2ND UPDATE: United Talent has been holding urgent strategy meetings all day.
EXCLUSIVE: I’m told that, at 10 pm last night, United Talent Agency was formally notified by an attorney for longtime Talent Department managing director and agency co-owner Nick Stevens that he’s jumping to rival Endeavor. Insiders tell me that two UTA partners in the Talent Department who work closely with him, Lisa Hallerman and Sharon Sheinwold, are following the 44-year-old uber-agent out the door. The high-profile defections were related to my reporting last week of an ugly “heated and loud” 5th floor closed-door meeting inside UTA. That’s where certain partners took advantage of Nick Stevens’ being out of town on a family vacation to take aim at the two women. This happened on the heels of UTA moving to unseat Stevens as a board member. What took place next was a week-long frenzy of secret negotiations between the tenpercenter and Endeavor that was touch-and-go until Friday night when the new deal was mostly in place.
What is transpiring can only be described as a seismic shift for the two agencies, and Hollywood talent representation in general. It’s too early to confirm exactly which clients like Ben Stiller, Judd Apatow, Owen Wilson, Jack Black, Jason Lee, Jason Bateman, Patrick Dempsey, Jonah Hill, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Jason Schwartzman, and many current Saturday Night Live members, will follow the trio. Stiller and Apatow are considered two of the hottest triple- and even quadruple-talents within the Industry as writers, producers, directors and, in Ben’s case, actor. They make movies, they get movies made, and they make money along the way. Stevens’ move with his two colleagues immediately strengthens Endeavor’s status as the No. 2 motion picture agency with a lot of really strong agents and hot clients. But it also weakens by perception UTA’s already struggling Talent Department on the heels of recent losses like actors Vince Vaughn and Kate Bosworth, and Jim Carrey and Will Ferrell not so long ago.
Needless to say, no one’s talking. (Stevens himself is notoriously press-shy. There’s not even a photo of him anywhere online.) But by all accounts, this was not an easy decision for Nick: he’s leaving the agency he co-owns with Jim Berkus (photo below left), Peter Benedek, Jeremy Zimmer, and Jay Sures; where he’d topped the Talent Department since 1995 as a 30-year-old wunderkind; and where he’d spent 16 years of his career after coming to UTA from the old Harris & Goldberg. But Stevens and UTA’s other directors had not been seeing eye-to-eye for some time over management issues. It was, simply put, a clash of work ethics and corporate cultures: impeccable suits vs Stevens’ T-shirts and jeans and sneakers, the 24/7 office workdays vs Stevens on his cellphone from wherever he damn pleased.
So UTA’s directors had already started talking to Nick about removing him from the board while at the same time making the case to him for staying at the agency. But Stevens had long professed his unhappiness with the direction that the board had taken the agency, including landmines of lawsuits and arbitrations and settlements which cost UTA millions of dollars over the years. Nick demonstrated that he didn’t want to help run the tenpercentery any longer by retreating from the day-to-day business of the agency and not going to what he openly scorned as dumb meetings where office moves and overhead were discussed constantly.
Instead, Stevens simply wanted to service his clients and the agency’s clients, as well as search for and nurture new talent, and then help put them all into projects in a collaborative and creative way. He didn’t do visits to sets, or lunches at The Grill, or any of the usual Industry gladhanding. Instead, under his guidance, UTA became infamous (and immortalized by The New York Times) for creating a so-called “wheel-of-comedy” whereby a raft of successful smart-dumb funny movies were and still are being written by the agency’s clients, produced by the agency’s clients, directed by the agency’s clients and starred in by the agency’s clients, many of whom also share the same managers.
The funnymen appear in one another’s movies, from Dodgeball to Anchorman to Elf to Zoolander to Talledega Nights to the upcoming Tropic Of Thunder, and even unknowns become stars just by being in an Apatow-bannered pic. It’s all about “creating a wheel-of-comedy effect that can leave viewers wondering just whose movie they’re watching. What’s more, the stars and their representatives live, work and play in a continuum that has virtually shut the studios out of the development process. By coming up with their own concepts, finding screenwriters and then offering the whole package for production — script, director and cast, take it or leave it — this group is reshaping screen humor to their liking,” the NY Times gushed.
From what I’ve gleaned, I honestly don’t think either UTA expected Stevens to leave, or Stevens expected to leave UTA. But the tenpercentery had prepared for that outcome. Then again, shit like this happens in Hollywood when people who’ve worked together for years suddenly come to that point where they can’t get along anymore. Hell, it’s hardly a secret that Stevens and Jeremy Zimmer, UTA’s longtime Literary managing director, fought frequently.
As for Endeavor, its partners saw a rare opportunity to help their agency and hurt a competitor all in one fell swoop. (UTA also recently lost partner Marc Korman and his TV showrunner clients to Endeavor the other week.). Ari Emanuel (photo right) had been on vacation when he read about the UTA ruckus on my website. So he offered Stevens a clean slate. Best of all, Nick didn’t want to compete with Ari (who plays golf with Nick at the Riviera) or Patrick Whitesell (who worked with Nick in UTA’s talent department) to control the tenpercentery. In fact, I understand that Stevens’ deal completely frees him from all management responsibilities so he can concentrate on connecting dots between Endeavor clients and projects.
As for UTA, the major boutique will absolutely survive this setback since it’s very hard to kill an agency. If its partners handle this smartly, the tenpercentery could even thrive through shrewd hires or a bigtime merger. Stay tuned!
(Keep refreshing for the latest news on this fast-breaking story…)