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Verve Finds Footing in Agency World

Young agency built on bonds of friendship

Bolting WME before another round of post-merger layoffs hit in January 2010, film lit agents Bryan Besser, Adam Levine and Bill Weinstein left with plans to launch their own boutique agency. Naturally, they faced a number of obstacles, not the least of which was finding a place to initially hang the shingle for their new enterprise, Verve.

“One of the unknowns was when we walked out the doors of our former employers, we didn’t necessarily have a destination,” Levine says. “So we found ourselves at a Coffee Bean, running our operations at that location on Santa Monica Blvd. in West Hollywood for the initial start of Verve.”

Fast forward to April 2013, and the partners are poised to move into their second suite of formal offices in Carthay Circle. They take great pride — and find irony — in the fact that towering above the coffee house where they first began wheeling and dealing stands a giant billboard promoting the new Tom Cruise sci-fi thriller “Oblivion,” directed by Verve client Joseph Kosinski.

The billboard isn’t the only thing Verve partners have to celebrate these days. The agency represents clients who are involved in some of the biz’s highest-profile movies and TV series, including “Jurassic Park 4” (helmer Colin Trevorrow) and “Star Wars VII” (writer Michael Arndt), and CBS’ summer series “Under the Dome” (exec producer Brian Vaughan). The agency also claims to have more top 10 scripts on Hollywood’s most recent Black List than any of its rivals.

Since its beginnings nearly 3½ years ago, Verve has grown to 11 agents, including former Gersh rep Amy Retzinger, who heads the agency’s newly expanded TV division and was made a fourth partner.

“I looked around and, much like these guys, I thought there was a need for a very different kind of representation,” says Retzinger, 40. “I come to it from a slightly different background from my partners, but where they were looking to get a little bit more hands-on, I was looking for a little bit more strategic thinking, a little more big-picture.”

As challenging as it was to start a small tenpercentery in an industry dominated by agency behemoths like CAA, WME and UTA, the Verve partners found there was a hole in the market — mostly for writers and directors — to offer highly personalized service.

(Verve’s Bryan Besser says doors are opening for smaller agencies.)

“What was exciting was that we discovered that a lot of our clients had felt increasingly disconnected with this kind of giant corporate approach to representation, and felt a little lost,” says Besser, 41.

He notes that he and his colleagues like to focus more on celebrating clients and their accomplishments than to brag publicly about how great their agency is. In fact, contrary to the usual Hollywood chest-pounding in the press, this article marks the first time the Verve partners have agreed to be interviewed about the shingle.

Displaying a self-confidence that some may view more as cockiness and arrogance, the founding partners have nonetheless injected a cool-kid energy into the agency world, and Verve is considered a hot shop on the rise.

“There is no question these guys are building a successful business,” says Illumination Entertainment chief Chris Meledandri. “It is based on having excellent taste and a very clear idea of their company’s culture, rooted in a commitment to talent, above all else. Their challenge will become maintaining this culture as they grow and become increasingly successful.”

Starting a new motion picture-centric agency in the teeth of the economic crisis and at a time when the studios were slashing their annual movie slates was both bold and risky.

The Verve founders realized this would be a big hurdle, but believed their focus to help talent succeed across all media would help shape the new landscape. “I think one of the things that really played to our favor was that there was kind of a paradigm shift in the business,” says Levine, 39. “When we were in college and in high school, it was really a movie star-driven business. And we made a really simple, easy decision to focus on creators (writers and directors, rather than actors), whether they’re creating for television or for movies or the digital space or publishing.”

The idea behind Verve grew out of a friendship and bond the founders formed after first meeting in the mailroom of Endeavor in 2000 and rising through the ranks. (The trio left the agency eight months after it merged with Endeavor.) Weinstein, 36, says that the overarching principle the three always shared was trust. “We had absolute faith that when we became business partners that whatever Adam Levine was doing, or anyone else for that matter, it was for the good of Verve.”

So, what’s their strategy going forward?

“When clients have stories that they want to tell in different mediums, our job is to figure out how to go do that for them,” Levine explains. “Who knows what the future will bring, but whatever our clients are pioneering, we’re gonna be right there with them.”

The Verve Team:

Bryan Besser [Founding Partner]

Adam Levine [Founding Partner]

Bill Weinstein [Founding Partner]

Rob Herting [Agent]: Left WME with founding partners, started at Verve as assistant; promoted to agent March 2011

Zach Carlisle [Agent]: Left WME with founding partners, started at Verve as assistant, promoted to agent August 2011

Amy Retzinger [Partner]: Joined Verve as partner January 2012 from Gersh

Aaron Hart [Agent]: Started as agent at WMA, spent 3 years at ICM, joined Verve in March 2012

Adam Weinstein [Agent]: Started as agent at UTA, spent 3 years at ICM, joined Verve in May 2012

Tanya Cohen [Agent]: Started as agent at Paradigm, joined Verve in January

Felicia Bargman [Agent]: Started as assistant at CAA, ICM, 3 Arts; then manager at Fineman Ent., joined Verve in March

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