On the face of it, it might seem like just another Hollywood talent agency intrigue -- one where a prehensile power broker defects to someplace willing to pay more, or give him the corner office that his old shop wouldn't. I am speaking of last week's defection of ICM's uber-agent Robert Newman, whose client list includes an enviable roster of directors that include Robert Rodriguez, Danny Boyle and Jean-Pierre Jeunet.
Sad to say, it wasn't; Wall Street was to blame.
And here's what I mean by that: No sooner did International Creative Management's top motion picture directors' agent leave to join Endeavor, than The New Yorker published a piece by film critic David Denby, which offered an exhaustive explication of how Wall Street has ownership is ruining the studio film business with movies like "Superman Returns."
Viz, "...in late October, [WB] announced that it would make yet another Superman film. Variety earlier summed up the situation as follows: 'Many speculate that WB has invested too much time and money to walk away. What's more, the film fuels a number of Time Warner outlets, including homevid, ancillaries, and merchandising -- even subsid DC Comics.' So there you have it: the business model swallows the studio, which obliged to supply its conglomerate outlets and subsidiaries, cannot prevent itself from repeating a failure."
What's this got to do with Robert Newman? Well, if you think we're seeing flaccid and superfluous movies because Wall Street owns the studios, wait til they own the talent agencies.
You see, insiders tell me Newman didn't leave ICM because of some failure to procure a grander title. They say Newman left because last November, Merrill Lynch joined hedge fund Rizvi Traverse Management in buying a majority interest in ICM. When that happened, the agency's new corporate masters became solely interested in receivables -- primarily, easy money from TV shows and their afterlife in syndication -- and so they promptly merged ICM with a TV agency. In the eyes of Merrill Lynch, Newman -- even with his list of the best film directors in the world -- had committed the sin of the similarly-glabrous THX 1138. The expense of his retention exceeded their budget, and so he was allowed to slip away. For anyone who cares about movies, Wall Street's arrival on Wilshire Blvd. should be a worrisome trend.