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APA Jumps Into the Thick of the Busy Below-the-Line Business

Even for a business in a constant state of flux, there’s lately been a considerable amount of upheaval and consolidation among below-the-line agencies.

In the past few months, one shop, APA, which historically had represented only actors, writers and filmmakers, has built a new physical production department by decimating the ranks of two other agencies: Paradigm, which has abandoned its below-the-line business; and Montana Artists, once a thriving hive for artisans, which has apparently ceased activity.

Not that things were ever calm for agents that represent behind-the-scenes workers in Hollywood. Like their above-the-line counterparts, these reps have historically operated in an unstable world, poaching clients from rivals, jumping from shop to shop and occasionally hijacking entire rosters as they venture off on their own.

In 1992, when agent Larry Mirisch left Triad Artists to launch his own below-the-line shop, the Mirisch Agency, he took close to 50 clients with him.

Last November, UTA production department co-head Wayne Fitterman shook up the business when he jumped ship to join WME as a partner, bringing along such clients as costume designer Jenny Beavan (“The King’s Speech”) and production designer David Wasco (“Fifty Shades of Grey”).

At about the same time, APA launched its physical production department after hiring Paradigm agents Jay Gilbert and Gil Harari. They ultimately brought to their new roost such artisans as editors William Hoy (“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”) and Christian Wagner (“Fast & Furious 7”). In December, APA grew the unit by hiring much of the staff of Montana, including top agents Matt Birch and Ralph Berge, adding such clients as d.p. John R. Leonetti (“The Conjuring”), and producer Richard Sharkey (Netflix’s “Marco Polo”).

(Picture above, from left: Berge, Birch, Harari, Gilbert.)

“The Paradigm agents’ contracts were up … the Montana employees were disgruntled and looking for a bigger platform,” APA topper Jim Gosnell says. In less than a year, he adds, APA has built from scratch a below-the-line department of 20 people, including 12 agents.

Physical production is a small but important revenue generator among agencies. While the business can be very profitable, it’s subject to the volatility of the market and the economy — which today is tougher than ever, with studios decreasing the number of films they make and slashing costs to boost their bottom lines. One agent confides he can no longer get his below-the-line clients the kind of salary bumps reserved for A-list filmmakers. “We don’t have the leverage,” says the agent, who requested anonymity.

When asked how much annual revenue production jobs can generate annually, agents refused to disclose dollar amounts.

“Talent deals are bigger,” says Gersh Agency topper David Gersh, “but there’s more volume in below the line, and deals there fall through less often.” Of its overall agent count of 75, the Beverly Hills percentery has seven below-the-line agents. Gersh says there is “definitely some correlation” between that ratio and the agency’s revenue breakdown.

Most major agencies — including ICM, UTA and WME — have production units. Hollywood’s biggest house, CAA, is a notable exception.

Gosnell is bullish on the business. He says APA’s unit already generates more than 5% of agency revenues. “Look out,” he adds. “In a few years, we’ll be the largest physical production agency, period.”

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