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Managers, Agents Learn to Get Along

Old feelings die hard, but with clients needing a team, they can profitably co-exist

As Hollywood’s top agencies have been struggling to adjust to seismic economic shifts in showbiz, management companies have proliferated and increasingly gained power across the entertainment business.

A combination of the incessant demands of agenting, staff cuts at the major tenpercenteries and the complexity of dealmaking in a rapidly changing market, has created opportunities for managers to play a larger role in helping advance a client’s career. Agents are often spread too thin or their firms too shorthanded to spend the kind of time and energy required to land deals in today’s challenging climate.

“Clients really need a well-oiled machine and have multiple advocates on their behalf,” says Jon Liebman, chief executive of Brillstein Entertainment Partners. “The job has become more comprehensive.”

Brillstein Entertainment is among the industry’s leading management firms, along with Management 360, Principato-Young, Anonymous Content, 3 Arts, Mosaic, Benderspink, Kaplan Perrone, Code Entertainment, Gotham Group, Industry Entertainment, Energy and Untitled.

Managers, like agents, are under tremendous pressure to find clients work at a time when studios are driving tougher deals and networks are retrenching on talent fees even with top drawer stars, writers and filmmakers. And, because there are fewer movies and scripted shows being made, getting an assignment and a greenlight for production has become that much more difficult.

“The business is more complicated, so we’ve had to raise our game,” Liebman acknowledges. “The job has become more comprehensive.”

It’s no wonder that most notable actors, writers and directors enlist both an agent and manager, paying each a 10% fee.

There’s essentially little or no difference between what an agent and a manager does — both seek out projects and identify business ventures for clients. However, officially they are each expected to operate under different parameters. Agents are regulated by a state franchise, permitting them to procure employment for their clients. Talent managers, who are unregulated, are not allowed to procure jobs for clients, but unlike agents they can produce movies and TV shows.

Brooklyn Weaver, founder of 12-year-old Energy Entertainment, explains that he always aims to create initial awareness of his clients’ voice and work with agency partners and financial backers to get material produced. “I am in the trenches on the initial vetting, developing and readying of my feature and TV material,” Weaver says, “and agents are instrumental in presenting important packaging and financier information that is crucial to the sales and production process, as well as helping take (the project) to market.”

Over the past decade, agents and managers have not always been happy bedfellows, though much of the competition and mutual resentment between them appears to have lessened.

“There are so many clients with both agents and managers that they really have to co-exist,” says JC Spink, who adds that in the intervening years since co-founding Benderspink 14 years ago the landscape has gradually shifted toward the acceptance of managers.

While most agents and managers concur that working together can be advantageous for all involved, there is still a degree of animosity that exists between the sectors.

Some agents still bristle when managers present themselves as producers on a client’s project when they don’t earn the right to collect the credit or fee. “For me, it’s a non-starter when a manager does that,” notes one veteran agent.

Warner Bros. Television, for one, has taken a hard line against management companies attempting to jump aboard projects, according to one top manager. Warner TV declined comment.

For their part, managers still privately complain that some agents say they are too busy to return calls or waste time getting into firefights over poached clients. “The agency business remains intensely competitive,” says Liebman, adding, “There’s a gentlemen’s agreement among managers not to poach.”

Despite their differences, agents and managers for the most part believe they’re better off working together than not.

Says Weaver, who previously worked at an agency: “Without investing in that trust and business dynamic with fellow agents, a manager would be doing their business a tremendous disservice.”

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