Tuesday, April 07, 2015

CAA vs. UTA -- Hollywood's REAL game of thrones

The town is abuzz with the juicy story that many top agents have fled CAA for UTA, taking with them somewhere in the neighborhood of 150 clients.

The first thing ANYONE in Hollywood does when he hears such news is say, “How does this affect ME?” In my case, I’m already at UTA. It means the few times I go there it might be harder to park. (Former Hollywood exec/journalist Peter Bart suggested – hopefully in jest – that some clients are moving to UTA because there is more parking and the art on the walls is more people friendly).

I'm quite happy where I am.  Both my TV and theatrical agent are terrific. 

Next question we in the industry ask is “Which side am I rooting for?” Me? UTA. Not just because they’re my agency, but because in all the years I’ve been in the business, clearly the worst representation I’ve ever had was my one horrible year with CAA.

Agents are supposed to help you shape the career you desire. CAA decides how best you could suit their plans and steers you only in that direction. And often those plans are to benefit another more important client, not you. You need an agent to protect you from your real agent. You are merely a commodity to be packaged at their whim. Oh, and their parking is really shitty.

CAA is outraged by this UTA poaching and have reacted with a flurry of lawsuits. This tells me they’re really pissed, which only fuels the citywide schadenfreude. Outraged CAA executives call this a “lawless midnight raid.” Uh… isn’t that how they started? Same with Endeavor. That’s how it works in the piranha tank.

Obviously, CAA’s policies have been met with some disagreement among its “foot soldiers” (that’s how one-time CAA chief Mike Ovitz referred to his highly valued agents – foot soldiers).  Agents rarely change tenpercenteries based on artwork. 

What’s tough is if you’re a client of one of these defecting agents. Especially if you have two agents – one for TV and one for film. Do you go with the departing agent or stay with the remaining agent? First of all, most clients are initially pissed. Why? They hear about the upheaval after the fact, usually via the media. So they’re completely blindsided.

But agents need to be very stealth and letting one client know, even in secrecy, invariably leads to the lead story on that night’s ET.

So once the word is on the street then it’s the mad scramble of agents trying to persuade their clients to follow them or stay put. For that five second window the client is in a position of power. The agents court and promise the moon. Once the client makes his decision and signs, the promises are all forgotten or ignored, but the client has to be an idiot to believe the promises in the first place.

Adding to the complications, clients have histories with agencies. They may have left for CAA because they were unhappy with UTA. And now they’re asked to go back.  Really big promises that won't be kept need to be made.   I feel bad for Mindy Kaling. She just left UTA for CAA a month ago. Now her new agent has gone to UTA.  ("Mindy, baby, sign with us and I'll get you a five year renewal on your show... and how'd you like to be next year's Rose Bowl Queen?") 

What will the end result be to viewers and moviegoers? Nothing. Hollywood weathers these seismic changes every few years. Agencies merge, split off, have coups, but it’s the same pieces just repositioned on the same chessboard.

For now though, CAA (also known affectionately as the Death Star) is reeling. Yes, they’re still making billions in profits but not as many. But in the backrooms I’m sure the CAA top brass are plotting their next movw. “Who can we get to break into UTA and steal their artwork?”


MikeK.Pa. said...

I guess the mood at CAA went from I.M. Pei to I.M. Pissed. There goes the feng shui. I'm sure the sushi and kale salads don't taste as good in the CAA cafe (as if kale could ever taste good) with the bitter taste of the departures still fresh.

CAA does more packaging than UPS and Fed Ex. Ovitz's model forced a lot of studios to make deals they didn't want to (director/actor/writer).

I thought the common mindset among a lot of talent was to change agents frequently to keep their agents focused on them.

Matt said...

"Outraged CAA executives call this a “lawless midnight raid.” Uh… isn’t that how they started? Same with Endeavor. That’s how it works in the piranha tank. " For those of us who are not industy insiders, can you explain this a little?

Oat Willie said...

I want to see the "people-friendly artwork" mentioned. It's not like the pictures in doctors' offices is it?

Anonymous said...

Can you explain a little about with a basic contract between an agent and talent is? What exactly are you agreeing to, to give 10% of any work the agent gets you? What if you find a job yourself without the agent's help? Still goodbye to 10%? Can you change agents readily or does 10% still go to the old agent for the contract term whether he's used or not? Can you have multiple agents in the same field? How tied is an individual agent to their agency? What's their freedom of movement? And so on...


Paul Duca said...

It's not a new thing...back in the '50s FORTUNE magazine wrote about MCA (when it was a talent agency/TV packager, before they were required to shut down the former when they bought Universal Pictures). They wrote about how MCA agents would be more likely to recommend their clients take a MCA project over an outside one, because it would benefits the agents more--regardless of what might benefit the client more.

Anonymous said...

show me the money

VP81955 said...

"CAA vs. UTA"...something I hope I'll have to consider once some of my romantic comedy scripts (e.g., "Fugitive Sweetheart") are finished and (I hope) warrant representation.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Hang on. This was a plot in the short-lived 1990s sitcom THE FAMOUS TEDDY Z.


Jerry Sayles said...

I wonder how many clients of all these high powered agents actually make a living working in the entertainment industry. 5%? Maybe 10%? I'm guessing there are a hell of a lot more waiters/parking lot attendants/maids kicking in their 10% of the $1500 they made acting that year than there are Mindy Kalings or Kaley Cuocos (or even Ken Levines). How exactly is being a Hollywood agent any different than being a pimp? Is it just a better wardrobe?

Anonymous said...

Wow, didn't know this. Thanks for the blog, Sir. Love reading this. I am an avid reader of your blog.

Mike said...

the art on the walls is more people friendly
Second picture: The script is encrypted for safekeeping, the key is lost and the author commits bloody suicide.
Abstraction as Rorschach.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
YEKIMI said...

And in news that makes this seem like a sandbox fight between three year olds.....Stan Freberg has passed away.

Loosehead said...

It would be interesting to know why they've done a midnight flit. Was it for artistic reasons (yeah, right), or financial reasons, or perhaps they feared they would lose their souls if they stayed, or some other reason. I think we should be told.