Agencies fighting over commissions on deals negotiated in the past for clients who have now moved on is nothing new in the courts but fighting over deals yet to happen is certainly a novel twist. Yet …
EXCLUSIVE: In between giving interviews, Jeff Berg keeps signing new agents. The latest is Marc Helwig who just left ICM for Berg’s Resolution Agency which is ramping up its international filmmakers’ coverage. The multilingual Helwig’s clients include Mama director Andy Muschietti and his sister, Mama co-writer and producer Barbara Muschietti, …
TUESDAY AM UPDATE: First, you should know that Jeff Berg and his new Resolution Agency colleagues thought this caption contest was hilarious. Like, duh, they know how old they are. They also know that they’re wiser and richer and badder than all you wusses who complained it was ageist. …
I just obtained a draft copy of Jeff Berg’s news release announcing his Resolution full-service talent and literary agency. There’s not much new compared with what I scooped on Sunday (EXCLUSIVE: Jeff Berg Opens New Agency ‘Resolution’ Monday; UPDATE: Investor ID) except that principal investor Jahm Najafi will serve on Resolution’s Board of Directors:
Jeffrey Berg has announced the formation of Resolution, a new full-service talent and literary agency, which has opened in Los Angeles and New York. Mr. Berg, who served as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of ICM for 27 years, will be the Chairman of Resolution. Entertainment entrepreneur, film and television producer and music agent Jeff Franklin, will serve as Chief Operating Officer.
“As a founding shareholder, I am delighted to partner with Najafi Companies, a strategic private investment firm in the media industry, and Jeff Franklin, a recognized agent and builder in the music business, to launch Resolution. I look forward to working with an exceptional and diverse team of talents to provide our clients with the highest level of advisory and transactional services.” Mr. Najafi will serve on Resolution’s Board of Directors along with Mr. Berg and Mr. Franklin. Jahm Najafi, CEO of Najafi Companies added, “There is no smarter, strategic and knowledgeable agent than Jeff Berg. We look forward to sharing and building this progressive agency in an evolving entertainment marketplace.”
“We are fortunate to have Jahm and his team as our financial partners,” Mr. Berg said. “They are respected and experienced investors who share our passion for the worldwide entertainment community and bring deep critical industrial insights to our company.”
Mr. Franklin added, “With new office space secured and construction completed, our focus is to now expand the recruitment of agents to create a new enduring institution in our industry. Resolution will be active in all of the critical entertainment areas: film, television, theater, music, literary publishing, digital media, and marketing consultation.”
Resolution will focus on the core functions of talent representation but will also provide a wide range of financial and advisory services including the sale of libraries and catalogues, financial transactions for media companies, raising capital for independent and studio films, providing restructuring advice and the sale and licensing of independently financed films and television series to the domestic and international markets.
“After a long run at my former company, I want to re-engage in a new business again as an owner-operator, and Jahm and Jeff became my logical partners,” Mr. Berg stated. “Resolution has a business plan that allows for internal growth, and it also has the committed capital for outside strategic acquisitions.”
The executive team will include former WME Vice President of Finance and Controller Laura Li who will become Resolution’s Chief Financial Officer; former Universal Pictures and MGM senior international marketing and distribution executive Randy Greenberg who will serve as Co-Head of Operations and Business Development; and former Universal Pictures Executive-Vice President of Business Affairs and former CEO of Intermedia Pictures Jon Gumpert will act as General Counsel and Head of Business Affairs.
EXCLUSIVE UPDATE 7 PM: I can now reveal the identity of Jeff Berg’s principal investor and financial partner. His name is Jahm Najafi, a former Salomon Bros banker active in real estate and private equity with investments in diverse companies and brands. According to news reports, he isn’t in the deal-making stratosphere, but the CEO of Phoenix-based private equity firm Najafi Companies is in the mix of many high-profile deals. MORE BELOW
EXCLUSIVE 1:54 PM: Inside 1801 Century Park East on the entire 23rd floor, Jeff Berg‘s new full-service Resolution agency capitalized with about $200 million is opening its doors on Monday. The offices are still being painted and the bathrooms are a work in progress. But the longtime ICM Chairman at age 65 just moved into the new space this weekend now that the phones and Internet are up and running and the conference room is finished. Today he’s calling clients. He’s already more than a week ahead of schedule. Over the next six months, Hollywood and New York and Nashville will witness a series of announcements about agents being hired from the top tenpercenteries and midlevel executives being culled from the Industry. Most are still in secret negotiations on Resolution contracts, others are signing non-disclosure agreements, several are in the process of being raided, and still more are daily dialing Berg to inquire about coming over. Their own companies don’t know they’re even contemplating departures. There hasn’t been a major full-service agency start-up like this since Endeavor was formed in 1995 by four former ICM agents who left Berg et al in a midnight stealth. Resolution will keep making headlines as Berg slowly builds his film/TV/talent/literary/music/publishing/digital tenpercentery to an anticipated staffing level of 35 agents plus support staff in LA, 25 agents in NYC, and 10 agents in Nashville. He’s still not settled on his Manhattan office, looking at a variety of spaces in Midtown, Downtown, Chelsea. “He’ll figure that out,” an insider tells me.
It only took him 8-to-10 weeks to set up Resolution doing it primarily by mobile phone, a gmail account, and temporary digs. Berg already has Resolution’s executive infrastructure put together: his COO will be his new partner, former music agent Jeff Franklin, CFO will be former William Morris Agency Finance Director Laura Li, and chief counsel will be former Universal Business Affairs’ Jonathan Gumpert (father of Andrew Gumpert who runs business affairs at Sony Pictures). Still to come is a “people person” senior agent who will function as the catalyst to help keep morale at a high level — because no one knows better than Iceberg what his reputation was and still is. I understand that Berg and Franklin went far with a top CAA senior agent who ultimately stayed put.
2ND UPDATE: Whenever the exit of a major Hollywood player like Jeff Berg occurs late on a Friday, it is rarely by chance. I am hearing that the exit of Berg, and Carol Bodie for that matter, …
ICM Implosion Stopped: Chris Silbermann Stays, Less Power For Jeff Berg
ICM Part 3: Agency Board & Rizvi Blow Off Silbermann’s Demands
ICM Part 2: Silbermann Forces Decision By Rizvi; Relying On Mike Ovitz
ICM Imploding! Silbermann & Berg Battle For Control
EXCLUSIVE: Insiders are telling me that ICM President Chris Silbermann has completed his management buyout except for the “little legalities”, thus putting an official end to what was a destabilizing period for the agency. The tenpercentery is going to be 100% owned and operated by its agents as soon as the lawyers “put in the periods and semicolons” on the contracts. ”This is truly exciting to be able to say to agents, ‘You’re going to own your company.’” It will emphasize ICM’s entrepreneurial culture and begin an expansion,” a source tells me. I understand that some agents are going to be exiting as a result. (“Those agents not asked to be partner will take it personally,” one of my sources explains.) Now it’s a waiting game to see who stays and who goes. (I’ll report only confirmed names, not rumored.) ICM so far has announced no details about this restructuring. Silbermann’s goal over the past year has been to take over the tenpercentery and obtain more ownership of the agency from its major investor: Connecticut-based Rizvi Traverse Management which has owned 40% of ICM. After some very difficult months behind the scenes and then played out in public, Suhail Rizvi eventually decided to play ball with Silbermann’s demands — or face the threat that his senior TV agents might walk out of the tenpercentery. Assisting Silbermann in this power play was Rick Levy, ICM’s Chief Business Development Officer & General Counsel who was a longtime confidante to ICM Chairman/CEO Jeff Berg until this buyout plan was hatched. I understand that Berg’s ownership of ICM also is being bought out and he has been offered to continue at the agency as Chairman Emeritus.
ICM IMPLOSION ENDS: Chris Silbermann Will Stay At Agency With More Power; Jeff Berg Will Stay With Less; Details By Xmas
BREAKING… EXCLUSIVE… 3RD UPDATE: I’ve just learned from insiders that major investor Suhail Rizvi has made a decision regarding the future of ICM. And it’s timed to tonight’s ICM holiday party so the staff can enjoy themselves instead of worrying about the agency’s future. “Management wanted to close the deal today so its employees have a reason to celebrate as well as to send a message to the other agencies,” an insider says. Rizvi is ensuring that President Chris Silbermann will stay at the agency. Chairman/CEO Jeff Berg also will stay. Whether their titles will change remains to be seen. But the power inside the agency will definitely change as the management buyout takes shape: Silbermann and his TV camp will have more power. Berg and his motion picture division will have less. Let me emphasize that neither Silbermann nor Berg will characterize publicly the coming settlement the way I’m doing it here: this is my insiders’ assessment of the Rizvi deal. I understand that both Silbermann and Berg are pleased with the way Rizvi has put an end to what has been a destabilizing period for the agency. Other agencies aren’t so sure: “They have successfully shifted the conversation into a management buyout story, but the fundamental problem still persists. In other words, they may have stopped the implosion but they haven’t stopped the erosion. More agents and clients are going to be exiting,” one rival agency exec predicts.
ICM staff have not yet been informed what the future will hold After my story broke, news of the partnership was finally announced late this afternoon in a company-wide memo before tonight’s holiday party. Still to be determined is who will become partners because of the management buyout and who will be left out in the cold. “Everyone at ICM holding Class A and Class B stock are part of the management buyout. Not everyone who’s part of the management buyout will be offered to join the partnership,” an insider says. Silbermann said at a staff meeting yesterday merely that an “announcement” is coming in 2 or 3 days. My insiders say details of the Rizvi deal will be worked out between now and Christmas. Meanwhile Silbermann has been busy extending his TV camp’s contracts by 3 years. “There will be a restructuring of ICM,” one of my sources explains. “Even Jeff is saying this is a deal that could be good for everybody. But there’s now no doubt that Chris will have more power, and Jeff will have less power.” Insiders now expect Silbermann to steer ICM into more of a TV agency than a movie agency with the music and publishing departments remaining at same strength.
Both the Silbermann and Berg camps as well as Rizvi realized that a decision had to come sooner rather than later because of the hundreds of calls coming in daily to the agency from clients, managers, and lawyers worried about ICM imploding. According to my sources, Rizvi, whose Connecticut-based Rizvi Traverse Management owns 40% of ICM, this week explained in several phone calls to key senior agents what he was thinking. Rizvi was especially perturbed that the ICM schism was playing out in the media. (Deadline broke the story and has been first on every development. “Where is Deadline getting all this accurate information,” Rizvi asked the agents.) Rizvi explained in the phone calls that he had “reservations” about Silbermann because the ICM president was “out of control” and “immature”. But Rizvi went on to say, “If I go with Jeff, then who’s going to run TV?”
In recent days, Silbermann sensed that Rizvi was going to back his power play. Chris holed up in the 7th Floor conference room with ICM’s CFO, coming out only to tell his camp, “Suhail is going my way. I’ll be in charge.” As for Berg, Silbermann’s camp says Jeff wants to wrap his long agency tenure within 3 to 5 years and leave with dignity. But Berg’s camp says he has no imminent plans to exit the agency and expects to keep repping his clients for a long while.
Though the friction between the two men has been ongoing since April, ICM’s crisis began last month when Silbermann confided to senior staff that he was leaving with several key ICM execs and starting his own Hollywood TV agency.
UPDATE: ICM investor Suhail Rizvi and the ICM Board today blew off yesterday’s demands by ICM President Chris Silbermann for a decision and board meeting about the management buyout. The reason cited is that Silbermann has yet to put anything in writing. “I think there’s a lot of concern as to whether his plan is deliverable or executable. There’s nothing to consider until it exists,” one insider tells me. ”He’s been told to put it in writing.” Another of my sources details, “There was this morning an informal board conversation so early and fractious and ill-informed that we’re not calling it a board meeting because there’s not enough information from Silbermann to call it a board meeting.”
So now the onus is on Silbermann. Until then, no one will know whether Rizvi Traverse Management will accept a buyout of its 40% stake in ICM. Or whether the ICM Board will agree to it as well. This all begs the question why Silbermann acted so prematurely. ”Chris went to NY Thursday because he felt he was not getting a serious enough consideration by Suhail. So Chris tried to goose the issue,” one of my sources explains. That, after Silbermann has been threatening for months that he and his clique would leave the agency if he doesn’t get what he wants.
Meanwhile, Silbermann’s management buyout plan remains so ill-formed that he can’t even explain it in detail yet to ICM’s agents. At one recent point, Silbermann confessed to several agents in his camp that they might have to expect a significant pay cut – even a halving of their salaries – if financial backing or an asset-based loan can’t be obtained. That took the agents by surprise, to say the least. Also, Silbermann claimed that ICM Chairman Jeff Berg was on board with this management buyout when, in fact, Berg is neither for or against it since his camp hasn’t been given any details about it yet.
As for Silbermann asking for Michael Ovitz’s advice and help to raise money, it’s well-known in Hollywood that Silbermann and his family have had many personal and professional ties to Ovitz. Also, Wall Street investment bankers involved in studio slate financial deals are confirming that they’ve been approached by Ovitz on Silbermann’s behalf. “Ovitz has been running all over the place trying to raise money for Chris to take over the company,” one sources tells me. But without success, I’m told.
“No one thinks Ovitz can raise $50 million let alone the $200 million necessary to buy out Rizvi. The view of that is ‘good luck’,” one source tells me. That Ovitz is involved at all has even put ICM’s reputation in jeopardy and led to consternation in many Hollywood circles. As one major player whose phone has been ringing off the hook about it summed up the reaction for me, “They think that Mike Ovitz is the biggest doofus on the planet, and Chris Silbermann is the second biggest doofus.”
Another latest development is that
ICM Imploding, Part 2: Chris Silbermann Forces Decision By Largest Investor And Calls ICM Board Meeting Friday; Secretly Relying On Mike Ovitz’s Advice And Help
BREAKING … ICM president Chris Silbermann and ICM Chief Business Development Officer & General Counsel Rick Levy took the red-eye from LA last night and arrived in New York this morning to confront the agency’s investor Suhail Rizvi and demand a management buyout as soon as possible. The pair’s goal is to eliminate the tenpercentery of majority shareholder Rizvi Traverse Management. This follows a 13-day-old demand by Silbermann and Levy to Rizvi to allow the management buyout. At that time, Rizvi said he would make a decision by Christmas. But that was not soon enough for Silbermann and Levy, who today tried to force Rizvi to make his decision sooner. Rizvi told the pair that he would have an answer for them Friday. Also Friday, Silbermann and Levy have demanded an ICM board meeting so they can present the management buyout proposal. At this point, however, sources tell me that the pair have not submitted a written proposal in advance to the board. Whether they can present a cohesive written proposal by Friday remains to be seen. Both Silbermann and Levy are on their way back from New York to LA tonight.
But what is really startling about ICM’s Silbermann right now is that he has involved none other than Michael Ovitz in his plans to take control of the agency. When I first heard about this several months ago, I asked Silbermann and Ovitz separately if they were speaking, planning, or at all involved together in ICM activities. Both Silbermann and Ovitz privately denied it. But I can confirm that Silbermann has been talking almost daily to Ovitz about the management buyout plan, as often as four times a day recently. My sources have seen the phone logs. Insiders tell me that Silbermann went to Ovitz for help in obtaining the necessary financial backing to accomplish the management buyout. I’m told that Ovitz is not interested in putting his own money into the agency at this point, but has been trying to introduce Silbermann to various financial backers. The fact that Silbermann has asked for and is receiving Ovitz’s advice and help in this ICM matter will become a hot-button issue not just inside ICM but around Hollywood in general.
You can always count on it. It seems there is always some talent agency honcho who revives the decades-old quest to gain Oscar voting rights for agents. The subject always comes up, but the answer, whatever the merits of the idea, will always be the same. It will NEVER happen. I’ve heard the effort is gearing up once more and agency movers and shakers in the movement for equal Academy voting rights are trying to find sympathetic ears in the media to further the cause and make some noise again. Of course, the Academy has traditionally held a different opinion. Agents are allowed in only as associate members. The number of agents with that status in the Academy is well under 100 and has included major names like Jeff Berg, Kevin Huvane, Patrick Whitesell and many others like WME’s Brian Swardstrom, who actually has his own Oscar but not a vote (keep reading for more on that). Being an associate means they get invites to attend Academy events and maybe access to freebie movies at local theaters during Oscar time, but they don’t have their own branch or any reps on the Board of Governors and no voting rights whatsoever, kind of like illegal aliens.