Big indie shift hits Big Apple

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The New York indie film scene is getting a rewrite.

In a seismic shift of power in the independent film community, CAA's top New York film agent Bart Walker is leaving the agency to join John Sloss and Robert Nathan as a partner in Cinetic Media, Manhattan's leading film sales agency. The partners will launch a talent management division called Cinetic Management.

The new Cinetic's mission is to become a one-stop shop for film production: developing clients' projects, raising money from a variety of international sources, producing and selling films (along with outside projects) to distributors. "Our move into management will allow us to have ongoing relationships with artists to complement our consulting and transactional relationships with financiers," Walker said. "We'll have the capacity to serve all their needs."

Sloss cited Todd Haynes' "I'm Not There," which carried a budget of more than $18 million, as an example of the type of dealmaking Cinetic would dive into. "It had five financiers and it was tough to finance, but it's emblematic of the way many films will be made in the future," he said. "The industry is deconsolidating from a few major players, and you need to be agile enough to adapt to it."

Walker and Sloss will oversee management, financing and sales activities, and they anticipate no strict division of labor. "It's about achieving the ideal balance of what's right for the project and what's right for the artist," Walker said.

The pair have long been two of the primary figureheads in the New York film-sales business. Walker was the lead motion picture literary agent in CAA's New York offices for three years, repping Julian Schnabel, Julie Taymor, John Turturro, Mira Nair, Tamara Jenkins, Sofia Coppola, Jim Jarmusch and such production companies as American Zoetrope. Before that, he was the head of ICM's New York motion picture department, where he began working in 1991. Sloss often competed with Walker to rep indie film sales.

Sloss said Cinetic established the management division, in part, to "let Bart's clients understand he's there for them."

Walker resigned from CAA Thursday and spent much of the day contacting his roster. It's expected that most of Walker's clients will join him, though it's unclear how many will continue having agency representation at CAA or elsewhere.

The pair might have been rivals in film sales and financing, but they've also been friends for about two decades, meeting when Walker was executive vp at indie distributor Cinecom from 1985-87.

The move doesn't necessarily reflect a blow to CAA, given that Walker's roster is just one slice of its large clientele and doesn't deliver the big commissions of its top Hollywood talent. CAA also will retain a large staff of independent film sales agents based in Los Angeles who have arrived en masse this week in Toronto, selling a film slate that includes Vadim Perelman's "In Bloom" (with Cinetic), Chaz Thorne's "Just Buried" (with Submarine), Aristomenis Tsirbas' animated "Terra" and Helen Hunt's "Then She Found Me."

The impact will be greater on the New York landscape, a town with significantly fewer players, as two of the top film sales agents merge forces. It also might have an impact on the city's talent.

Sloss scored another agency defector last year when Sarah Lash joined Cinetic after a brief stint as a lead New York-based agent at ICM.

Cinetic handled a record Festival de Cannes sale of James Gray's "We Own the Night" to Columbia Pictures for $11.5 million in May and also had the all-time biggest Sundance Film Festival sale, with "Little Miss Sunshine" going to Fox Searchlight for $10.5 million last year.

Sloss said the operations would be expanding and that new staffers and financial backers would come aboard within the next year.

A CAA spokesperson declined to say when a replacement would be announced for Walker or if any of the company's Los Angeles employees would be heading for New York, though an announcement might be forthcoming.
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