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What WME's Big Score Means

Illustration: Mike Austin
Illustration: Mike Austin

Hans Zimmer does almost every big-budget film; now, his move from a boutique agency may guarantee a near-lock on the market.

When the news spread in May that veteran film composer Hans Zimmer was leaving boutique film music specialist Gorfaine-Schwartz Agency to join William Morris Endeavor, it sent a ripple through the film music world. The obvious concern was that WME -- through a new film music division headed by Amos Newman, himself formerly of GSA (and the son of legendary composer Randy Newman) -- would start poaching A-list clients from the smaller agencies.

The move is seen by some as the latest attempt by the powerhouse talent agencies to expand into another area traditionally off their radar, like child actors, sports and branding.

For others, however, the signing heralds a game changer in the hyper-competitive composing world since Zimmer likely brings with him the talent at Remote Control, his remarkably successful composing collective that includes a small army of up-and-comers. Just this year alone, Zimmer and his team have turned out a staggering amount of music as the studios' go-to outlet for big-budget tentpoles and Oscar contenders. Their 11 projects this year include Rango, Kung Fu Panda 2 and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, and Zimmer soon will begin work on The Dark Knight Rises.

The change seems to set up  Zimmer as a Hollywood power player who, with WME's influence, can further corner the small world of film scores (indeed, there are only a handful of composers working at Zimmer's level, and none is at the helm of a juggernaut like Remote Control). It isn't hard to imagine WME packaging Zimmer in deals that could extend his influence well beyond the world of film music.

"WME is getting into the Hans Zimmer business," says one film music veteran. "Hans has a small empire, so with a larger agency he can take advantage of opportunities outside of film, like TV and video games. He may even get into producing."

Another veteran agent agrees, adding that the curious timing of the signing supports the theory that WME -- who had once been in talks to buy Gorfaine-Schwartz -- created the division specifically for Hans. "I don't get it because this comes when music budgets are shrinking and there are simply fewer movies to score. Maybe Hans said, 'I want to be Jerry Bruckheimer,' and [WME co-CEO] Ari [Emanuel] said, 'I'll make you Bruckheimer, but I want a piece of the business.'"

But can a composer really become a high-powered mogul? If anyone can, it's Zimmer. While the gregarious 54-year-old Oscar winner is easily Hollywood's most sought-after composer, he is also a "king maker," as one agent calls him. The roughly 50 composers on the roster at the plush Santa Monica-based Remote Control include Atli Orvarsson (the upcoming Jeremy Renner starrer Hansel and Gretel), Henry Jackman (X-Men: First Class) and Geoff Zanelli (The Pacific). All three left GSA for WMA after Zimmer made his move.

Interestingly, the major agencies have traditionally shied away from composer representation because the payday is too small. It's a different story with Zimmer. Composer fees are a closely guarded secret, but sources suggest Zimmer makes an estimated $1.5 million to $2 million a project, meaning WME will collect a tidy percentage given the amount of work he -- not to mention the stable of composers he brings to the table -- produces. As an kind of agent unto himself, insiders speculate that Zimmer is likely to make a percentage as well.

The big loser here, of course, is Gorfaine-Schwartz. GSA declined to comment, but one insider argues the potential sale to WME may have been the final straw for Zimmer.

"There were a lot of rumors about this sale, so it probably got back to him," says the insider. "If I'm Hans and I hear this, I'm thinking, 'If you're going to sell and make a lot of money -- mostly because of me -- why should I stay?'"

For rank and file composers, the challenge to find work is likely to be even greater now that WME is backing Zimmer. One up-and-comer notes that while the move is good business for Zimmer and WME, Remote Control's dominance isn't necessarily a good thing for everyone else.

"His business model has created a sonic brand that we hear everywhere -- in films, TV, video games and advertising," the young composer says. "We hear his style even if Zimmer isn't scoring because composers that come out of Remote Control know how to imitate his sound."           

Kevin Winter/Getty Images