CAA vet paddles to Morgan Creek

Film company looks to Nicita for revival

Veteran agent and longtime CAA partner Rick Nicita is leaving the talent agency biz for the executive suite, becoming the new co-head of Morgan Creek Prods.

Nicita joins Morgan Creek founder James G. Robinson as co-chairman, and they will run the company together.

Robinson will continue as CEO of the company, with Nicita serving as COO. Nicita takes up his new post Aug. 15.

At CAA, Nicita ran the careers of such A-listers as Tom Cruise, Kevin Costner, Al Pacino and Nicole Kidman. Nicita and Robinson had been having conversations for several months, and Nicita made the announcement Tuesday morning at a large agency staff meeting. His exit follows the departure a year ago of another longtime senior agent, Lee Gabler, who mostly repped key TV players.

"He's been in the agency business for 42 years, and he's barely north of 60," Robinson said of Nicita. "He would like to go out trying another part of this business. I've had three different careers, so I can totally understand that.

"This is probably the best place for him. He'll have himself a big palette. At studios, they like to put you in a little box."

At Morgan Creek, Nicita will take on the task of reinvigorating a shingle that has gone through a protracted slump. The company, which develops and finances its own movies, had hits ranging from 1988's "Young Guns" to 1994's "Ace Ventura: Pet Detective"; however, it hasn't been much of a player in recent years with such films as "Georgia Rule," "The Good Shepherd" and "Two for the Money."

The 21-year old company is hoping that with Nicita on board, it can return to making mainstream commercial films and expects to produce three or four movies a year. Universal, where the outfit has its deal, distributes the films domestically.

Robinson said Nicita will act in a similar capacity as Joe Roth did many years ago: the creative head to Robinson's business head.

"We've done a 360, and we've gone back to our roots, if you will," Robinson said. "Rick will be doing what Joe used to do."

He said the company has several projects in preproduction, including a "big Viking movie."

"But first I want to make sure Rick's got his fingerprints on this and anything he's got or he wants to do that we throw up and see what that looks like," Robinson said. "But we are ready to rock."

As for the impact of Nicita's exit on CAA, it's too soon to say whether his clients will be tempted to jump ship. A transition plan is being discussed at the agency as to which partners or agents will take on Nicita's list. The top clients are likely to be shared by or overseen by the six remaining managing board members: Richard Lovett, Bryan Lourd, Kevin Huvane, Steve Lafferty, Rob Light and David O'Connor.

An agent for 40 years, Nicita began his career at WMA in 1968 and joined CAA in 1980. This surprising career move somewhat mirrors that of his wife, Paula Wagner, who left the agency biz to become Cruise's producing partner and now, with Cruise, is attempting to turn around the fortunes of United Artists. (partialdiff)