Looking to Expand, a Hollywood Agency Seeks a Financial Boost
When talks over the Walt Disney Company’s attempted sale of Miramax Films bogged down last month, Bryan Lourd, a managing partner in the powerful Creative Artists Agency, jumped in.
by Bob and Harvey Weinstein and the investor Ron Burkle, worked phones, rattled cages, poured on charm when things got sticky and lobbied the Disney chief executive, Robert A. Iger — until talks fell apart, and Disney moved on to the next prospective buyer.
It isn’t easy being a superagent these days.
Mr. Lourd’s clients are behind perhaps a dozen of the biggest studio movies this year, like Robert Downey Jr. in “Iron Man 2” or Oliver Stone with his coming “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.” But Mr. Lourd, in close coordination with his business partners, has been pushing to expand Creative Artists — already heavily involved in the sports business — well beyond the confines of the entertainment industry, which has not been much fun of late, even for the big players.
In the last few weeks, Mr. Lourd and his agency partners — Kevin Huvane, Richard Lovett, David O’Connor, Rob Light and Steven Lafferty — have talked with potential investors, including the private equity firms Kohlberg Kravis Roberts and TPG.
The idea is to form a financial alliance that might give Creative Artists backing for new ventures, whether in sports, video games or the sort of investment activities it has fostered through Evolution Media Capital, a satellite that represented the Weinstein-Burkle bid for Miramax.
The sale of a stake in the agency could also let its owners tap some of the wealth that has largely been locked inside their sprawling private business. But people briefed on the discussions — who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the agency’s stringent policy against public comment on its business — insisted that no managing partner was planning to leave.
Hollywood’s top agencies have been under pressure for years, as an erosion in home video revenue, a drop in film production and fragmentation in the TV business have clipped income for stars and filmmakers and turned deals like the still-pending Miramax sale into bargaining quagmires.
“The C.A.A. conversations are nothing more than a reflection of these realities,” said Peter Dekom, a longtime entertainment lawyer.
For Mr. Lourd and his associates, a group of whom bought Creative Artists from its co-founders, Michael Ovitz and Ron Meyer, in 1995, the challenge has been to keep their company from becoming a gilded cage that might shrink if it failed to connect with a larger business world.
Mr. Lourd declined to be interviewed for this article. He has, however, unwillingly become the most public of his agency’s private group of owners, in large part because of an unsuccessful marriage to the actress and writer Carrie Fisher, who made their relationship grist for book projects, including her memoir and one-woman stage show, “Wishful Drinking.”
Mr. Lourd, meanwhile, has emerged as a main strategist behind the agency’s search for new backing. Any deal with Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, TPG or another investor could still be months in the making.
But talks toward what might elsewhere be seen as a ho-hum step in business expansion have been an attention-getter in Hollywood, perhaps because Creative Artists and its owners have been long cloistered in a world that revolves around the agency’s Century City headquarters.
Mr. Lourd, for instance, is virtually alone among the partners in having joined a major corporate board — that of IAC/Interactive Corporation, the Internet-oriented conglomerate led by a Hollywood friend, Barry Diller.
He also sticks out in Hollywood because of his humble background and down-to-earth demeanor. The son of an oil field worker, Mr. Lourd, now 49, grew up along the Bayou Teche, in New Iberia, La. He came to Los Angeles as a student at the University of Southern California, where he studied journalism and international relations after seeing the school advertised on television, according to friends.
While still in college, Mr. Lourd became a page at CBS Studios, on the game show “The Price Is Right” and the soap opera “The Young and the Restless” — and a show business career was born. In 1983, he joined the mailroom at the William Morris Agency.
In a classic progression, Mr. Lourd quickly became an agent, was tagged as an up-and-comer, then jumped to the hotter Creative Artists in 1988.
Ms. Fisher, born to Hollywood’s inner circle as the daughter of Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher, brought still deeper connections, though Mr. Lourd was already building a client list that included Meryl Streep, Robert Redford and Brad Pitt.
Mr. Lourd joined his partners in 1999 in battling Mr. Ovitz, who had begun wooing clients to his new management company. Disinclined to share business with Mr. Ovitz, the agency said anyone he managed would be shut out of Creative Artists. (The Ovitz operation soon folded.)
With Mr. Huvane primarily focused on talent relationships, Mr. Lourd and Mr. Lovett, who is the agency’s president and chief organizer, have at times appeared to be an operational committee of two at the top of Creative Artists, despite a group ethic that puts the partners on equal footing.
Mr. Lovett has been known for a special interest in the agency’s foray into sports marketing, as it recruited prominent agents who represent the likes of LeBron James and Peyton Manning. The initiative — now managed by Howard Nuchow, Michael Levine and Peter Kenyon but heavily overseen by Mr. O’Connor — has led to tensions with the competing sports agency IMG.
In April, IMG filed suit in a United States District Court in Ohio against Matthew Baldwin, a sports agent it accused of taking confidential files, including client contracts, when he recently quit to join Creative Artists.
Mr. Baldwin had already sued IMG in California, seeking to void contractual terms that would keep him from competing with it. The two courts are now sorting out where the cases will land, perhaps setting the stage for a battle that could touch Creative Artists, though it is not named as a party to either suit.
Deep inside the movie business, at any rate, things sometimes still go the way they should for a top player.
Engineering a new version of “The Karate Kid” for Sony Pictures Entertainment, for instance, was mostly a matter of getting one of Mr. Lourd’s own clients, the producer Jerry Weintraub, who made the original film, to talk with a client of Mr. Lovett’s, Will Smith.
“He said don’t close your mind,” Mr. Weintraub said of Mr. Lourd’s role in brokering the deal behind a film that has taken in $107 million at the domestic box office in its first 10 days.
And Harvey Weinstein remains a believer, even if Miramax — for the moment — slipped off the hook.
“He is a level-headed and fair negotiator,” Mr. Weinstein said of Mr. Lourd. “Bryan was an incredible force to have involved.”
By MICHAEL CIEPLY and BROOKS BARNES