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Can ICM president restore its glitter?

August 17, 2007|Lorenza Munoz | Times Staff Writer

When Jim Wiatt left International Creative Management as co-chairman eight years ago to become head of the William Morris Agency, many Hollywood insiders marked the departure as the beginning of a slow bleed for ICM's movie department. Wiatt took along with him a roster of A-list clients that included Julia Roberts and Eddie Murphy.

This week, the defections continued when Ed Limato, who was considered by many industry watchers as the last pillar of the talent agency's movie star business, departed for William Morris, taking with him clients such as Mel Gibson, Denzel Washington and Steve Martin.

Once the runner up to powerhouse Creative Artists Agency, ICM is no longer part of the big leagues in the movie business.

The question now is whether Chris Silbermann, the 39-year-old television agent being groomed to lead ICM into the future, can recover some of the agency's former glitter.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday, August 23, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part Page Metro Desk 1 inches; 35 words Type of Material: Correction
Talent agency: An article in Friday's Business section about talent agency International Creative Management incorrectly identified the firm that actress Julia Roberts defected to. She left ICM for Creative Artists Agency, not William Morris Agency.

That could be the most difficult mountain Silbermann, an avid hiker, has ever climbed. The ICM president, who until recently shared that title with Limato, is highly regarded in the television world, having put together the talent for one of ABC's biggest shows, "Grey's Anatomy."

But Silbermann is a virtual unknown in movie circles. Most of Hollywood's top studio executives, including Sony Pictures' Amy Pascal, DreamWorks SKG's Stacey Snider and Warner Bros.' production chief Jeff Robinov, have either never met Silbermann or have had little contact with him since he joined ICM a year ago.

The television business in some years can account for the lion's share of a top talent agency's profit. But it is the big movie stars that are key to packaging projects that tantalize the major studios and give emerging talent confidence that plum career opportunities will come their way.

Agencies have increasingly poached clients and agents from one another, but ICM has been unable to replace many of the big names it has lost, such as directors Peter Jackson, Robert Rodriguez, Ed Zwick and Baz Luhrmann and movie stars such as Cameron Diaz, Murphy and Roberts.

Silbermann acknowledges that he would like more A-list stars, but he said one of the agency's current priorities is cultivating emerging talent.

Since being tapped by ICM Chairman Jeff Berg a year ago, Silbermann said much of his energies have focused on rebuilding the culture at the agency in an attempt to tear down walls between the notoriously turf-bound departments and to reward younger agents that are its future. Such a structure, he says, is essential at a time when stars such as ICM's Beyonce want careers that transcend a single medium to span television, music, movies and advertising.

"Change can be tough, but Jeff and I are committed to growing and restructuring the agency for long-term success," Silbermann said. "The moves that we've implemented over the past year have improved ICM's culture and empowered our next generation of leaders."

Silbermann is trying to replicate a team approach he helped establish at Broder Webb Chervin Silbermann, a boutique talent agency specializing in television that ICM acquired a year ago.

"The problem he is having right now is that he has come into an atmosphere at ICM where it's less the whole than the sum of its parts," said movie producer Mark Johnson, who is a fan of Silbermann and has worked on television projects with him. "I hear from enough people that the agents are not into sharing their clients. Chris is completely a team player."

The ICM culture was fashioned in large part by Berg, 60, who has led the agency since 1985.

Since the acquisition of Broder, Berg has been publicly circumspect about his own plans amid speculation that he would leave ICM in the near future. In 2005, Berg sold controlling interest in the Hollywood talent agency to a private equity group led by Suhail Rizvi and Merrill Lynch, which together own more than 70% of ICM.

The largest individual shareholder, Berg has privately told people that he plans to stick around. It will take several years for Silbermann to learn the movie, literary and music sides of the business. At the moment, Berg is trying to shore up the movie department either by bringing in an agent with big clients or by making an acquisition, according to people close to the agency.

Berg declined to comment.

Silbermann's attempts to foster a culture of teamwork seems to contradict what some industry insiders see as a lack of good sportsmanship shown recently by ICM to some of its highest-profile agents.

Limato, 71, who had been at ICM for more than 30 years, found out last month that he was being stripped of his title as co-president when his assistant read the news to him from an internal e-mail announcing the personnel change sent by Berg.

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