How CAA Convinces Studios to Hire Diverse Talent

6:00 AM 8/18/2017

by Rebecca Sun

The agency creates a multimedia presentation featuring its most promising clients every year and takes the show on the road to all the top execs.

Jordan Peele and Eiza Gonzalez
Jordan Peele and Eiza Gonzalez
Getty Images

In 2015, a group of CAA agents including Maha Dakhil and Jelani Johnson decided to compile a multimedia presentation of rising diverse talent that they believed deserved studio attention. Dubbed the Roadshow, the agency scheduled sit-downs with all the majors -- everyone from Disney production president Sean Bailey down to creative executives -- to go through the 90-minute lineup of female filmmakers and clients of color. "We can't make studios hire them," says Christy Haubegger, head of CAA's multicultural business development group, "but we can make sure they saw them."

After the Roadshow -- think of it as a general meeting, writ en masse -- the team at CAA schedules follow-up meetings and submits materials for individual clients. "It's not that our buyers aren't interested [in hiring diverse talent]," Haubegger says, "but you have to actually stop and focus on that. Otherwise the inadvertent, "Oh, we didn't get to the women on the list" kind of thing can happen really quickly."

The Roadshow has turned into CAA's own version of Next Big Thing, and the below mix of past and present featured clients provide a glimpse of the traditionally underserved talent that the agency is getting into the room.

  • Barry Jenkins

    JB Lacroix/WireImage

    The director was featured in a road show nearly a year before the world premiere of his eventual Oscar-winning sophomore film, Moonlight, at Telluride in September 2016.

  • J.D. Dillard

    Leon Bennett/WireImage

    Sundance 2016 audiences loved the former Bad Robot receptionist's debut feature, Sleight; now he's in post-production on Blumhouse survival horror pic Sweetheart and in talks to direct a remake of The Fly.

  • Jordan Peele

    Gabriel Olsen/FilmMagic

    CAA touted the Key and Peele star's prospects as a director when he was just beginning production on his debut, Get Out, which would go on to defy preconceptions as the most profitable film of 2017.

  • Ludi Lin

    Michael Kovac/Getty Images

    Is the bilingual Chinese-Canadian Power Rangers actor, up next in Aquaman, the crossover star U.S.-China co-productions are looking for?

  • Eiza Gonzalez

    Greg Doherty/Getty Images

    From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series was the Mexican actress' only English-language credit; then she booked Baby Driver and Fox's upcoming Alita: Battle Angel.

  • Catalina A. Mastretta

    Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

    If the director of Spanglish indie rom-com Everybody Loves Somebody lands a studio pic, she'd be just the second Latina (after The 33 and Miracles From Heaven's Patricia Riggen) since 2007 to do so.

  • Sofia Boutella

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    Within seven months of signing the Kingsman breakout in May 2015, CAA landed the ex-dancer in The Mummy and Atomic Blonde.

  • Jenna Ortega

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    Signed in June, the 14-year-old plays young Jane on The CW's Jane the Virgin and, like fellow CAA client Zendaya, is a Disney Channel star.

  • Stella Meghie

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    CAA signed the filmmaker about a month after her feature debut, family comedy Jean of the Joneses, premiered at SXSW in March 2016. "I highly doubt I'm about to jump to a studio film," she said in an Indiewire article about her mindset at the time. But her agents immediately began to submit scripts, and on June 1, she was announced as director of MGM and Alloy's YA adaptation Everything, Everything, making her the only black woman to helm a movie widely released in 2017. 

  • Riz Ahmed

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    It's hard to imagine a pop cultural landscape without the British-Pakistani rapper-actor, but when CAA brought him before studio execs in early 2016, HBO's The Night Of, Jason Bourne and Rogue One were yet to be seen.

  • Zendaya

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    CAA saw the crossover potential in the longtime Disney Channel favorite; Sony agreed, casting the actress in what turned out to be a very diverse Spider-Man: Homecoming ensemble. She'll next graduate to the big top opposite Hugh Jackman as famous circus promoter P.T. Barnum in The Greatest Showman.

  • Algee Smith

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    Last week The Hollywood Reporter announced that the Detroit breakout, signed by CAA in January, would join Amandla Stenberg and Regina Hall in Fox 2000's adaptation of Black Lives Matter YA novel The Hate U Give.

  • Isabela Moner

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    The 16-year-old Peruvian-American Transformers: The Last Knight star is featured in CAA's current roadshow presentation to the studios.

  • James Davis

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    The comedian has been with CAA for years, and the long-term relationship paid major dividends this summer when Comedy Central premiered his own show, Hood Adjacent with James Davis.

  • Gerard McMurray

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    The director's feature debut, the fraternity hazing drama Burning Sands, was well-received when it premiered at Sundance in January. Now Blumhouse is entrusting him with the fourth installment of its Purge franchise.

  • Ray Fisher

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    Signed to CAA in April, the agency is now actively working to line up non-Cyborg roles for the Justice League star.

  • Demetrius Shipp Jr.

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    The newcomer's All Eyez on Me had a better-than-expected opening in June; now CAA is seeking a follow-up for the Tupac doppelganger.

  • Shameik Moore

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    Already a breakout from Dope and The Get Down when he moved to CAA in April, the young actor will look to his new agency to take his career to the next level.