King.” Ads placed for the remake had an estimated media value of $5.64 million through Sunday for 1,290 national ad airings on [...]

  • Beyonce poses for photographers upon arrival

    Beyoncé Releases Music Video for 'Spirit,' Her 'Lion King' Soundtrack Contribution

    Beyoncé fans are stampeding across the web veldt to get a look at her just-released music video for “Spirit,” the original song she co-wrote and sang for the “Lion King” soundtrack. The track is also included on the companion album she executive-produced and will release Friday, “The Gift.” Clips from the computer-animated film are interspersed [...]

  • Constance Wu and Jennifer Lopez star

    Jennifer Lopez Takes Down Wall Street Crooks in New Trailer for 'Hustlers'

    According to Jennifer Lopez, basic pole dancing movements all revolve around a few foot positions. But as she tells her stripper student Constance Wu, it’s not just about the dancing. In the new trailer for “Hustlers,” Lopez and Wu swindle a number of high profile Wall Street clients in an effort to bring their white [...]

  • Writers vs Agents Packaging War WGA

    Writers Guild Leaders Warn Members About Contact With Fired Agents

    Leaders of the Writers Guild of America are warning members about being contacted by their former agents — asserting that such efforts are an attempt to undermine the WGA and its members. The missive, sent Tuesday from the WGA negotiating committee, came with the guild in a bitter three-month standoff with talent agents that appears [...]

  • Apollo 11

    Film News Roundup: 'Apollo 11' Re-Release Set for Moon Landing Anniversary

    In today’s film news roundup, Neon is re-releasing “Apollo 11”; “Sesame Street” gets moved; “Supersize Me 2” is set for Sept. 13; Will Ropp gets a “Silk Road” deal; and Apple makes a movie deal. RE-LAUNCH Neon will re-release Todd Douglas Miller’s documentary “Apollo 11” in theaters on July 20, the 50th anniversary of the [...]

  • Michael B. JordanAFI Awards Luncheon, Los

    Michael B. Jordan's 'Just Mercy' Moves to Awards Season Slot

    Michael B. Jordan’s upcoming legal drama “Just Mercy” has been shifted forward three weeks from Jan. 17 to Dec. 25 for an Oscar-qualifying theatrical release. “Just Mercy” is based on the case of Walter McMillan, an African-American death-row prisoner who was exonerated in 1993 after being convicted five years earlier for a 1986 murder in [...]

  • Harry Styles to Play Prince Eric

    Harry Styles in Talks to Play Prince Eric in Disney's 'Little Mermaid'

    Harry Styles is going under the sea. The former One Direction frontman is in early negotiations to play Prince Eric in Disney’s live-action adaptation of “The Little Mermaid.” Halle Bailey will portray the Ariel, a mermaid princess who dreams of being a human, while Melissa McCarthy is playing her evil aunt Ursula. “The Little Mermaid” [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content