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Whither CAA After Departure of Ovitz? : Hollywood: Speculation runs high over the future of the agency and its client list now that its main man is headed for Disney.

August 16, 1995|ROBERT W. WELKOS and GREG BRAXTON | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

It was the day after the earth shifted in Hollywood and now the big talent agencies were waiting for the aftershocks.

With Disney-bound Michael Ovitz joining his longtime partner, Ron Meyer, in departing Creative Artists Agency, the question remained: Would the glittering array of actors and directors they represented over the years now flee the firm?

What, some in Hollywood wondered, would happen to Kevin Costner, Barbra Streisand, Tom Cruise, Warren Beatty, David Letterman and Sidney Pollack, to name a few, now that their super-agents have gone on to other things?

"Every agency in town is now looking at their client list and saying, 'Let's look at who we should call,' " said one agent at a rival firm.

Would Costner, an Ovitz client, for example, return to the agent, J. J. Harris, who built his career and who is now at United Talent Agency? That rumor was floating in Hollywood Tuesday.

And what of CAA itself? Would veteran agents with significant client lists be lured away by such rival agencies as ICM, William Morris or United Talent Agency?

As CAA tried to project a calm front in the wake of the Ovitz announcement, some said anxiety was high at the agency at its I. M. Pei-designed headquarters in Beverly Hills.

"It's mass paranoia," said an official at a rival agency. "Not that the place is going to fall down, but that none of the people who may take over have had any administrative power. They've never run the place, so there is a lot of anxiety and grief going on over there."

Entertainment attorney David Colden said the social contract that existed between the agency and its biggest stars, who were represented by Ovitz and Meyer, no longer exists and that creates an opportunity for rival agencies.

"There have been many clients who have stayed at CAA through the sheer power of the agency and fear that if they went elsewhere, they might incur the enmity of the agency," Colden said. "I think now, with the senior guys gone, that fear has largely diminished."

Speculation continued about whether a group of five younger CAA agents--Kevin Huvane, David O'Connor, Richard Lovett, Bryan Lourd and Jay Moloney--would leave.

"If I was another agency, I'd beg, borrow and steal to get those guys," said one senior studio executive. Or they might leave, as happened with a group of agents at ICM not too long ago, and form their own agency.

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If there are major CAA rank-and-file defections, some said it might not happen before the end of the year. They noted, for instance, that CAA's agents don't get their lucrative annual bonuses until October, so any movement before then is unlikely.

According to one source, those bonuses can amount to as much as 75% to 80% of an agent's annual income. "But [after that], there's a great deal of speculation as to what these bright entrepreneur types might do," the source said.

Meanwhile, all eyes were looking at the newly created 12-member management transition team that CAA set up quickly after Ovitz's announcement. The committee includes the five Young Turks as well as four department heads, including veteran agents Jack Rapke and Rick Nicita.

The rumors surfacing Tuesday were that Nicita and Rapke and some of the Young Turks would emerge as the new powers at the agency.

There has been speculation that the five may bolt to form their own firm, but that is unlikely, according to some insiders.

"I think it would not be in their best interests to break away," said one attorney who represents major clients. "They don't have the business acumen to build what they have there now. It would only take Arnold Rifkin [worldwide head of motion pictures at Morris] to sign away one client and they would look vulnerable."

How much client poaching is under way is a subject of much speculation.

Brad Grey, one of the partners in Brillstein-Grey Communications, said he didn't notice any movement by his CAA clients to leave that agency.

"It's pretty much business as usual," Grey said. "We have a significant number of clients with CAA, and most of them have been calling us discussing [Ovitz's departure]. I don't see this as having a new impact on how they feel about their agents. If they were not happy before, they will continue not to be happy. If they were happy before, there will not be any change."

Another highly placed industry source said: "It will be what happens in the next few weeks rather than the next few hours. Personal managers really stand to benefit from this. If it's seen that there is instability at the agencies, clients will turn to their managers."

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