Drama plays out behind the scenes as Hollywood talent agencies vote on merger

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The Independent US

Some of the biggest names in show business will be programming fresh numbers into their speed dials and getting new personal assistants to shout at should two of Hollywood's most prestigious talent agencies carry out a likely merger that will alter the balance of power in the film industry. Partners at William Morris and Endeavour met yesterday in scenes that recalled a real-life episode of the TV comedy Entourage to vote on a tie-up that would create a "super agency" with a client list that includes more than a thousand of the world's most famous actors, directors and writers.

The merger is intended to help both companies survive the economic downturn but it has prompted huge intrigue among the famously sharp-elbowed staff, since it could force up to a hundred of them on to the job market.

Fierce dispute is raging over everything from company car allowances to who will get the swankiest office space at any new headquarters. There have even been contentious meetings over what to actually call the new company, which will boast just over 300 agents. The directors of both companies were reported yesterday to have settled on a suitably even-handed option: WME Entertainment.

Endeavour was founded in the mid-1990s by Ari Emanuel, the brother of Barack Obama's chief of staff, Rahm. A famously volatile figure – who is said to have inspired the character of Ari Gold, the fictional super-agent in Entourage – he has built the business into Hollywood's most fashionable agency. It has the likes of Keira Knightley, Shia LaBeouf and Danny Boyle on its books – and a reputation for lavish spending.

William Morris, by contrast, has a prestigious history that goes back 111 years. But massive overheads have started to eat into its profits and it has struggled to attract young, fashionable clientele. Some of its biggest stars, including Mel Gibson, Denzel Washington and John Travolta, are considered to have passed their commercial peak.

The merger is already causing friction. Five senior agents at William Morris are said to be leaving. At Endeavour, co-founder Tom Strickler was reported to have emailed a resignation note to staff yesterday. It seems safe to assume he will negotiate a generous exit package.

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