Agents' New Big Deal: Quitting
The death of package fees, consolidation and layoffs have sharks swimming away in record numbers into management
This is fourth in a series this week about the representation business. Earlier we featured: Why Do Deals Take So Long to Sign?; Tales from the Agency Mailroom. Still a Thing; and Big Managers of the Moment 2024.
There are many turning points in the industry to point to when agents began seeking new careers: the Endeavor-William Morris merger, the CAA-ICM merger, the layoffs during the recent strikes. But the Waterloo for many was in 2020 when it became clear that the WGA’s fight to end packaging was going to succeed (packaging officially ended in 2022). “When packaging fees were taken away it was like having your heart ripped out,” says David Lonner, who had a 30-plus year career as an agent at William Morris, ICM, CAA and Endeavor. Lonner, who jumped early to become a manager in 2010, is referring, of course, to the WGA’s successful three-year campaign to ban agency packaging fees under the guild’s franchise agreement.
The hard-fought and bitter battle at one point required more than 7,000 writers to fire their agents en masse. It also placed strict limits on agencies’ ability to own production companies.
All of a sudden, the upside of being a manager became far more appealing.
Over the span of several months in 2020 the ranks of the top three talent agencies were gutted. It started in June when Theresa Kang-Lowe departed WME, where she had worked for several decades, to launch her own management company, Blue Marble Management. Several weeks later, her colleague Phil Sun announced he was also leaving WME to form management company M88. It was right around this time that literary agents David Stone, yet another WME partner, and UTA’s Ben Jacobson linked up to launch their new management company, The Framework Collective. Then, just a few weeks later came news that a dozen top agents from CAA, WME and UTA — a number of whom were being groomed to one day replace CAA’s Bryan Lourd, Endeavor’s Ari Emanuel and UTA’s Jeremy Zimmer — were splintering off to form Range Media Partners, a full-service management company now based in Santa Monica representing the likes of Bradley Cooper, Luca Guadagnino and Danny McBride.
Fast-forward to today and the ground is still shaking in the world of representation, as name after name continues to set up management shingles around town. And the pace is showing no signs of slowing down. Here’s what I learned in my interviews with several management superstars who made the switch, what you give up, and what you gain.