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By Stephanie Palmer · February 11, 2017
Much of what is commonly known about screenwriting agents has “truthiness” but isn’t true. Misconceptions persist because the agency business is somewhat secretive. There are lots of very powerful agents and agencies that keep a low profile on purpose.
When you watch Entourage, The Player, Ray Donovan, Californication, or Swimming With Sharks – you see the intelligence, high-stakes strategic thinking, aggressive mindset, sense of humor, and more.
But you miss the personal elements, factual backstory, and real-world situations that are crucial to understanding agents and persuading them to represent you. Hopefully this will help you sound like a professional when the topic of agents comes up and perform well in meetings with these influential decision-makers.
Screenwriting agents and their agencies tend to fall into two main categories:
The Big Four (and we will talk more about them in a moment), are WME, CAA, UTA, and ICMP. Everything that’s not these four I’m calling a “boutique.”
Now, some may dispute this categorization scheme because there are a number of what I’m calling “boutiques” that are more like a mid-sized agency such as Gersh, Innovative, and Paradigm.
Sometimes, these three agencies are referred to as part of “The Big Seven.” As you become more of a Hollywood insider, these distinctions become important. For now, what I really want you to understand is this: Most of the deals in Hollywood are handled by The Big Four. You need to be very familiar with these companies.
William Morris Endeavor (WME)
Founded in 1898 as a vaudeville booking service, the William Morris Agency is Hollywood’s longest running talent and literary agency. There are 273 agents at WME.
In 2009, William Morris merged with Endeavor Talent Agency to form William Morris Endeavor. In 2012, Silver Lake Partners acquired a 31 percent stake in WME and that has been subsequently upped to 51 percent.
William Morris Endeavor became Hollywood’s biggest agency when it acquired sports and media talent agency IMG for $2.4 billion in 2014, so now the combined WME-IMG comprises more than 5000 employees.
“Working at a talent agency is like working for the CIA. You get to know what’s going on at the networks, at the studios, you have access to all this talent, on-screen and off. At Sony or Disney or NBC they only know about themselves. At an agency you know everything about everybody — even in the mailroom.” – Rob Carlson, WME Agent
Creative Artists Agency (CAA)
Founded in 1975, by five agents from the William Morris Agency, CAA was the largest talent and sports agency in the world for many years and remains a powerhouse. In 2010, CAA created a strategic partnership with global private equity firm TPG Capital.
TPG initially had a 35% stake in the agency and in 2014, but raised that to a majority 53% stake by paying $225 million in equity. This was the first time that CAA was not owned by its operating principals.
According to the Hollywood Reporter, CAA had $647 million in revenue and $121 million in profits in 2014. CAA is estimated to be valued at more than $1 billion. There are currently 267 agents at CAA.
While many people regard CAA as having the best movie star client list, this April, 12 agents moved to UTA. The New York Times explained, “The exodus of agents from CAA was seen as pointing toward a change in internal culture…” Creative Artists loyalists, however, have ardently argued that nothing has changed at the agency — that it remains as effective and focused as ever.”
“We’re always communicating; we’re always switched on. I feel this umbilical cord to what I do, whether on the phone or e-mail, and it starts really early in the morning. A lot of us have overseas clients — I definitely do — and it just continues. But because things are harder now, I find that our interactions are more personal and meaningful because it’s not just transactional. It’s not like: ‘Here’s your deal; here’s the good news.’ It’s really tougher going into the bad news with people.” – Mama Dahkil, CAA Agent
United Talent Agency (UTA)
Founded in 1991 as a merger between the Bauer-Benedek Agency and Leading Artists Agency, UTA now has 167 agents and more than 350 employees in Beverly Hills and New York.
In 2014, UTA acquired N. S. Bienstock (the leading broadcast and news agency) to make UTA the world’s largest agency in the broadcast news space.
International Creative Management Partners (ICM)
Founded in 1975 with the merger of Creative Management Associates and International Famous Agency. In 2005, Rizvi Travers bought controlling interest in ICM for $75 million. In 2006, ICM acquired the Broder Webb Chervin Silbermann Agency.
ICM completed a management buyout and formed a partnership with the new name ICM Partners in 2012. There are 145 agents at ICM Partners.
The following list is made in alphabetical order:
1. Abrams Artists Agency
2. Agency for the Performing Arts (APA)
3. The Alpern Group
4. Brant Rose Agency
5. Callamaro Literary Agency
6. Don Buchwald & Associates
7. The Dravis Agency
8. Featured Artists Agency
9. The Gersh Agency
10. Innovative Artists (Innovative)
11. Jim Preminger Agency
12. Kaplan Stahler Agency
13. The Levin Agency
14. Maggie Roiphe Agency
15. Original Artists
16. Preferred Artists
17. Paradigm (Paradigm)
18. Rothman Brecher Kim Agency
19. RWSG Agency
This post was originally published at goodinaroom.com – an educational screenwriting website from Stephanie Palmer
Stephanie Palmer was a film executive with MGM Pictures and The Hollywood Reporter named her one of the “Top 35 Executives Under 35.” She is the author of the best-selling book Good in a Room. She has helped many writers get agents and managers.