Earlier this week, I was chatting with a pretty veteran CAA agent who was trying to convince me how disgusting it was that rivals WME and UTA had been calling clients to ask if they were still comfortable with their representatives. He was referring, of course, to the fallout from CAA motion picture co-head Maha Dakhil’s online posts suggesting Israel’s response to the Hamas attack was “genocide,” which drew outrage around town and led to her demotion. By Tuesday, Aaron Sorkin had defected from CAA to WME, citing Dakhil’s comments, and the chum was officially in the water, with sharks attempting to execute that time-honored Hollywood tradition of leveraging a rival’s perceived weakness. The Dakhil crisis, after all, is CAA’s first truly vulnerable moment since the “lawless midnight raid” of 2015, when a big chunk of its comedy group bailed for UTA. And the controversy has come on the heels of Julia Ormond’s bombshell lawsuit claiming that the agency’s leaders had “enabled’ sexual abuse by Harvey Weinstein, an allegation they deny.
Bryan Lourd, Richard Lovett, and Kevin Huvane assured their many eye-rolling employees at a town hall on Wednesday that things are great and oh, by the way, don’t post offensive stuff online. But they’ve also been working hard to methodically reassure upset clients and head off other potential defectors. One lost piece of business is a blip; two, three, four is a potential exodus. I’m told they also quietly parted ways this week with an assistant in the music department who spouted antisemitic comments on her social feeds. Still, my CAA contact continued, apparently clutching his pearls, “it’s embarrassing, taking advantage of a war to win business.”
Gross, maybe, but pretty normal, honestly, and it was amusing that anyone at CAA would complain about poachers. Theirs is the agency most built on poaching, going all the way back to Michael Ovitz, and often during times of perceived weakness. Back in 2016, when he was still at CAA, Michael Kives helped leverage those photos of Endeavor C.E.O. Ari Emanuel meeting with president-elect (and then-client) Donald Trump to eventually steal away Seth MacFarlane, a major anti-Trumper. In 2005, CAA and the others were all over William Morris president Dave Wirtschafter’s clients after he was quoted calling Sarah Michelle Gellar “nothing at all” in a New Yorker profile. CAA once poached a hot client from an agent friend of mine while she was on maternity leave. Finding an in—any in—and making even a happy talent un-happy is kinda the CAA way. Being good at it is often what separates the signers from the servicers.