United Talent Agency, Inc. Business Information, Profile, and History
UTA's consistent annual growth has been ensured by a commitment to constantly uncovering and nurturing the next wave of bold artists, resulting in the agency's roster of outstanding actors, filmmakers, screenwriters, television writers, producers, authors, recording artists and pop culture icons.
History of United Talent Agency, Inc.
United Talent Agency, Inc., is one of the top American talent agencies, representing film and television actors, directors, writers, and producers; authors; musicians; video game creators; and corporations seeking media-based marketing opportunities. The firm also packages film, television, and video game projects by bringing artists and financial backers together. Some of UTA's best-known clients include actors Johnny Depp, Harrison Ford, and Charlize Theron; Sopranos creator David Chase; Law & Order creator Dick Wolf; and writer/directors M. Night Shyamalan, Wes Anderson, and Joel and Ethan Coen. Ownership of the firm is vested in more than 20 of its top agents.
United Talent Agency was founded in January of 1991 by the merger of two California-based agencies, Bauer Benedek and Leading Artists. The former was run by one-time William Morris Agency representative Marty Bauer and entertainment lawyer Peter Benedek, while Leading Artists' senior partners included Jim Berkus and Gary Cosay. Each firm was respected within the industry, but both found themselves overshadowed by giants like Creative Artists Agency (CAA), International Creative Management (ICM), and William Morris, and the two organizations decided to combine forces to boost their stature.
Founded in 1986, Bauer Benedek had become known for representing movie actors and directors, while the ten-year-old Leading Artists had a stronger presence in television. The latter area appeared to offer much potential for growth, and the newly-christened United Talent Agency (UTA) soon began broadening its roster of TV comedy writers, with early clients including contributors to hits like The Simpsons, Married...With Children, and The Wonder Years. Others represented by the agency included movie writer/directors Lawrence Kasdan, Brian De Palma, Steven Soderbergh, and brothers Joel and Ethan Coen; Seinfeld creator/writer Larry David; and actors Mike Myers, Bridget Fonda, Alan Alda, and Charles Grodin. As its business grew, the firm soon began to add agents to the 26 it had started with.
Although the media stereotype of a Hollywood talent agent is a hyper-aggressive individual wearing an Armani suit and clutching a constantly-ringing cellphone (and some do resemble this model), the field is in fact regulated by the State of California and agencies work under contracts with entertainment industry unions. By law agents receive 10 percent of a client's earnings, and those who handle as many as several dozen at once and work long hours are able to earn more than $1 million per year. Top producers at UTA could also be elevated to the status of partner, after which they would share in the earnings of the agency as a whole.
Key to an agent's success is obtaining advance knowledge of upcoming projects that a client's name could be attached to, and each cultivates a network of studio assistants and other low-level industry employees to provide this information. Another popular way for agencies to find clients work is to pre-package a project by attaching several prominent names to a script and then offering it to studios, networks, or other financial backers.
In the fall of 1992 UTA lured six key agents away from rival InterTalent Agency. The experienced agents brought to the firm clients like Laura Dern, Sting, Mia Farrow, and Jason Patric. Three of the six agents, David Schiff, J.J. Harris, and Judy Hofflund, were made partners, joining the ranks of Marty Bauer, Peter Benedek, Jim Berkus, Gary Cosay, Jeremy Zimmer, Robert Stein, and Gavin Polone.
UTA continued to expand its roster of television writers during the early 1990s, and by 1994 the firm's clients included three-fourths of the staff of the hit comedy Roseanne. The agency sought those who worked on dramas, adding top names like Law & Order creator/writer Dick Wolf and Homicide: Life on the Street writer/director Tom Fontana as it expanded in this category as well.
In 1995 pop icon Michael Jackson left industry powerhouse CAA and selected UTA to find him acting work. He would be represented by partner Nick Stevens, who had helped Jim Carrey win roles that made him a star. The firm also formed a TV talent division that would be headed by Stevens and Martin Lesak during the year, while partner Judy Hofflund left to become a personal manager. Well-known performers on UTA's roster now included comic Martin Lawrence and Barry Humphries, better known as "Dame Edna," and the company was also seeking projects for production companies like Colossal Pictures, which had created animation for MTV's Liquid Television.
Independent Film Unit Formed in 1996
In 1996 UTA formed a new division to help independent filmmakers package projects and secure financing, while at the same time providing its other talent with more work. It would be headed by former Turner Network Television executive Howard M. Cohen. Rival agencies like CAA, ICM, and William Morris had also recently formed similar units to capitalize on the growing market for independent films.
In the spring of 1996 UTA dismissed partner and television department head Gavin Polone, after an agent accused him of sexual harassment and threatened to go public if she was not released from her contract. Polone immediately threatened legal action, and UTA soon issued a public apology and agreed to buy out his contract. He was one of the firm's most powerful agents, and his departure cost UTA Seinfeld's Larry David, among others. A year later the agency sued Polone, alleging that he was guilty of defrauding clients, sexual misconduct, and other unethical behavior. His subsequent cross-complaint included allegations of improprieties by others in the agency and also revealed that UTA had agreed to pay him $6 million over two years to settle the broken contract as well as for libel and defamation. The suits were resolved several years later with Polone (who had by now begun working with former partner Judy Hofflund) receiving an undisclosed settlement.
The fracas with Polone was one of several during 1996, which had also seen UTA sue agent Jay Sures after he, too, threatened to reveal improprieties if he was not let out of his contract. That case was resolved more amicably, however; Sures stayed with the firm and was later named co-head of its television unit and made a partner. The turmoil of the Polone and Sures situations and partner Robert Stein's move to William Morris, along with other departures, reportedly led the agency to hire an in-house therapist to soothe its staff's frayed nerves.
In June of 1996 UTA's partners voted to name Marty Bauer and Jim Berkus co-chairmen, with Bauer also named president. The firm had always been run by the consensus of its partners, though Bauer had earlier given up the title of president because he reportedly felt his duties were unclear. In 1997 he again stepped down and the following year left the firm to found a management company, leaving UTA to be run by a board of six senior partners led by chairman Jim Berkus.
In 1998 the firm boosted five more agents to partner status, bringing the total number to 12 (out of 60 agents), and wooed Tracey Jacobs away from ICM, who brought with her such clients as Johnny Depp and Jennifer Jason Leigh. A triumph of the late 1990s was the agency's packaging of the HBO series The Sopranos, created by client David Chase. It was initially presented to Fox and several other broadcast networks without success before a deal with the pay-cable firm was landed. After its debut in early 1999 the show quickly became a signature franchise of the network, and went on to win numerous Emmy awards.
In the summer of 1999 UTA was named one of the top two broadcast television talent agencies by Hollywood Reporter, just behind the William Morris Agency. Series the firm's clients worked on included God, the Devil and Bob and Get Real. The agency also began representing director Barry Levinson during the year and made 29-year-old Sue Naegle its youngest partner to date. She had started out in UTA's mailroom seven years earlier.
Early 2000 saw the firm take on two major CAA defectors, actress Heather Locklear and pop star Madonna, the latter of whom would use the agency to seek acting work. Others signed during the year included Jonathan Pryce and Hope Davis. The agency's roster also now included actors Kelsey Grammer and Matt LeBlanc, as well as writer/producers Bruce Helford (The Drew Carey Show), Gary David Goldberg (Spin City), Steve Levitan (Just Shoot Me), and Joss Whedon (Buffy, the Vampire Slayer).
2001: Music Department Expanded; Reality Unit Formed
In 2001 UTA hired well-known agent Rob Prinz to oversee and expand its music department and launch a new booking and touring division. Onetime CAA representative Prinz, who had recently left Artist Group International, brought with him clients like Ricky Martin and Celine Dion. 2001 also saw the firm add names like Sharon Stone and Tori Spelling to its acting roster, while losing Garry Shandling to Endeavor. Several agents were lost to rival firms, as well, while literary agent Barbara Dreyfus joined from ICM.
The success of "reality" television shows like CBS' Survivor wrought huge changes in the television industry, and in 2001 UTA formed a new alternative programming department to work in this area. It was headed by Chris Coelen, whose clients included Who Wants to Be a Millionaire executive producer Michael Davies, American High creator/executive producer R.J. Cutler, and Monster Garage creator Thom Beers. The unit would help package programs like the Carmen Elektra vehicle Livin' Large and the reality courtroom series Law & Order: Crime and Punishment for NBC, which was co-created by Dick Wolf. The unit also worked with international clients like Britain's Wall to Wall and RDF Media, the latter of which produced the British and U.S. hits Wife Swap and Supernanny.
The year 2002 saw partner and co-head of the firm's television unit Chris Harbert leave to join CAA, while UTA won agent Darren Statt away from Endeavor, along with some of his clients including Mummy star The Rock. The following year partner J.J. Harris left to start a management company, though her clients, including Charlize Theron, would continue to be represented by UTA. 2003 also saw the head of the firm's independent film unit, Howard Cohen, leave to found a film distribution company called Roadside Attractions. While at UTA he had helped package and sell more than 50 titles including Igby Goes Down and Girl With A Pearl Earring. The unit would continue to operate through UTA's motion picture literary department, run by Jeremy Zimmer and Dan Aloni. Also during the year, the agency started a joint venture called UTA Urban Music with Team Lunatics to represent rap and hip-hop performers for tours, film, and TV appearances.
Seeking to spread ownership of the firm to more of its top agents, in 2004 UTA elevated seven to the status of partner, raising the total to 20. They included the heads of its television talent, production, and book departments. 2004 also saw four younger agents let go, and a $10 million lawsuit filed against the firm by Handprint Entertainment after one of that company's staffers was hired by UTA. The suit alleged that he had taken confidential materials with him, and UTA later sued its lawyers, claiming the company had been given bad advice at the time of his hiring. Year's end saw the loss of agent Adam Isaacs to Endeavor, along with his A-list clients that included Keira Knightley, Matt LeBlanc, Juliette Binoche, and Helena Bonham Carter.
Videogame Office Opened in San Francisco in 2005
In January of 2005 UTA opened an office in gaming industry hotspot San Francisco to seek work for its clients in the lucrative videogame market. Industry news Web site founder Jonathan Epstein was hired to head the operation, which would work with both game makers and retailers to seek deals like in-game advertising and marketing partnerships, plus jobs for the agency's talent. Clients would include the likes of Amazon.com and Destroy All Humans game maker THQ, Inc., for which UTA would seek product placements and other marketing opportunities in movie and television projects.
By now the firm had nearly 100 agents, and during the year three more were made partners. They included alternative TV unit head Chris Coelen, who had helped package and launch 31 reality series in the previous 12 months; Lisa Hallerman, whose clients included Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen; and Sharon Sheinwold, who represented Jack Black, among others. Recent hit movies packaged by the firm included Dodgeball and Wedding Crashers, which featured agency clients including Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, and Owen Wilson.
2005 also saw partners Martin Lesak, Jason Heyman, and motion picture literary department head Dan Aloni defect to CAA, taking with them clients like Will Ferrell and directors Tom Shadyac (Bruce Almighty) and Christopher Nolan (Batman Begins), while partner David Schiff left to start a management firm. Clients added during the year included Buffy the Vampire Slayer star Sarah Michelle Gellar and actress Liv Tyler, with losses including Jason Alexander and Paris Hilton. For the 2005-06 television season, according to a survey by TVTracker.com, UTA once again had the second-highest number of clients working on scripted broadcast network shows. Its total of 226 was only slightly behind leader CAA's 231.
The company's efforts to curry favor with assistants and other underlings at sources of gossip like studios, production companies, and law firms continued with a holiday present of a license plate-sized piece of chocolate that featured the UTA logo, which was sent out to 1,400 people. Some also contained vouchers good for cash prizes of between $100 and $5,000.
In early 2006 partner Marty Bowen left to co-found a production firm, while partner and reality unit head Chris Coelen left the agency to run the U.S. subsidiary of RDF Media, after which UTA sued him for breach of contract and theft of confidential information. In the spring the industry press began reporting rumors that UTA was planning to merge with rival agency Endeavor, though both refused comment.
Fifteen years after its founding, United Talent Agency, Inc. had risen to become one of the top talent agencies in Hollywood, representing a wide range of actors, writers, directors, and others. Its roster included many influential names, and despite the sometimes-volatile nature of the industry it appeared well-positioned for continued success.
Motion Pictures; Television; Alternative Television; Digital Media; Books; Music; Marketing; Production.
Creative Artists Agency, Inc.; International Creative Management, Inc.; William Morris Agency, Inc.; Brillstein-Grey Entertainment; The Endeavor Agency; Paradigm Talent and Literary Agency; The Gersh Agency.
- Key Dates
- 1991 The Bauer Benedek and Leading Artists agencies merge to form United Talent.
- 1992 Six former InterTalent agents join the firm.
- 1996 The independent film division is created.
- 2001 The music department is expanded and a TV reality show unit is formed.
- 2005 A videogame agency is opened in San Francisco; seven new partners boost the firm's total to 20.
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