CAA’s Bryan Lourd on the WGA, Black Lives Matter and the Pandemic’s Impact on the Business

Bryan Lourd CAA
Todd Williamson for Variety

In a sprawling keynote conversation with Ziffren Brittenham partner Ken Ziffren at the UCLA Entertainment Symposium, CAA managing partner and co-chairman Bryan Lourd opened up about his thoughts on the ongoing Writers Guild conflict, the Black Lives Matter movement and the agency’s efforts to diversify, and the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on the entertainment industry.

Lourd was a late addition to the roster; former WarnerMedia Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt had originally been slated to speak before his sudden departure from the company amid a major executive shakeup last week.

On the topic of the ongoing packaging feud between the Writers Guild of America and the major talent agencies, Lourd said that he feels a “great responsibility to the entire culture and the entire ecosystem of the artists’ side of the equation of show business.”

“With zero sort of apology, I hate how this has gone; I don’t like anything about it,” said Lourd. “We never wanted to be in conflict with them, I don’t want to be in conflict with them now. We’re not holding out, I hope we do make a deal. We want to make a deal. We want to have a conversation about about what we know from the street about what is actually going on in their members lives and what the opportunities are.”

He says that CAA has “not had that opportunity to do that, which is something most people don’t know.”

Of the four major agencies, UTA and ICM have signed agreements with the WGA over the last month to adjust their packaging practices.

Lourd believes the heart of the WGA-ATA conflict is that “there is a way of thinking about things that is in the past, as opposed to what’s possible in the future. And I want us to at least have our day in court to be able to explain what we know, and hope that we can get to some situation that’s better for them and us.”

His comments streamed online on the same day that a federal judge denied WME and CAA’s motion to dismiss the WGA’s claims against he agencies. Additionally, the WGA’s packaging fee trial was delayed today from March of next year to August 2021.

Lourd went on to say he is “doubling down on the agency business.” that major tech companies like Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon and Netflix “are bigger and more powerful than anything we ever dealt with.”

“If we on the representation side, including lawyers, don’t really lock arms and protect our clients and really fight for our clients, it’s a disaster,” he said. “So I hope we’re gonna be stronger. And our business plan is purely about that.”

When Ziffren asked about the Me Too movement and Black Lives Matter, Lourd responded that it was “not an uncomplicated thing to talk about,” and that we are all living in a time of “great awareness and a reckoning with what we did and didn’t do.”

“I think in the revisit of all of it, those of us that — and I hope I’m in this category — have the confidence and the security to know that there’s great improvements to be made everywhere in what we do, and a great responsibility, especially on the part of, of white men,” said Lourd.

He believes CAA has “hit this head on” and made “great headway” over the last decade to diversify and create pay equity. The agency proudly represents the founders of Black Lives Matter, he noted, and works with the Legal Defense Fund.

The pair also discussed the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. At the start of the shelter-at-home period in March, the effects on CAA’s business were immediate, said Lourd, adding that on the music and sports side, “income literally stopped three days later.”

But the TV, film, and independent film financing sides of the business initially kept going, he said, calling it “Dickensian… It’s the best of times on one side of the company, and the complete worst of times on the other.”

CAA in July laid off around 90 agents and executives and furloughed around 275 support staffers, calling it “an unprecedented and painful moment” for the agency.

“With the visibility that we all have now into ’21 and ’22, in my opinion, it was impossible to maintain the size of the workforce that we had responsibly,” said Lourd.

The most difficult part of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, now five months along stateside, is not knowing when a vaccine will be available or what therapeutics will work against the virus, he said.

“You can make all these plans about about when audiences can come back, and when sports can go… [but] until there are real answers about that, and there’s a way to stop people from dying, it’s impossible to make these plans,” said Lourd.

But he expressed optimism about the industry making a post-pandemic comeback.

“I don’t think it’s dead or gone, and I think that the first safe Friday night in the in the next six months, year, three months, whenever it is, will be maybe one of the biggest nights in movies in the history of the business. I think that the audience is dormant and waiting,” said Lourd. “Same thing with concerts, same thing with sports.”