Why Indie Agency RWSG Sold to WME: "It Felt Like a Crossroads"

Sylvie_Jill_WME_RWSG - Publicity - S 2016
Courtesy of WME

Sylvie_Jill_WME_RWSG - Publicity - S 2016

When literary agency Rabineau Wachter Sanford & Gillett agreed to be acquired by WME, the decision represented a recognition that in a changing market, an independent books-to-film firm — even one as respected as RWSG — might not have the resources needed to thrive.

"Looking at the marketplace and seeing all the changes with distribution and networks wanting to own their own content and the amount of competition among the feature players, it felt like a crossroads," RWSG principal Sylvie Rabineau tells THR. So now Rabineau will co-head WME's book-to-film/TV division along with Jill Holwager Gillett, who joined RWSG in 2010 to build up its television business. Geoffrey Sanford also is joining WME and will continue to be based in New York, while the fourth name partner, Liza Wachter, is exiting.

Gillett and Rabineau attended WME's staff meeting Aug. 22, the day the deal was announced, and will be giving up RWSG's Westwood digs to move into their new agency's Beverly Hills offices by the end of September.

RWSG, known as literary tastemakers, bring such authors as Tom Perrotta, Roxane Gay, Jess Walter, Hanya Yanagihara and Jeff Kinney with them. They also put together the rights deal for one of fall's biggest movies in The Girl on the Train (plus TV projects The Leftovers and the upcoming Berlin Station). RWSG also has partnerships with European literary firms Salomonsson Agency and Ahlander Agency, which have helped drive the Hollywood influx of Scandinavian crime novels by such writers as Jo Nesbo and Olen Steinhauer.

Neither Rabineau nor Gillett is a stranger to big agencies; Rabineau worked at ICM before striking out on her own in 2000, and Gillett was at UTA and ICM. They emphasize that the co-agenting they have done with boutique book reps will continue, and the relationships their authors have with publishing agents will remain separate.

In fact, Rabineau and Gillett promise little will change in how they do business now that they work for WME-IMG co-CEOs Ari Emanuel and Patrick Whitesell. "WME is acquiring us," says Gillett, "so we can do exactly what we do [but] be more integrated" with WME to put attractive packages together. For WME, the allure is having greater access to top intellectual property to package with its roster of actors, directors and writers. Notes Rabineau, "It takes a village to get a movie or TV series made these days."

This story first appeared in the Sept. 9 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.