Hollywood Execs Size Up Talent Agencies: WME "Swinging Their Dicks," CAA "Like a Bunch of Old Guys in Suits"

Illustration by: Martin Haake

As the agent rat race heats up, THR polled executives and other talent representatives for their brutally honest assessments.

This story first appeared in the June 12 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.


"It is clear that ICM, UTA and Paradigm will need to combine in some form to fully compete with WME and CAA for talent and to gain the heft necessary for a real private-equity investment and subsequent IPO or liquidity event. The reason it hasn't happened is the same reason that WME and UTA called off their merger: Who's going to be the boss? Would ICM's Chris Silbermann share power with UTA's Jeremy Zimmer? Also, there are those who believe that WME and CAA could merge and that there wouldn't be government interference. WME will probably go public before CAA does, and then would they use their new cur­rency to buy CAA?"


"ICM seems to have settled into a good place. They're not trying to be one of the big boys; they're strong in the most profitable area of the business [TV], and they escaped the private-equity game, so they actually own their company."

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"You say 'WME,' and what immediately pops into my head is aggressive, but that isn't a pejorative. Every agency is a reflection of its leadership, and the Ari vibe bleeds through the place. It's a boys' club — and not to the exclusion of women; the women are part of the boys' club. You don't get pitched by WME, you get told what to do by WME. In contrast to WME, there's an old-school, genteel passivity to CAA. They've sort of turned into the old William Morris in that it feels like a bunch of old guys in suits, even though they're not. That's the feeling on the TV side, anyway. When it comes to pitching, they do it very respectfully. They work very methodically — slow as molasses. At WME, they're constantly quoting Ari. At CAA, you never hear them talking about Richard Lovett or any of their bosses."

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"I think CAA is the best-run company by far in terms of management, communication, strategy, a coherent style and brand. They know who they are more than any other agency. The danger there is the group think. They are less individual and more of a collective. WME, on the other hand, is more about the individual. When an agent at WME wants to get something done, he gets it done, versus having to consult with multiple people at CAA. The cult of Patrick and Ari is that they are doers. The meetings are very different. They are a little more raucous at WME. And UTA's new grab is trying to put them back on the board in terms of film."


"Reputation-wise, CAA has taken a huge blow — the barrage of coverage of an upstart seeming to have their way with them. UTA just cleaned their clock. CAA has never taken such a blow. Someone finally landed one. WME is the No. 1 now. I don't know numbers, but they seem to be firing on all cylinders. Who knows if buying all these companies will pay off. They're swinging their dicks, trying to be the best in whatever they get into. I'm happy for those guys at UTA, to pull off what they pulled off. They seem like the most non-agenty agents doing their best to keep up. And maybe they can."

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