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Inside the Agency : How Hollywood works: Creative Artists Agency and the men who run it

July 02, 1989|MICHAEL CIEPLY

Still, a CAA grudge, once lodged, can last for years. Movie producer Jay Weston ("Lady Sings the Blues"), for instance, made the mistake of suing the agency in 1979 over a film rights dispute with his brother, who happened to be represented by CAA. Weston--one of very few individuals in normally litigious Hollywood to have sued CAA--eventually dropped the claim insofar as the agency was concerned, but one young CAA employee recalls being warned at least six years later against dealing with the producer: "He was totally ostracized."

Weston says the agency appeared to do its legally mandated duty by passing his offers along to its clients but was otherwise unaccommodating for years. "I regret more than anything else in my business life the mistake of suing CAA. They are the best agency. . . . I have nothing but admiration for them."

Haber says CAA's TV department is currently discussing projects with Weston, and Meyer says the company always took his film projects "as seriously as we would anyone."

But Ovitz adds: "He sued us at a time when we could not afford to be sued, and it cost us an enormous sum of money to defend ourselves on a claim that he subsequently dropped. It would be less than honest to say there were not bad feelings about it."


Among CAA-watchers, a favorite question of the moment is "What next?"

Some close observers maintain tha CAA can't continue to grow at its past rate without risking client discontent and can't branch into film and TV production without breaking guild rules and risking the sort of government antitrust actions that dogged MCA during its heyday as a talent agency.

Yet the risk of standing still is also enormous, because the treacherous psychology of agency dominance requires hot, new signings to keep old workhorse clients in line. "Any agency is a pyramid, like a Ponzi scheme," says a CAA competitor. "You need to keep signing the hot new faces, the flavor of the month, so the old ones will continue to believe they're in the right place. CAA just got Kevin Costner from Morris, so Sydney Pollack has to think, "Yes, this is the best agency."

It's never comfortable to lose valued clients, and CAA has taken some losses. In the last year or so, actor Tim Hutton and directors John Milius, Stan Dragoti and Tom Manckiewicz defected to ICM, while Emilio Estevez, Kiefer Sutherland, Laura Dern, Shane Black and a handful of others jumped with their agents to InterTalent.

Ovitz, who has already developed a substantial music industry business, also points with pride to a recent Vanity Fair story that detailed a high-powered negotiation in which he matched Lakers star Earvin (Magic) Johnson with Pepsi. But he disavows reports that he is cooking up plans to represent high-profile artists. Asked where the agency's next plateaus lie, he only says: "We're analyzing different options right now."

Haber maintains that to keep up with changes in the entertainment business may be occupation enough for CAA. "This industry is changing around us at a meteoric speed," he says.

But Ovitz appears to have something more in mind than simply defending his franchises.

In concluding CAA's annual corporate retreat at the La Costa resort a few weeks ago, Ovitz is said to have whipped his agents into a frenzy of enthusiasm with a speech about the agency's prospects. "You are on a fast-moving train, and you'd better hold on for the ride of your life," he said, according to one account.

"We're going places you never dreamed of."

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