No Hollywood success story is complete without the mention of an agent or a manager. No successful sports story is complete without the mention of an agent, and football clubs have managers. When you hear the name, Michael Ovitz, Ron Meyer, Ari Emanuel
CAA made up of breakaways from William Morris, cemented itself as a powerhouse in the industry in profound and even shocking ways, putting pressure on studios to paying mind blowing figures in salaries for its stars and expanding into new areas such as investment banking.
Talent agencies specialize, either by starting out by concentrating on a specific niche or specialty within the industry (literary, sports, broadcast etc.) or creating departments within the agency or developing entire agencies that primarily or wholly represent one specialty. In the industry, you have modeling agencies, commercial talent agencies, literary agencies, voice-over agencies, broadcast journalist agencies, sports agencies, music agencies and with the advent of technology and disruptions in the industry, many more like mobile, gaming, tech etc.
Agents are respected as business people (some call them ruthless sharks); they see the end product from raw talent and also have the ability to make a ‘sell’, most importantly, they get the job done.
I often get asked, what the difference between an agent and a manager is, to bring clarity to this, I will lean on the definition by StudioD’s Lisa Magloff:
An agent is responsible for helping you find work and for negotiating the terms of your employment. For example, if you are an actor, your agent keeps an eye out for roles that would be suitable for you and contacts the casting director to arrange auditions. Once a director hires you, your agent will help negotiate your contract and make sure the terms and conditions of your contract are met. You will have a legally binding contract with your agent, allowing them to negotiate on your behalf. Agents are usually paid a percentage of your fees for each job, usually between 10 percent and 15 percent of your earnings.
A manager provides career guidance and advice. Managers may also provide financial and legal advice, if they are qualified to do so. While agents may have hundreds of clients, managers generally have only a few clients but spend more time with each one. A manager’s duties are far-ranging and may include advising you on what jobs to take, helping you to market yourself, organizing advertising and publicity, advising on how to develop your talents, making travel arrangements and advising on how to manage your income. Managers generally earn between 15 percent and 20 percent of a talent’s total income.
This distinction is however becoming blurred as a considerable overlap exists as talent agents may opt to fill exactly the same roles for their clients out of a financial interest in developing the careers of their talent and currying their favour.
In California, because talent agencies are working with lucrative contracts, agencies must be licensed under special sections of the California Labor Code, which defines an agent as a “person or corporation who engages in the occupation of procuring, offering, promising, or attempting to procure employment for artist or artists”.
Agents were known to have started the culture of putting together packaged deals which meant they presented a slate of their clients made up of actors, producers, directors, screenwriters for a particular project to the studios; this is also a channel to get their lesser known clients jobs.
Characteristics an agent must posses:
• Trust: This is self explanatory and non-negotiable. There has to be trust between agent and client.
• Honesty: As an agent one needs to be able to tell it as it is, be honest with your client, not necessarily put them down but let them know the reality of a situation, and as an agent be able to manage their expectations. Does the talent need more work on their craft done? Can you help get them or get them the necessary help to be better?
• Reputation: As a talent if your agent has a bad reputation, please caler any hopes you have of getting any jobs in the period you are affiliated with that particular agent. People or studios want to know they can deal with a respectable, reasonable or responsible individual at the table.
• Accessibility and clear communication are definite assets in a good agent. Your agent should be accessible and not have ninja-tendencies, one minute they are here, next they are gone!
• An agent has to be able to be a good marketer of your brand, know how to sell your client and get them the best deals.
• An agent also has to have a good idea of the go-to people in the industry and be one. It isn’t a one sided street, no one will pick your call if you aren’t worth knowing or making things happen.
• Know your client: An agent should know their client well enough to predict what their next move is as an individual and as a talent. An agent knows what his/her talents strengths are and what their weaknesses are, knows how to project and promote the strengths and correct or at least manage the weaknesses.
Ari Gold of the very popular and now rested TV series, Entourage and Jerry McGuire, Tom Cruise’s character in the movie with the same name, are some of the most
popular agents known by Hollywood’s audience, now meet the real super agents:
1. Mike Ovitz: He founded CAA in 1975 with four others and is became the face of talent agents, and he is credited with helping to carve out a larger, more competitive role for the genteel agents of that time.
2. Ari Emanuel: Best known in pop culture as the inspiration behind the foul-mouthed agent Ari Gold in the show Entourage. An alumni of ICM, he was fired when it was discovered that he wanted to start his own agency. The merger of his Endeavor Talent Agency with the William Morris Agency in 2009 helped put WME back to the forefront of show business. In 2014 Ari bought IMG Worldwide in a deal worth $2.4 billion, and helped tip the scale even further by spreading out from movie talents – IMG represents the likes of Gisele Bundchen.
3. Richard Lovett: Considered by many to be the most powerful agent in the most powerful agency in Hollywood. He took over as head of CAA in 1995, at the age of 41, after starting his career in the mailroom after college. He’s credited with the success of many of the leading actors in today’s blockbusters.
4. Cindy Osbrink: Best known for representing children in Hollywood, and making them stars. She discovered Dakota Fanning since she was five and represented her and her sister until 2012. Cindy began her career when her own children started acting, and she decided to represent them herself, leading to her founding the Osbrink Talent Agency.
5. Sharon Jackson: Known for having an eye for raw comedic talent, signing Jason Segel when he was just a sidekick in Freaks and Geeks, and eventually convincing him to write the script Forgetting Sarah Marshall, which she sold for a bundle and which made Segel into a sought-after screenwriter.
The biggest agencies in the world by size are Creative Artists Agency (CAA), William Morris Endeavor (WME) and United Talent Agency (UTA). The positions of CAA and WME might soon change as the latter is inching closer into different ventures, which will see its portfolio and value increase and trump its competitors soon; having recently acquired sports agency IMG, and added to its roster social media talent acquisition and is spreading its tentacles to Asia and becoming more involved in innovation and mobile gaming.
Other large agencies are Paradigm Talent Agency, The Gersh Agency, ICM Partners, and Agency for the Performing Arts (APA). Most of these were independent agencies who broke out from the big four and cater to more specialized aspects of entertainment.
Before your crucify me and ask, where are the studios in Africa, my answer will be, since we are beginning to have the semblance of structure in the business so it makes sense for the super agents or managers to help in creating and concretizing this situation. Africa is the new frontier and the world is looking to Africa as an untapped market that has huge potentials and those who seemed to have their act together in terms of operations, turnover, organization, consistency and all, will have the big studios come after them.
My question is this, with the media and entertainment industry in Africa growing at an astronomical rate, where are the gatekeepers to create and close the necessary deals for the creatives? Calling on all business people with harnessing the creativity that abounds in Africa on their mind.
––Emem is the CEO of ONE Management. A Nigeria-based media strategy and support company. firstname.lastname@example.org