How Will the CAA and ICM Merger Affect Writers and Directors?

'Entourage'Credit: HBO
How are writers' and directors' lives going to change with one less agency? 

After news that two of the big four talent agencies were combining, it seemed like all of Hollywood Twitter was buzzing with theories, worries, and predictions.

CAA and ICM becoming one is exciting news. Something like this does not happen often, so we must talk about it. While we don't have the details on the merger, like the money aspect, which agents are staying, and the rest, we have read through the implications and want to lay it all out for you. 

Today, we will talk about what this means for Hollywood and for the writers and directors who want to break into the business. 

Let's get started. 

How Will the CAA and ICM Merger Affect Writers and Directors?

We should establish something at the top. This merger is about so much more than film and television. It's about sports clients, music, influencers, and about capturing a market share that keeps CAA atop the agency rankings. There's also a ton of complicated behind-the-scenes matters, like the competition WME trying to go public and the entire town shifting toward streaming, surviving a pandemic, and an array of other money-making ventures.

Oh, and ICM has a massive publishing house, which means more intellectual property for CAA clients. 

There's lots of nuance to everything here. 

Hollywood is in flux. It has been for a decade or more, but the pandemic pressed the accelerator on what's already happening. As a result, everything is shifting toward streaming. Almost every studio has its over-the-top service now, and then you also have Netflix, Amazon, Apple+, Hulu, and many more. 

So the climate in which this is happening is new territory. It's the wild west. 

I say all this to give you a view from 10,000 feet, so you see where the world is. Now how will it affect you? 

Writer and Director Opportunities and Challenges 

Generally speaking, I think all the worry about there being "fewer agents" to represent writers and directors is a little off base. There might be, but people trying to break in should be focusing on getting managers who help advise their careers. There might be more managers available. The reason being, many agents have left their respective places of business over the last few years to become part of management companies or open their management shops. 

They're doing this to use the contacts and Rolodexes they developed to manage clients, with the ability to produce. Again, they were not allowed to do that as agents, but if they were good at packaging and breaking specs, being a manager offered them more money and control. And, again, they can produce that project as well. 

For directors, that means more projects looking for directors. 

The actual information that you need to know with the merger is that this just pushes the studios further along the path they were on. They are no longer in the business of building movies. Now they are banks. They're just here to give money to packages brought to them. So it would help if you had a good manager or agent that is adept at creating these sellable options. 

There's some other good news. Sort of. We know the phrase in streaming wars, "Content is king." Well, I know most of us want to tell emotionally effective stories and become artists in Hollywood. But the movie industry is shifting way more toward content. If you can find producers who want to support that initiative, that's good. 

Regardless, we see all streamers desperate for "content." Netflix is releasing around one movie a week. Maybe more. Other streamers will follow. That means a ton more opportunity for writers and directors to make their stories part of that wave. You can see that happening in 2022 and 2023, as the pandemic hopefully winds down and people get back to shooting. 

If you break in with a hit that gets a lot of eyes, you'll probably get some leeway to pursue your other options as you go. Again, hopefully. 

It's not all good news...

One thing I am worried about is a super-agency being created that actually doesn't help writers. Right now, it's already hard to get agencies to care about up-and-coming and mid-level writers. If you're not at the showrunner level in TV or a million-dollar biller, it doesn't seem smart for an agency to represent you right now. They need earners, not workers. 

Remember all that packaging I was talking about? It comes with a ton of free development. That means writers are being paid less and less. So agents care less and less. It also means writers and directors are sitting around and working a lot to get ideas ready for free. They're doing it for producers and managers who aren't paying them.

You could be waiting six months to never get paid on a hot spec. You're tweaking for actors, producers, and even directors to go into a fully packaged studio, and you can still get passed on or rejected. 

Along with this comes a real consequence to Hollywood's future. You have to hope the best writers and directors can work and rise to the top. But how long can they hold out without being paid? Will we lose a generation of filmmakers who can't survive in one of the most expensive cities in the world because the industry is collapsing in on itself for now. Will only rich people and nepotism cases be able to get ahead? Will anyone take a risk on signing and developing a new voice? Especially if it's not profitable? 

The influence the big agencies used to have was the ability to push and launch people's careers. Those days are over. These places will focus on the top 1% of their clients who make the most money. 

While we might see some of the fired agents go into business for themselves, there's no guarantee any of them will be interested in banking on new voices or mid-level voices who want to build a new future. 

We'll try to keep you posted as this develops. Let us know what you think in the comments.      

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