Bryan Lourd stepped out Wednesday from behind the CAA curtain to express hope for both a post-COVID-19 return of movies and the theater-going experience, and an agreement with the WGA over the contentious practice of packaging – if the guild will pick up the phone.
“I fully expect that at some point in the near future we won’t be suing each other and we won’t be not talking to each other – that’s up to them,” the uber-agency co-chairman told Ken Ziffren tonight in a virtual keynote for the 44th annual UCLA Entertainment Symposium. “There is a way of thinking about things that is in the past as opposed to what’s possible in the future.”
“With zero sort of apology, I hate how this has gone,” the agent added of the more than year-long battle with the writers’ guild over packaging that has led to an almost unprecedented schism between agencies and scribes.
“We never wanted to be in conflict with them, I don’t want to be in conflict with them now,” Lourd told Hollywood mandarin Ziffren in the pre-recorded and sprawling conversation. “We’re not holding out. I hope we do make a deal, we want to make a deal. We want to have a conversation about what we know from the street about what is actually going on in their members’ lives and what the opportunities are, and to date, we have not had that opportunity to do that, which is something most people don’t know. I do think that they will come and I am encouraged by the focus on it now.”
A few days old, the statements from Lourd come as ICM Partners inked a deal with the WGA to phase out packaging over the next two years, as UTA already did last month. In fact, today saw the guild, CAA and WME ask a federal judge to push back the trial in the antitrust action the uber-agencies launched last year after the WGA instructed its members to fire their agents over packaging. In another suit, today also saw a judge deny CAA and WME motions to dismiss the remainder of the WGA’s fraud and price-fixing allegations, sending the case to trial to determine whether agency packaging fees are legal.
Shifting to the other big topics around town, the admittedly movie-centric Lourd strolled into corporate restructuring and the future of movies in an industry barely coming out of the lockdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
“We wake up this morning to more structural changes in terms of the organization of what we used to call Warner Bros, that is now AT&T,” Lourd said to Ziffren, dating the taping of the conversation to early this week, when the Jason Kilar-run WarnerMedia continued its high-level cuts. “It is the media division of AT&T, but it is AT&T.”
“I think these companies will make a really big mistake if they don’t value and believe in movies and movie stars, and what that experience is like for fans who gather together in groups in whatever theaters will evolve, too,” the CAA boss said of a world where streaming is increasingly becoming the focus. “What types of movies are made for theatrical distribution will really further change. But I don’t think it is dead or gone.”
“It is probably obvious now to everyone, as it is talked about so much, I think there will be a certain type of event movie with big global themes and dazzling, either movie stars or directors, who are the best of their day, women and men, and that will be reserved for four or five times a year for people,” Lourd suggested of the future of the big screen once theaters can safely open. “I believe it will come back. “
At the same time, Lourd also made it clear he saw a new dynamic in the entertainment experience with the void of shuttered cinemas increasingly filled by Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu and CBS All Access, as well as the vast libraries of relatively newbies like Disney+, AppleTV+, HBOMax and Peacock now online.
“I think behavioral patterns are permanently changed as a result of what we’ve all just been through and what we are going through now,” Lourd said. “The ability to see almost anything you want in a quality way in your home, in a safe environment, when you want to, is unbeatable in so many ways.”
Perhaps unbeatable, but Lourd thinks after months of lockdown and relative isolation, people want to be out once it is truly safe.
“I think the first Friday night in the next six months or year, or three months, whenever it is, will maybe be one of the biggest nights in movies, in the history of the business,” he told Ziffren. “I think that the audience is dormant and waiting, same thing with concerts, same thing with sports.”
CAA, of course, is as much in the concert and sports business as it is the big and small screens business. “It’s so Dickensian, it’s the best of times on one side of the company, and the complete worst of times on the other,” he said.
In the wide-ranging 45-minute long chat with Hollywood heavyweight Ziffren, Lourd also touched on topics including the responsibility of “white men” to be partners with the #MeToo movement, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the quest for greater equality in the business and America overall.
He also discussed the harsh ramifications of the global health crisis for CAA as a microcosm of the overall ailing industry. “We tried as managers and partners of everyone to make the right decision for the most amount of people possible,” Lourd said. “It was impossible to maintain the size of the workforce that we had responsibly …it’s been a really trying, difficult time for everyone.”
In late July, CAA laid off 90 agents and executives, and has furloughed 275 employees because of the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting economic downturn. This was the first, but probably not the last, such move the company will have to make, depending on how much longer the crisis goes on.
In no small irony, Lourd was announced earlier this week as the replacement keynote speaker for Bob Greenblatt, the now-former chairman of WarnerMedia Entertainment. Originally scheduled to give a talk at the annual symposium in a panel called “It’s the End of the World as We Know It – And We Feel Fine,” earlier this year before COVID-19 closed everything down, Greenblatt was axed from his perch on August 7.
Greenblatt wasn’t alone in the first round of pink slips at the AT&T-owned company. Kevin Reilly, Chief Content Officer, HBO Max and president, TNT, TBS, and truTV and Keith Cocozza, EVP of Corporate Marketing and Warner Bros all exited as WB chief Ann Sarnoff took oversight of all network, film, and TV studio and streaming assets.
The 2020 installment of he UCLA Entertainment Symposium was originally scheduled for late March at the West L.A. campus but was put on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic, as Deadline exclusively reported.