Limato, ICM marriage is on the rocks


Ed Limato, who has spent more than 30 years and two stints at ICM during a career in which he has become one of Hollywood's top talent agents, is in the process of negotiating his exit from the agency.

ICM said Friday that Limato is no longer serving as co-president, though it added that he remained at the company as a motion picture agent.

Limato's current status is in play, though, as the two sides battle over the terms of his separation in what could become an acrimonious dispute.

Although Limato has not made any decisions about his future, he has signaled his determination to remain in the agency business, and has said that he would like to take his list of high-profile clients with him to one of ICM's competitors.

Under the terms of his contract, ICM could insist on exercising a noncompete clause, retaining Limato's services as a consultant, which would keep his clients at the agency. That doesn't appear to be the key issue at the moment, however, with the agency expecting Limato to leave with a number of his clients.

Instead, the major issue has become current and future commissions, including projects currently in negotiations, and how they will be divided between Limato and the agency.

If a settlement can't be reached, the two sides would be forced to move on to an arbitration hearing by Aug. 1.

Limato, who was at his ICM office Friday, was not available for comment.

Limato began his career at ICM's mailroom in New York in 1966. In 1978, he left for WMA but returned in 1988 to ICM, where he has guided the careers of such clients as Mel Gibson, Denzel Washington, Richard Gere and Steve Martin, among others.

ICM attributed the change in Limato's status to a restructuring of its motion picture department, which is part of an overhaul of its larger business operations to ensure longtime growth.

"As part of this process, the agency is making fundamental changes throughout the business to support the next generation of leadership," ICM chairman and CEO Jeffrey Berg said. "Ed has been a highly regarded member of our firm for the past 19 years, and we appreciate his efforts."

The announcement — which Limato learned about only after his assistant read a company e-mail — came as a surprise to him, according to his loyalists, who insisted that the veteran agent has not been treated with the respect he was owed since ICM's acquisition last July of the Broder Webb Chervin Silbermann Agency.

After the merger, BWCS managing partner Chris Silbermann became co-president alongside Limato. Limato had been named to that position eight years ago, overseeing the motion picture department and serving as co-president with Nancy Josephson, who presided over the television side. Josephson left ICM after the merger and subsequently joined Endeavor.

The new regime did not view Limato's old-school ways as in sync with a changing entertainment environment in which getting a client a job has become a more complicated proposition, often beginning with securing financing for a film. Meanwhile, Limato, who has always displayed a fierce loyalty to his clients, bridled at the new factions within the agency and became convinced that he had to seek his future elsewhere.

ICM, which in 2005 sold a majority interest worth $100 million to equity fund operator Rizvi Traverse Management and Merrill Lynch, has since embarked on what it characterizes as structural and generational reorganization to adapt to the changing entertainment marketplace.

At the time of the merger, former BWCS partner Ted Chervin took over as co-head of the agency's television operations. Book agent Sloan Harris has since been promoted to co-head of publications, running the company's New York-based book operations along with Esther Newberg.

With Limato no longer serving as co-president, Silbermann effectively becomes ICM president, overseeing the numerous departments.

It's unclear which of Limato's clients would follow him when he departs — most are expected to repay his loyalty in kind.

However, the agent's departure could create a quandary for some clients like Gibson. Limato has repped the star's acting career, but Berg has figured in finding financing for "The Passion of the Christ" and "Apocalypto," two movies Gibson directed.

While the agency inevitably will lose some big-name film talent when Limato walks out the door, it also retains a roster that includes such directors as Roman Polanski, Woody Allen, Stephen Frears, James L. Brooks, Nancy Meyers and Len Wiseman; such writers as Peter Morgan, Ronald Harwood and David Mamet; and actors Jodie Foster, Samuel L. Jackson, Holly Hunter, Jennifer Connelly and Beyonce Knowles, among others.