Mass sacking of Hollywood agents as recession bites

They are notorious for taking a slice of the profits, but now it's the 'tenpercenters' who are getting cut

Some of Hollywood's biggest power-brokers are being forced to cancel power lunches, trade in their Porsches, and get used to life without a personal assistant to shout at, as LA talent agents become the latest breed of white-collar superheroes to fall on hard times.

More than 100 employees at William Morris, the venerable Beverly Hills firm that represents some of the biggest names, were made redundant this week, in one of the greatest bloodbaths this cut-throat industry has ever seen. The move came as the US Federal Trade Commission approved a merger between William Morris and its former rival Endeavour, creating a "super-agency" which represents more than a thousand of the world's most famous actors, writers and directors.

Lay-offs were expected ever since the two firms announced plans to join forces to ride out the economic downturn and challenge the dominance of CAA, Hollywood's long-standing market leader. However, the scale of the redundancies surprised many observers.

Rival agencies are now hungrily circling clients of both businesses, hoping to lure away their most lucrative stars. William Morris represents the likes of Kanye West, Britney Spears and Russell Crowe; Endeavour's stable boasts Robert De Niro, Matt Damon and Adam Sandler. "The fallout hasn't really begun. There's been a trickle, but I expect a waterfall in the coming months," said Frank Wuliger, a partner at the Gersh Agency. "When agents get fired, the actors they represent think again, because the agent-client relationship is intimate; it's like a marriage."

Even before this week, William Morris had already lost agents David Lonner, whose clients include the Star Trek director JJ Abrams, Aaron Kaplan, its head of scripted television, and Steve Rabineau, who took 27 clients to rival firm UTA. Recent reports suggested that William Morris sports agent, Lon Rosen, who represents basketball star Magic Johnson and baseball's Alex Rodriguez, may also leave. The future of the firm's ex-chief executive, Jim Wiatt, is also unclear.

At Endeavour, co-founder Tom Strickler, who represents a host of prominent screenwriters, as the merger was announced.

"Tenpercenters", as agents are known, are notoriously sharp-elbowed, and many small firms such as Gersh now hope to convince former Endeavour clients that the new firm, WME Entertainment, will no longer offer the "boutique" service they had enjoyed.

Kevin Spacey was among the first casualties of the new era. He announced this month that, after years with William Morris, he was joining CAA. This week, by way of response, WME announced its first new signing, stealing the Lost star Matthew Fox, inset below, from ICM.

The turmoil comes as agencies weigh the cost of the recession. Box-office revenues remain robust but DVD sales have slumped and fewer films and TV shows are getting the green light. Owing to difficulties securing finance, the once extortionate salaries offered to actors and writers are being slashed. "All you ever need, to do to know what's happening in Hollywood, is to follow the money," said an agent at a leading Beverly Hills firm, who was not authorised to speak publicly. "Look at this year's box office: fewer hit films are star driven. People are buying into concept movies like Terminator and Transformers. The days when $20m-a-film deals happened each week are gone. Bluntly, that means fewer jobs for agents."

In an industry obsessed by pecking-orders and status, the culture clash between agents left behind at the newly merged WME Entertainment is also providing endless material for Hollywood's gossip mill. Endeavour was founded in the mid-1990s by Ari Emanuel, the brother of Barack Obama's chief of staff, Rahm. Before the merger, it had the likes of Keira Knightley, Shia LaBeouf and Danny Boyle on its books – and a reputation for lavish corporate spending. William Morris, by contrast, had a more staid image, and a prestigious 111-year history. However, some of its biggest stars, including Mel Gibson, Denzel Washington and John Travolta, are considered to have passed their commercial peak.

The tension isn't helped by the fact that the merged firm's new office, an eco-friendly Beverly Hills building, is not expected to be ready until 2010. When it does move in, disputes will rage over everything – from who gets the most convenient underground parking space, to who lands the best office.

Arts and Entertainment
By Seuss! ‘What Pet Shall I Get?’ hits the bookshops this week
Arts and Entertainment
The mushroom cloud over Hiroshima after Enola Gray and her crew dropped the bomb
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Elliott outside his stationery store that houses a Post Office
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Rebecca Ferguson, Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible Rogue Nation

Film review Tom Cruise, 50, is still like a puppy in this relentless action soap opera

Arts and Entertainment
Rachel McAdams in True Detective season 2

TV review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

    Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... again

    I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
    Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

    Margaret Attwood on climate change

    The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years
    New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered: What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week

    New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered

    What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week
    Oculus Rift and the lonely cartoon hedgehog who could become the first ever virtual reality movie star

    The cartoon hedgehog leading the way into a whole new reality

    Virtual reality is the 'next chapter' of entertainment. Tim Walker gives it a try
    Ants have unique ability to switch between individual and collective action, says study

    Secrets of ants' teamwork revealed

    The insects have an almost unique ability to switch between individual and collective action
    Donovan interview: The singer is releasing a greatest hits album to mark his 50th year in folk

    Donovan marks his 50th year in folk

    The singer tells Nick Duerden about receiving death threats, why the world is 'mentally ill', and how he can write a song about anything, from ecology to crumpets
    Let's Race simulator: Ultra-realistic technology recreates thrill of the Formula One circuit

    Simulator recreates thrill of F1 circuit

    Rory Buckeridge gets behind the wheel and explains how it works
    Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation' over plans to overhaul reverse-chronological timeline

    Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation'

    Facebook exasperates its users by deciding which posts they can and can’t see. So why has Twitter announced plans to do the same?
    Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag - but what else could the fashion house call it?

    Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag

    The star was shocked by a Peta investigation into the exotic skins trade
    10 best waterproof mascaras

    Whatever the weather: 10 best waterproof mascaras

    We found lash-enhancing beauties that won’t budge no matter what you throw at them
    Diego Costa biography: Chelsea striker's route to the top - from those who shared his journey

    Diego Costa: I go to war. You come with me...

    Chelsea's rampaging striker had to fight his way from a poor city in Brazil to life at the top of the Premier League. A new book speaks to those who shared his journey
    Ashes 2015: England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

    England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

    The biggest problem facing them in Birmingham was the recovery of the zeitgeist that drained so quickly under the weight of Australian runs at Lord's, says Kevin Garside
    Women's Open 2015: Charley Hull - 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

    Charley Hull: 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

    British teen keeps her feet on ground ahead of Women's Open
    Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

    Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

    Turkish President Erdogan could benefit politically from the targeting of the PKK, says Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

    Our choice is years of Tory rule under Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

    Yvette Cooper urged Labour members to 'get serious' about the next general election rather than become 'a protest movement'