Much of what is commonly known about screenwriting agents has “truthiness” but isn’t true.
Misconceptions persist because the agency business is somewhat secretive.
There are lots of very powerful agents and agencies that keep a low profile on purpose.
Screenwriting Agents – Overview
When you watch Entourage, The Player, Ray Donovan, Californication, or Swimming With Sharks – you see the intelligence, high-stakes strategic thinking, aggressive mindset, sense of humor, and more.
But you miss the personal elements, factual backstory, and real-world situations that are crucial to understanding agents and persuading them to represent you.
That’s why I’ve gathered videos, interviews, and profiles, and created an overview of the landscape.
Hopefully this will help you sound like a professional when the topic of agents comes up and perform well in meetings with these influential decision-makers.
If you’re ready to get an agent, check out my course How To Get An Agent.
Two Categories Of Screenwriting Agents
Screenwriting agents and their agencies tend to fall into two main categories:
- The “Big Four” Agencies
- Boutique Agencies
The Big Four (and we will talk more about them in a moment), are WME, CAA, UTA, and ICMP.
Everything that’s not these four I’m calling a “boutique.”
Now, some may dispute this categorization scheme because there are a number of what I’m calling “boutiques” that are more like a mid-sized agency such as Gersh, Innovative, and Paradigm.
Sometimes, these three agencies are referred to as part of “The Big Seven.”
As you become more of a Hollywood insider, these distinctions become important.
For now, what I really want you to understand is this:
Most of the deals in Hollywood are handled by The Big Four.
You need to be very familiar with these companies.
1. William Morris Endeavor (WME)
Founded in 1898 as a vaudeville booking service, the William Morris Agency is Hollywood’s longest running talent and literary agency. There are 273 agents at WME.
In 2009, William Morris merged with Endeavor Talent Agency to form William Morris Endeavor. In 2012, Silver Lake Partners acquired a 31 percent stake in WME and that has been subsequently upped to 51 percent.
William Morris Endeavor became Hollywood’s biggest agency when it acquired sports and media talent agency IMG for $2.4 billion in 2014, so now the combined WME-IMG comprises more than 5000 employees.
“Working at a talent agency is like working for the CIA. You get to know what’s going on at the networks, at the studios, you have access to all this talent, on-screen and off. At Sony or Disney or NBC they only know about themselves. At an agency you know everything about everybody — even in the mailroom.”
Rob Carlson, William Morris Endeavor agent
Here’s an interview with Patrick Whitesell, co-CEO of WME:
To see inside WME’s office, here are four videos that were made for staff meetings at WME. They are parodies and are snarky, but you get to see inside WME, the screenwriting agents, the assistants, the conference rooms, the screening room, and more.
2. Creative Artists Agency (CAA)
Founded in 1975, by five agents from the William Morris Agency, CAA was the largest talent and sports agency in the world for many years and remains a powerhouse. In 2010, CAA created a strategic partnership with global private equity firm TPG Capital.
TPG initially had a 35% stake in the agency and in 2014, but raised that to a majority 53% stake by paying $225 million in equity. This was the first time that CAA was not owned by its operating principals.
According to the Hollywood Reporter, CAA had $647 million in revenue and $121 million in profits in 2014. CAA is estimated to be valued at more than $1 billion. There are currently 267 agents at CAA.
While many people regard CAA as having the best movie star client list, this April, 12 agents moved to UTA. The New York Times explained, “The exodus of agents from CAA was seen as pointing toward a change in internal culture…” Creative Artists loyalists, however, have ardently argued that nothing has changed at the agency — that it remains as effective and focused as ever.”
“We’re always communicating; we’re always switched on. I feel this umbilical cord to what I do, whether on the phone or e-mail, and it starts really early in the morning. A lot of us have overseas clients — I definitely do — and it just continues.
But because things are harder now, I find that our interactions are more personal and meaningful because it’s not just transactional. It’s not like: ‘Here’s your deal; here’s the good news.’ It’s really tougher going into the bad news with people.”
Maha Dahkil, Creative Artists Agency agent
John Campisi talks about how he became a literary agent at CAA in this video:
3. United Talent Agency (UTA)
Founded in 1991 as a merger between the Bauer-Benedek Agency and Leading Artists Agency, UTA now has 167 agents and more than 350 employees in Beverly Hills and New York.
In 2014, UTA acquired N. S. Bienstock (the leading broadcast and news agency) to make UTA the world’s largest agency in the broadcast news space.
CEO and Co-Founding Partner talks about the future of content in this video:
Founded in 1975 with the merger of Creative Management Associates and International Famous Agency. In 2005, Rizvi Travers bought controlling interest in ICM for $75 million. In 2006, ICM acquired the Broder Webb Chervin Silbermann Agency.
ICM completed a management buyout and formed a partnership with the new name ICM Partners in 2012. There are 145 agents at ICM Partners.
In the following interview, you can listen to Ted Chervin and Greg Lipstone describe how they restructured ICM, their plans and what they are focused when shaping the agency going forward.
These agencies typically have one to five literary agents.
I have included boutique agencies and companies that I have personally worked with or have had client’s scripts included on the Black List in the last three years.
The following list is made in alphabetical order:
2. Agency for the Performing Arts (APA)
4. Brant Rose Agency
5. Callamaro Literary Agency
Interview with Lisa Callamaro
9. The Gersh Agency (Gersh)
10. Innovative Artists (Innovative)
13. Maggie Roiphe Agency
14. Original Artists
15. Preferred Artists
Interview with: Paul Weitzman
16. Paradigm (Paradigm)
17. Rothman Brecher Kim Agency
18. RWSG Agency
19. Verve (Verve)
In addition, here is a complete list of the WGA Signatory Agencies.
At a bare minimum, if you are considering signing with one of the screenwriting agents at a Hollywood literary agency, it should be on the WGA List.
Interviews With Screenwriting Agents
Check out these three group interview videos which feature many top agents from the major Hollywood literary agencies.
This interview features Maha Dahkil (Motion Picture Agent, CAA), Leslie Siebert (Managing Partner, Gersh), Debbee Klein (Co-head Literary Department, Paradigm), Lorrie Bartlett (Partner, ICM), Sharon Jackson (Partner WME), and Blair Kohan (Motion Picture Agent, UTA).
Agents and executives included in the Hollywood Reporter‘s “Next Gen” List share the biggest misconceptions, pet peeves, and bad advice they’ve been given.
Books About Screenwriting Agents
If you’d like to dive in and learn more about the mindset of screenwriting agents, how they work, and also how they have built their careers, here are three great resources:
- “Secret Agent Man: Is there another way to succeed in Hollywood?” by Tad Friend (In-depth profile of WME agent Dave Wirtshafter)
- The Mailroom: Hollywood History From The Ground Up by David Rensin
- How To Manage Your Agent: A Writer’s Guide To Hollywood Representation by Chad Gervich
As there is constant flux in the agency business, if an agent or agency information should be updated, please email me.
Please note: Agents at the Hollywood literary agencies in this post do not accept unsolicited submissions.