UTA's Jeremy Zimmer on Agency Wars: "We've Changed the Landscape"

Charley Gallay/Getty Images for United Talent Agency
From left: Jeremy Zimmer, Dan Roth, Stacey Snider

The agency CEO discussed the current state of showbiz with 20th Century Fox co-chairman Stacey Snider.

Hollywood is adapting to technological and generational changes, according to UTA’s Jeremy Zimmer and 20th Century Fox’s Stacey Snider. The agency CEO and studio co-chairman met for the Hollywood edition of the LinkedIn Discussion Series, held Wednesday morning in UTA’s theater in Beverly Hills.

Several points in the conversation centered around the proliferation of self-published digital content, with LinkedIn executive editor Dan Roth, who moderated the discussion, wondering if it rendered his speakers’ respective businesses obsolete.

Not so, said Zimmer, noting that UTA’s digital media department, headed by Brent Weinstein, represents many top new media stars. "Some of those artists will stay creating that type of content forever, but some will want to move on to television and film, and there’s where we know the fundamentals. We can help a talent like [Vine star] King Bach find the right script and put together the right project for him."

Snider agreed, saying that her creative service of "enabling talent to get their voices heard" remains unchanged. She even allowed that she’s open to considering short-form content — eventually — at Fox. "Our cost structure doesn’t support it yet, but if we’re committed to innovation, we will find some money in some division to dabble in and invest in the format."

Identifying the appropriate division will be important, as Snider noted that Fox’s film units are more rigid, compared to Universal, which she formerly chaired. "There’s a rigor to the greenlight analysis at Fox. I expected fluidity, because at Universal I was able to make A Beautiful Mind and The Fast and the Furious, The Mummy and Munich. Each unit at Fox knows what it wants and can articulate it. Fox 2000, Searchlight — they all have models they’ll die for."

Some changes in the industry have been proactive, rather than reactive. "We’ve changed the landscape as much as it’s changed us," Zimmer said in response to a question about the agency world’s rapid growth and diversification. "The leading agencies are seeing opportunities beyond the traditional representational universe. We work with creative people to help them find an audience, and match them with the right financial infrastructure."

Zimmer added that agencies are either creating or altering marketplaces, citing the recently launched UTA Fine Arts as an example.

Several motion picture agents in attendance continued to voice concern about the impact of streaming services like Netflix on the future of distribution. Choosing her words carefully, Snider responded, "It’s inevitable that windows are going to collapse. Instead of tsk-tsking about it, we need to figure out who our allies are to help build a moat around our business so that Netflix, which doesn’t care about our relationships with exhibitors, doesn’t invade and topple and maul our business."

Snider declared that studios and exhibitors should be allies in identifying a way to mutually benefit from a shortened window: "People want content during that dark period between the theatrical and home entertainment release, and right now we’re not doing anything with that."

As LinkedIn is a professional networking service, several of Roth’s questions were focused on breaking into the entertainment industry. Both Zimmer and Snider touted UTA’s training program, which the former called "fundamental to the DNA" of the agency, with many of its executives having paid their dues through the mailroom. And he credited the current millennial generation with helping the program become a more accommodating environment for trainees, compared to his own early days, when he was unceremoniously saddled with a giant stack of scripts on his first day at William Morris and told to take the F train to make the deliveries. "I spent my first three months on the subway, and no one ever talked to me," he said. "The mailroom is a nutrient-rich environment but we don’t spoon-feed them. But our program has adapted to fit the nature of the current generation who don’t want to just be thrown into it."

That said, Zimmer and Snider added that they enjoy trading war stories with fellow industry veterans. "I bristle at entitlement," Snider said. "I went from law school to the mailroom at Triad, which felt like taking extra years of grad school. I could either despair of having to deliver gold chains to Mr. T, or I could see the whole experience as an opportunity."

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