Richard Janes presents a past, present, and future history lesson for all those of us who are, or aspire to be, part of that weird, wacky, wonderful world called showbiz.
by Richard Janes
Production, exhibition, and good old fashion power are all being violently uprooted in tinsel town and where we land twelve months from now is going to look very different from the last twenty years.
Cue creepy music and a slow track into a crystal ball.
POWER: Well before the pandemic there was a shift happening. In the 1980’s super agent Michael Ovitz positioned his talent agency CAA as one of the most important chess pieces on the board controlling actors, scripts, producers, how studios were bought and sold, music rights, all the way through to sports contracts. Agents held the power. But today the world of agenting is very different and a major power shift is underway.
First, most of the big agencies have sold out to major hedge funds where their first responsibility is to revenue and profits which means yearly growth at all costs. This need to feed the engine has forced agencies to dig their tentacles deeper and deeper into the entertainment community, eking out every possible penny. Spreading tentacles isn’t new. Just read ‘When Hollywood Had a King’ to see how Lew Wasserman came up against the U.S. government in 1962 as he tightened his powerful grip over all things entertainment. In Lew’s case the U.S. government stepped in forcing him to choose between being an agent or running what is now Comcast NBCUniversal — he chose Universal. Today, it’s not one single thing that is cutting off agencies’ far reaching tentacles but a storm on many fronts that is leaving most agencies with very little space to move. The result: massive damage that will likely take years to rebuild, leaving space for others to fill the void.
For one, the Writers Guild of America’s has been standing firm that agents not be able to produce/finance movies. This is essentially exactly what Lew came up against in 1962. This strange practice of your agency, who negotiates your deal, also being your employer has been going on behind closed doors for a long time. But in recent years the agenting world got more brazen about including it in their business model to look more attractive to their new Wall Street owners. This backfired with the Writer’s Guild, seizing the opportunity to win back a little more power into the hands of the writers and their membership, agreed to strike in April 2019. Top Hollywood writers fired their agents and in doing so a key piece of Hollywood power was taken from the agents: 360 packaging (the process whereby agents package their writer, director, producer, and acting clients together so that a studio buys a package and the agency can charge a premium packaging fee which some argue incentivized them to keeps clients’ fees lower so they can make room for their own fees)….