"How is it to be an agent now?" asked longtime agent Marty Bauer. "You come home to the love of your life with a bottle of champagne and flowers. You draw a bath, do your whole seduction act. And the next morning, your three best friends call her and say, 'You'd be better off with me.' That's the life of an agent."
As a manager, by contrast, "You still have your wife the next day," he said.
Bauer was co-founder of two agencies, United Talent and the now defunct Bauer-Benedek, and he has had many high-profile clients. For years, he kept a fake shark snout in the top drawer of his desk, explaining, "I put this on when I'm making deals."
But in March, after more than 20 years, he become a manager, setting up shop in the same Beverly Hills building as several other agents-turned-managers: Carol Bodie, Lou Pitt, the partnership of Judy Hofflund and Gavin Polone, and now Ovitz.
"The greatest service an agent can do for a client is telling them to say no to a [bad] project," Bauer said, lamenting that in an atmosphere where poaching is commonplace, many agents are more likely to say yes. If a client is working, they're less likely to jump ship.
Working as an agent in this kind of culture, Bauer said, "you can't guide people's careers. And as you get older, you get tired of that."
Sitting in her office four floors above Bauer's, Hofflund agreed.
As an agent, Hofflund had 35 clients and sometimes spent half her day in staff meetings. Now, she has 13 clients (among them Kenneth Branagh, Cybill Shepherd and Laura Dern). As one of two principals in a small firm, she rarely goes to meetings.
"As an agent, oftentimes my orientation was forced to be, 'Get it done. Get it off the phone sheet. Make the offer work.' It's how you're trained. I like to think I stood back and said, 'Is this a good move?' But . . . as a manager, I have more time to think," she said.
Hofflund's client Kim Basinger recently was offered a film role and wanted Hofflund's help deciding whether to take the part.
"As an agent, I might have just read the script and thought, 'Well, the director's worked with some big stars.' I wouldn't have had the time to analyze it as much," Hofflund said. Instead, over a weekend, she watched all the director's films. Ultimately, she urged Basinger to pass.
Hofflund and many other managers stress that they see themselves as complements to agents, not competitors with them.
"It's the philosophy of a team," said More of More-Medavoy, which represents David Schwimmer, Maria Bello and Chevy Chase, among others. "We don't want the agents not to be involved. We want them to be vested. And you know what? Now that they've become aware that managers are becoming a little more powerful, they are. That's to the benefit of the client."
"We have great loyalty and incredible relationships with agencies," said Medavoy, pointing to how closely he works with Schwimmer's agent, Leslie Siebert of the mid-size Gersh Agency.
"Leslie and I collaborate every single day in terms of thinking about David's career," he said of the "Friends" star. Siebert agreed.
"When you're in sync, it's the best thing in the world and the relationship can be very productive," said the agent, who also represents actor Tobey Maguire. Still, she said, enormous changes in the talent representation world may require agents to take action.
"Every meeting I'm in, it's the topic of conversation: How is [Ovitz's new venture] going to affect us?" she said, adding that she thinks the big three agencies, who represent the biggest stars, have more to fear than her shop. Her prediction about Ovitz? "He's going to attack the larger agencies with the huge stars, saying, 'What the hell do you need an agent for?' "
Belt-Tightening Spawns More Changes
Recent belt-tightening in the entertainment world has made people even fiercer, of late, about guarding their turf. The television business is contracting, with some independent production companies disappearing as the networks supply more of their own shows. Fewer runaway hits have meant smaller profits. Likewise, in the movie industry, studios are shelving projects whose budgets are too high and are making fewer films.
There have been layoffs at the major television networks and, lately, at the big talent agencies as well. ICM and William Morris are letting agents go, and year-end bonuses there have been described by some agents as anemic.
Meanwhile, Ovitz has been busy wooing managers and agents around town. Among those seeking to join him are at least three managers from a single firm, Industry Entertainment: Rick Yorn (whose clients include DiCaprio, Cameron Diaz and Claire Danes), Julie Silverman Yorn and Eli Selden (who together represent Samuel L. Jackson, Teri Hatcher and James Spader). ICM agent JoAnne Colonna is joining Ovitz as well.