In a shake-up at ICM that could cost the talent agency a host of top clients, industry veteran Robert Newman jumped ship Wednesday after 17 years to join rival Endeavor Agency.
Newman, 48, the head of ICM's motion picture group, represents a roster of prestigious filmmakers that include Robert Rodriguez, Baz Luhrmann, Guillermo del Toro and Mike Figgis.
He and Matt Solo, the former head of ICM's television literary department, are joining Endeavor as partners. Solo, 45, whose clients include "House" creator David Shore and "The Shield" creator Shawn Ryan, left International Creative Management Inc. last month.
The signings come six months after a management shuffle and power shift at ICM that saw Chris Silbermann replace veteran agent Nancy Josephson as co-president in the wake of the firm's acquisition of Broder Webb Chervin Silbermann Agency, a boutique shop known for putting together such hit TV shows as ABC's "Grey's Anatomy," NBC's "My Name Is Earl" and the CBS comedy "Two and a Half Men."
Industry sources said the latest departures showed that the legendary ICM remained in transition, whereas Endeavor continued to attract buzz as an up-and-comer. ICM has experienced some turmoil in the ranks as agents close to Chairman Jeffrey Berg have struggled to adjust as Broder's Silbermann took over day-to-day management.
Newman and the agency both said the split was amicable.
"I've had a great experience for the last 17 years, and I'll always be grateful to my friends and colleagues at ICM," Newman said in an interview. "I'm excited to be joining a team that has created such a wonderful, supportive environment for artists."
For its part, ICM downplayed the significance of his departure.
"After a long career at ICM, Robert Newman is no longer with the agency. We wish him well," spokesman David Shane said. "ICM has just experienced a year of tremendous growth, and this path will continue."
Endeavor is considered to be on a roll. Its TV business is growing and on the movie side, it recently signed Academy award winner Reese Witherspoon, a coup considering that Creative Artists Agency Inc. has been a magnet for young actresses. Other Endeavor clients include "Borat" star Sacha Baron Cohen and "The Departed" director Martin Scorsese. And unlike ICM, it hasn't lost many agents or clients lately.
However, it's no secret that Endeavor has been in potential merger talks with United Talent Agency as a way to better compete against heavyweight CAA. Those on-again, off-again discussions, however, never resulted in a deal because of cultural differences and issues over control.
For both Newman and Solo, it's too early to tell which clients will join them at Endeavor. Even if all of Newman's clients follow him to Endeavor, ICM's lineup of directors would still include such prominent names as Stephen Frears, Nancy Meyers, Barry Levinson, James L. Brooks and Rob Marshall.
Still, an agent at one rival firm called the loss of Newman a "psychological blow" to ICM, noting Newman's high-profile clientele and his longtime ties to Berg, who had hired him.
The agent said that ICM's acquisition of Broder had strengthened its television business, but that its historic clout in movies had been hurt by a series of defections in recent years. High-profile talent such as producer-directors Jay Roach and Antoine Fuqua, as well as actresses Julia Roberts and Cameron Diaz, have left the agency.
Although Newman's clients are best known for their artsy fare, they have scored their share of blockbuster projects.
Lee Tamahori, for example, directed the James Bond thriller "Die Another Day," and Rodriguez has directed such hits as "Spy Kids" and "Sin City."
Newman is known as a media-shy workaholic with an encyclopedic memory of movies and a devotion to cinema.
"He's a real fan of filmmakers and film, and he's tenacious," said John Lesher, president of Paramount Vantage and former head of Endeavor's movie group.
"Robert is the consummate motion picture agent and a real champion for his clients and their passion for filmmaking," the Endeavor partners said in a statement. "Matt has proven himself to be one of the top television agents in the business."
Endeavor was founded 12 years ago by a group of former ICM agents led by Ariel Emanuel.