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Mass CAA Defection Spurs Agents to Show Their Clients a Little Love

It has been a surreal couple of weeks in Hollywood. Actors who haven’t heard from their agents in weeks are suddenly fielding calls. Directors who haven’t worked for months are being pitched by rival agencies. And agents who are not directly involved in the recent CAA defections are taking some serious stock of their careers.

Yes, there has been soul-searching — and there rarely is time for that in Hollywood.

The cause of all this, of course, is the abrupt departure of 11 agents and 150 clients (at last count) from CAA to UTA — the biggest chain reaction of defections in recent memory. On a business level, the repercussions are profound: litigation against some of the wayward agents and intense negotiations with representatives of their clients. Every star is surrounded by a thicket of lawyers, accountants, publicists and assorted hangers-on who want to weigh in on changes of this magnitude. Reps have become more self-protective, phoning existing clients with reassurances of love and support.

Aside from the business machinations, however, the events of the past two weeks also have had an impact on a personal level. Hyper-caffeinated, mega-testosteroned, over-compensated agents are asking themselves: Why am I in this line of work? Given the existing climate, are alternative careers more intriguing? Would it even be more rewarding to be a manager rather than an agent?

Paul Young, who runs Principato Young, reminded me this week that managers don’t wear suits, don’t have to cope with complicated bureaucracies or adjust budgets to placate private equity investors. They can be more involved with the creative process, and serve as executive producers on projects they develop with clients. In short, they can have a stake in the game.

Managers also present themselves as allies of their clients, not simply as their deal makers. While top agents these days have to present themselves as gurus of sports, fashion and other areas of agency expansion, personal managers can focus on the old-fashioned issue of talent representation.

Managers, too, have their traumas. They are highly dependent on the quirks and insecurities of their clients. But significantly, there has been less turmoil on the management side of the business than on the agency side.

Starting with the birth of CAA 40 years ago, the big talent agencies have placed emphasis on a team approach. Prospective clients are introduced to reps who will not only advance their careers but build their brands. Stars are no longer merely performers — they are professional celebrities with fashion labels and cosmetic lines. CAA and WME want their clients to be multinationals.

The men who run these agencies have themselves become multinationals. Bryan Lourd is at fashion shows; Ari Emanuel is at sporting events — everyone is everywhere.

Inevitably, some contend that the major agencies are spread too thin, that the revenues are not divided evenly enough, that partners are not in close enough touch with their functionaries. In inheriting a vast infusion of new talent, of course, UTA may be taking on similar pressures.

From the standpoint of the individual actor, writer or director, however, the upshot is simple: This has been a wonderful week. Irrespective of their success (or lack of it), they have received emails and phone calls from — even had lunch with — their loyal representatives. They’ve been told that better times are ahead for everyone.

That in itself has been good news in a very nervous Hollywood.

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