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Uber-Agent Lourd Quietly Takes Center Stage in Writer’s Strike Talks

November 29th, 2007 · 32 Comments

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CAA’s Bryan Lourd, with support from fellow agents, is taking an active role in the renewed talks between the Writers Guild and the AMPTP now entering their fourth day, to help bring the sides together.

By Alex Ben Block

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HOLLYWOOD, CA. (Hollywood Today) – 11/29/2007 – Top Hollywood talent agent Bryan Lourd of Creative Artists Agency, who helped spark renewed talks between Hollywood writers and management , is now taking a formal, hands-on role in the day to day negotiations as a kind of ombudsman, Hollywood Today has confirmed.

Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Tom Cruise, George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Will Ferrell and Reese Withspoon are among Lourd and CAA’s many star clients but in this case the smooth uber agent is functioning as an industry statesman. “He got them back to the table and now he’s playing that mediator type of role,” says a Hollywood insider with connections to CAA. ”But the most important thing is that it works out. (That there is a settlement). It won’t be because of him but he might be able to help if there is a deal to be made. But he was the one who brought them back together. Like any labor situation, it’s tough.”

This thrusts the press shy 47-year-old co-head (with Richard Lovett) of powerhouse agency CAA into the public eye. He enters the talks representing not just his own interests, but also those of a number of other top agents who have designated Lourd as their representative to try and help bring to an end a strike that is devastating to all of them. The other agents, according to sources, include ICM, UTA, William Morris, and Endeavor.

Major agencies have a unique role as they represent both writers and producers, as well as showrunners, actors, directors and others with a major stake in the outcome. In addition, they have complex business arrangements and packaging deals with studios and networks.

In past years other industry figures have risen to help end strikes and bring together the two sides. Through the 1960s, 1970s and into the 1980s, that role was often played by Lew Wasserman, who was president of the biggest talent agency in Hollywood in its era (MCA), and then Chairman of Universal Studios. In those years Wasserman and Sidney J. Sheinberg had built up a huge TV operation at Universal which was shut down by a strike; so he had incentive. Wasserman was also Hollywood’s king maker, and well connected in Washington, so he had the trust and confidence of both sides, and spoke a language that both sides could understand.

Since then others have tried. Attorney Kenneth Zifferin stepped in to help settle the 1988 writers strike. Michael Ovitz, who founded CAA and in 1995 turned it over to Lovett, Lourd and others, tried his hand at being the statesman during the years he was being called “the most powerful man in Hollywood.” Jeffery Katzenberg, both at Disney and DreamWorks, tried to help at times, as did Barry Diller and Sheinberg.

Now it is Lourd taking on the mantle of industry statesman. Despite the dominance of CAA and its blue chip client list, Lourd is little known to the public. And that’s just the way he likes it. In the tradition of ultra press shy Lew Wasserman; Lourd believes the noise in the media should be about his clients, not about him. He is happy in the background making deals, building careers, shaping what we see on TV and the big screen, while raking in millions in commissions and packaging fees.

“Maybe that’s why the other guys deferred to him,” said the Hollywood insider. “Not only is he incredibly smart and has the trust of the key leaders, but it’s recognized that he’s not doing this so he can grab some credit. That’s just not the way he’s built. He doesn’t need it, doesn’t want that. That’s not who he is. He’d be happy if nobody ever knew that he played a role in this. But maybe in part that’s what makes him the right guy.”

The roots of Lourd’s involvement go back to a meeting a group of top agents quietly held with Writers Guild leaders on Nov. 8. Among those in attendance were Jim Berkus of UTA (who had helped get the process going), Jim Wiatt of William Morris, Rick Rosen of Endeavor, Chris Silbermann of ICM and Lourd. At the time the guild was in a standoff with the AMPTP, with Counter saying management would not return to the table unless the strike was suspended, and the guild swearing they would never stop striking until there was a deal.

The agents offered themselves as a collective resource for the guild. After that meeting each of the agents made calls to top moguls to get their cooperation. Lourd met personally with David Young, the guild’s union savvy chief negotiator and hit it off. That budding relationship with Young was a key factor in building a consensus among the other agents that Lourd act as their representative.

During the third week of the strike, Lourd continued his efforts, ultimately arranging a low profile meeting at his home in Beverly Hills that included not just the guild and AMPTP leaders, but also some studio heads such as Bob Iger of Disney and Peter Chernin of News Corp. (which owns Fox). That provided the level of clout that was needed to re-start talks. Within days, Counter dropped his demand that the strike stop before talks start and meetings were scheduled for right after Thanksgiving.

There have now been three full days of talks and a fourth is scheduled for today at an undisclosed location. Things appear to be off to a slow start, but at least they seem serious about finding the way to a settlement.

The entire negotiation is now under a press black out, which all agree is necessary. The daily public statements to the press after prior sessions were like little bombs that each side threw at the other, only inflaming the situation. As part of the blackout, there has been and will be no public announcement of Lourd’s role in the negotiations.

Keeping a low profile is Lourd’s style although he is also a man about town. In October, Fortune magazine wrote of Lourd: “He’s often called the most charming man in Hollywood, and he’s also considered one of the most intimidating. That’s because he is one of the six controlling partners of the entertainment industry’s most influential organization. These days it’s hard to find a movie, television show, musical act, or sports team that isn’t somehow touched by CAA.” When Ovitz left CAA in 1995, some predicted CAA would not be able to remain on top. Instead under Lovett, Lourd and other, it has become even more dominant in movies and TV, and recently made a bold move into sports management. It also does corporate work, not only on mergers and acquisitions, but also on new media, licensing and merchandising, and more. Ovitz was known for his intimidating methods but Lourd, a native of Louisiana, has been able to present a friendly front to the public with his current colleagues at CAA. That doesn’t mean competitors don’t see them as predators, because being an agent isn’t always pretty, but the days when Ovitz would feud with various people and companies in public has been replaced by a smoothly operating business machine that takes a team approach to agenting and a low key approach to media. For all his success, you will rarely find Lourd in the news or photographed unless it occurs because he is accompanying CAA clients to premieres, parties and other events. He is rarely seen in photos even from the arrivals at his annual all star party on the Friday evening before the Oscars each year. It has been called the must attend event for stars and superstars who want to keep on working. No media are allowed to attend with rare exceptions. Lourd’s name also came up in the past year in regards to the case of Hollywood private eye Anthony Pellicano, who frequently worked for Michael Ovitz. After Ovitz flamed out at Disney and formed a personal management company, he tried to recruit talent he had worked with at CAA. This led Lourd and another agent to openly “declare war” on Ovitz and his new company, according to an account in the New York Times. An indictment in the controversial case revealed that Pellicano paid someone in the police department to run a check on the motor vehicle records of Lourd and another CAA agent around the time they were at odds with Ovitz.

In March of 2005, Lourd’s name was in the news again after Republican powerbroker R. Gregory Stevens, age 43, died suddenly on a Saturday morning while a guest in the home of Carrie Fisher, the actress, writer and activist child of Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher. Accounts noted Fisher and Stevens the evening before had attended a party at Lourd’s home.

That wasn’t unusual either. Lourd is a major behind the scenes political power broker in Hollywood. In recent months he has swung his support and $4,600 in donations to the candidacy of Barak Obama. He has also donated $2,300 to the campaign of New Mexico’s Bill Richardson.

Showing he can be bipartisan, Lourd was also widely reported to be a key support and economic advisor to Arnold Schwarzenegger when he successfully ran for Governor of California. Lourd later denied any formal or on-going role after Schwarzenegger took up residence in Sacramento.

Much has been made of the relationship between “Star Wars” star Fisher and Lourd, who were tabloid fodder in the early 1990s, much to Lourd’s embarrassment (and one reason he remains extremely press shy).

For about three years Lourd lived with Fisher as a couple. They never married but did have a child together, a daughter named Billie Katherine, in 1992. They broke up not long afterward when he left her for another man. She was shocked at the time to learn he was gay. As Fisher later described it in her 2005 novel, through her character Suzanne Vale in”The Best Awful,” she “had a problem … She’d had a child with someone who forgot to tell her he was gay. He forgot to tell her, and she forgot to notice.”

In recent years, several gay publications have ranked Lourd as one of the most powerful men in Hollywood. As it happens as he is involved in negotiations tomorrow (Thursday) the WGA Gay & Lesbian Writers Committee and other gay writers and talent will be holding a special picketing session at NBC Studios in Burbank.

Lourd will be tested by the big studios and networks on one side, and organized labor on the other, to find common ground and reach a settlement. He is expected to use his considerable negotiating skills to try and get the industry back to work. However, this could also backfire if the strike drags on into the spring. It is one thing to step into Lew’s shoes and another to fill them. Lourd has a better chance than most to do the job. Lord knows the industry needs Lourd right now to get back to work.

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