Hollywood’s Abortion Backlash & CAA Fat-Trimming

Katie McGrath
Producer and activist Katie McGrath. Photo: Mike Coppola/Getty Images
Matthew Belloni
June 26, 2022

Did you hear about this meeting? Yesterday morning, a few dozen women in Hollywood and other industries jumped on Zoom to strategize how to respond to the repeal of Roe v. Wade. The gathering, which was quickly assembled amid the widespread outrage by producer and activist Katie McGrath, CAA’s Maha Dakhil, consultant Ngoc Nguyen, and Rebecca Goldman and Catherine St-Laurent of the philanthropy consultancy Acora Partners, began with the reading of an Amanda Gorman poem. Gloria Steinem joined the group, vowing a swift and aggressive response to the rollback of reproductive rights. And the women, which included stars like Amy Schumer, Debra Messing, and Ashley Judd, as well as executives like attorney Nina Shaw, Universal Music Publishing Group C.E.O. Jody Gerson, longtime Glamour editor Cindi Leive, and many others, were provided detailed explanations from doctors and lawyers about the state of play post-Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. And, more importantly, what this group of powerful women can do to help now

It’ll be interesting to see how the entertainment industry responds here. This feels like the beginning of something major. The anger among people I’ve talked to this weekend seems more searing than even at the height of #MeToo and Trump. The next fronts—facilitating travel for women in red states, litigating the issue of whether FDA-approved abortion pills can be distributed in states that have outlawed the procedure, and protecting against further erosion of civil rights—seem like they are now front-and-center for the industry’s donor and activist class. The women on the Zoom were urged to channel their anger into donations to the National Network of Abortion Funds, as soon as possible. 

Still, beyond a strong statement by the Writers Guild board, we haven’t yet seen many calls for Hollywood boycotts of states that ban abortion. I know there’s mixed feelings around town about that tactic, which would largely punish rank-and-file production workers in states like Georgia and Florida if their leaders take action, as expected. But how else can an industry better express its values and create real consequences than through economic sanctions like pulling lucrative productions? We’ll see. 

After about 90 minutes, the informal women’s group vowed to meet weekly for the foreseeable future. Given the names involved, I’m betting we’ll see some actions pretty soon.  

A Notorious Producer Turned… Mineral Water Mogul?

Early readers of What I’m Hearing might recall that one of my first private emails last May concerned David Bergstein. The beleaguered film producer had been released early from prison due to Covid and was “lurking around L.A.” Now I’ve got a more detailed update, and it’s kinda perfect.  

If you’re not familiar, in the 2000s, Bergstein leveraged a friendship with L.A. construction magnate Ron Tutor into ThinkFilm and Capitol Films, which followed a spectacular indie-film trajectory from Cannes yacht parties and red carpets to forced bankruptcy and nasty litigation. In the process, several big-talent films—including Tony Kaye’s Black Water Transit and David O. Russell’s Nailed—were never released as intended, and staffers were stiffed on pay. It was a mess.

But Bergstein didn’t go to federal prison for his film finance shenanigans. After fighting for years with his partners, and unsuccessfully suing The Hollywood Reporter over our coverage of his travails (fun fact: his lawyer, Alex Weingarten, is now sliming around the L.A. courthouse representing Britney Spears’ father), Bergstein was arrested in 2016 and charged with swindling investors in a fund called Weston Capital Asset Management. A New York jury convicted, the judge gave him eight years to “send a message,” and Bergstein was banished to a low-security facility in Taft, California—until Covid led to the release of at-risk prisoners to home confinement.   

So what’s Bergstein up to now? He and his wife, Sarah Bergstein, are quietly reinventing themselves as water moguls. She’s the C.E.O. of BLK, which you might remember as a hot brand in the early 2010s due to its supposedly nutritious minerals that turn the water black. BLK popped up in awards season gift bags and at Soul Cycle classes, and it played a starring role in litigation involving Real Housewives. While BLK is no longer as trendy, it’s still on the shelves at Whole Foods and Erewhon, and in a recent press release, the company called its product “the nation’s leading premium functional water infused with fulvic minerals.”  

While Sarah is C.E.O., David is said to be very much involved in the business, and he recently described himself to one source of mine as “an owner.” He’s also a physical presence in the company’s small office on Agoura Road in Calabasas, according to this source. That’s not far from the home in Hidden Hills where, last May, his lawyer told me he was living. That may mean Bergstein’s home confinement has concluded—or he’s flouting it. (A P.R. rep for BLK did not respond to my query.)

What I’m Hearing is not a space for in-depth coverage of premium beverages with dubious health claims, but the unregulated supplement business seems exactly right for Bergstein. If you Google “fulvic minerals,” you’ll find sites like WebMD that say there is “no good scientific evidence” for their medicinal use. Given Bergstein’s criminal background, BLK might be a company for an enterprising investigative journalist to look into.    

CAA Trims Some ICM Fat

ICM Partners C.E.O. Chris Silbermann generated some serious side-eye glances as he popped into an agency inclusion event on Thursday at the London West Hollywood. As I reported a couple weeks ago, the ICM rank-and-file aren’t thrilled with how the acquisition by CAA is going down, and the agencies will learn this week whether the U.S. government will bless the deal. In advance of the expected approval, CAA has been informing more of the conquered ICM agents of who will be welcomed into the Death Star and who won’t.

Unsurprisingly, the ICM books, sports (mostly soccer) and media rights groups are going over relatively unscathed. And CAA is taking a lot of the talent agents—well, a lot of those remaining after many bailed during the eight months it took this deal to (almost) close. Branding, unscripted TV (including its well-connected leader, Michael Kagan), and the independent and international film group (with its head, Jessica Lacy) are mostly not invited. And the music department is being shaved down to about a half-dozen agents, I’m told. There are gonna be a lot of new managers on the market very soon.