A trio of partners representing some of the best-known comedy actors and filmmakers in Hollywood jumped from United Talent Agency to Endeavor over the weekend in one of the biggest shake-ups to jolt the agency world in recent years.
UTA partners Nick Stevens, Lisa Hallerman and Sharon Sheinwold -- whose client list includes Ben Stiller, Jack Black, Owen Wilson and writer-producer Judd Apatow -- will strengthen rival Endeavor's pitch as the "clear alternative" in the film business to industry leader Creative Artists Agency.
Industry executives predict more musical chairs among high-profile agents, as the five major firms strive for an advantage after the three-month Hollywood writers strike. They are also grappling with the trend toward reality TV programming and away from scripted shows that have traditionally been a huge source of revenue.
The shifts could spur further consolidation, like the 2006 purchase of television specialist Broder Webb Chervin Silbermann by International Creative Management, one of the five big agencies. The others are CAA, UTA, Endeavor and William Morris.
On Sunday, Stiller confirmed that he would work with the Stevens team at Endeavor.
Stevens and Endeavor partners declined to comment on the exits from UTA.
UTA Chairman Jim Berkus said long-simmering tensions between Stevens, who ran the agency's talent division, and other partners finally came to a head, prompting the move.
Berkus said Stevens, 44, who had spent more than a decade and a half at UTA, chose to leave when the agency asked him to step down from the board as part of a management "restructuring."
"We enjoyed a lot of success together, but over the last few years his vision and our vision of how this agency should be run started to diverge," Berkus said. "Over the last few months, the divergence became wider and at some point untenable."
The shake-up had been rumored for about a week but terms weren't hashed out until Friday night, according to agents at both firms.
Berkus and senior partners Tracey Jacobs and David Guillod will oversee UTA's talent division, at least for now.
Stevens has a reputation for keeping irregular hours, handling business by cellphone and spending a lot of time with his family, but also for working hard on behalf of his clients.
"I think Nick Stevens is a unique entity in this business: an agent with integrity, a point of view and, most of all, humanity," Stiller said in a statement. "I would be with him if he was working out of The Sunglass Hut at the Beverly Center."
Executives at both agencies said it could take several days before Stevens' other clients decide whether to go with him to Endeavor. UTA, already reeling from the losses of Vince Vaughn and Kate Bosworth as clients, is bracing for the hit.
"It's never a happy day to see major agents and talents leave," Berkus said, "but we feel we've got a great group here that shares a vision and can work harmoniously."
What UTA could lose, however, is future revenue generated by some of film's most industrious talents.
Stiller, for example, stars in, directed, co-wrote and helped produce this summer's big-budget action comedy "Tropic Thunder." The prolific Apatow, whose raunchy hits include "Knocked Up" and "Superbad," has "Drillbit Taylor" currently in theaters and three more en route this year.
The UTA team's clients include several regulars from Apatow's movies, such as Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill, as well as Amy Poehler from "Saturday Night Live."
Endeavor, whose founder, Ari Emanuel, inspired the Jeremy Piven character on HBO's show-biz sitcom "Entourage," sees the newcomers as an ideal fit because his agency already represents a stable of comedy stars, including Adam Sandler, Sacha Baron Cohen, Steve Carell and David Spade.
The firm made headlines in January 2007, when it lured veteran agent Robert Newman, whose clients include filmmakers Guillermo del Toro and Baz Luhrmann, from ICM. Despite its reputation as a hot shop, Endeavor is not immune to defection. Comedy star Chris Rock departed recently.