On Aug. 23, CAA co-chairmen Bryan Lourd and Kevin Huvane, along with president Richard Lovett, convened a hastily assembled all-hands Zoom call with at least one priority in mind: damage control. That day, four top CAA agents — Jack Whigham and Dave Bugliari, both co-heads of motion picture talent, and Michael Cooper and Mick Sullivan — informed the trio they were exiting immediately for a new venture. “They were blindsided,” one source tells The Hollywood Reporter.
The CAA agents weren’t alone. Several more high-powered reps — a web of friends and former colleagues including UTA’s Susie Fox, Mackenzie Roussos, Lucinda Moorhead and recent partner Chelsea McKinnies, along with WME’s Rich Cook — have jumped to the new, not-yet-titled management firm backed by former CAA agent Peter Micelli, who recently led strategy at production company Entertainment One.
Its founding had been a slow-burning secret move that began many months ago, say multiple sources, with an attorney making outreach to select agents to gauge interest. Such maneuvering was made considerably easier with everyone at home, amid a lockdown that’s prompted a combination of furloughs, layoffs and pay cuts at the major agencies. “An entire generation of star agents [from across the landscape] leaving their home … it’s unheard of,” says one rival agency head. Another suggests it’s a breaking of the dam: “It has always been hard to leave CAA, UTA, WME because it’s so institutionalized. You’re always worried whether people will call you back if you’re not at these places. For the first time in a long time — maybe ever — you’re seeing people not be afraid to leave.”
The moves come at a time when the uberagent model created by Michael Ovitz and the CAA founders appears to be at a tipping point as the pandemic accelerates shifts that are underway in response to the streaming revolution. As the whole business is squeezed, agents are fighting for a smaller piece of a smaller pie, making management a potentially more lucrative career choice. Many point to the lack of room at the top, particularly at CAA and WME, as another key reason for the departures. Still, the new entity brings with it a host of questions, not least of which is whether the financing becomes an issue when politics and social justice are top of many minds.
Though Micelli is said to have lined up multiple financial partners, the first name to surface was controversial billionaire Steve Cohen, CEO of hedge fund Point72 Asset Management. Cohen is believed to have put in $25 million for a 30 percent stake in the new venture, per two sources, though an insider disputes that figure. Cohen is also a prominent Trump backer, having shelled out $1 million for the president’s inauguration. Lest that were it, his firm was sued for sexual harassment in 2018, and paid a $1.8 billion fine in 2013 after settling insider trading charges with the Securities and Exchange Commission — the latter investigation is said to have inspired the first season of Showtime’s Billions.
Already, Cohen’s involvement seems to be giving pause to some in liberal Hollywood. “Billionaire Trump supporter Steve Cohen now owns Hollywood’s hot new [management company]. Do the clients know?” tweeted Julio Torres, creator of HBO’s Los Espookys and a former McKinnies client, the day after the news broke. He added: “Those profiting off of woke artists think we’ll be like STOP TRUMP not realizing we make $ for GOP Showbiz daddies. Time to ask hard questions.”
Those questions can begin with the former agents themselves: One agency insider says that new managers had never even heard of Cohen, let alone met him, prior to this weekend. More fuel to the potential fire is that Bugliari is married to ardent anti-Trumper Alyssa Milano.
Another big question is which star clients will follow. Hollywood chatter says Taron Edgerton, Tom Hardy, and Keira Knightley may be heading to the new shop while Margot Robbie and Tiffany Haddish, who already have managers, may be navigating new arrangements.
And what kind of arrangements will those be? Will they start to question why they need agents when they now have managers with backgrounds as agents? Already, one of the new entity’s founders is said to have ruffled feathers when, before exiting his agency, he reached out to some clients and said that their existing managers would now be splitting the 10 percent commission, 50-50, with him. When they learned of this, the plan did not sit well with the managers, who have historically operated under a detente not to poach clients and are said to be fuming.
“The whole management community is up in arms,” said one agency head.
It’s worth noting that while the Micelli-led exodus is jaw-dropping in scope, it follows a steady trickle of recent exits as the agency business grapples with a host of challenges — made worse by the pandemic — which brought production to a halt. There’s also the WGA standoff, which kept thousands of scribes from working with agents. (UTA has since brokered a deal with the guild; CAA and WME are holdouts.)
Among the other departures: WME’s Phil Sun, who THR revealed on Aug. 24 would exit to launch a management company with Charles D. King’s Macro, and WME’s Theresa Kang-Lowe, who left in June to start her own firm with a deal at Apple. Also segueing to management are UTA’s Ben Jacobson and WME’s David Stone, who broke off to create their own venture, as well as WME’s Matt Solo (now at 3 Arts) and CAA’s Scott Greenberg (LBI Entertainment).
Despite rumors swirling for months, WME’s Ari Greenburg is staying put with a new deal at the agency. Even with all the uncertainty, particularly as more reps are expected to follow, one agency head gave the latest shake-up a positive spin: “Decentralizing the power is good for the business. The days of monolithic corporations in this space is over.”
Lacey Rose, Alex Weprin and Kim Masters contributed to this report.
A version of this story appeared in the Aug. 26 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.