Monday, 14 December 2009

Hollywood Babble On & On #413: Actors & Agents

Welcome to the show folks...

Actor Shia LaBeouf* has recently and amicably dropped his agents at the William Morris-Endeavor Agency, but instead of going to someone else, he has elected to go commando in the agent department.

I don't know.

The kid's had a string of great luck getting the spot as Hollywood's default under-30 male actor and landing spots in the
Transformers and Indiana Jones franchises, but, and this is a Rosie O'Donnell sized but, going agentless at this stage of his career is an extremely risky move.

For those who don't know agents are the guys who troll through all the offers a successful actor gets, help that actor pick which ones work best both monetarily and career-wise**, and then negotiates their contracts with the producers, all for a 10% piece of the action.

LaBeouf is electing to put this job with his career management team. Managers have the job of running a successful artist's day to day business decisions, as well as helping guide their career. Among actors who decide to go agentless, Managers take on a more pro-active role in developing projects for their clients instead of just finding projects being developed by other people. (All for a percentage that ranges from 10-15% of gross income, to 20% of net income, depending on the manager/client contract.)

Agents are barred by law from taking such a direct role in producing projects, but managers are not.

In theory this career path is supposed to have greater rewards in the form of more control of choice of projects, and the potential for greater profit, without having to drop 10% on an agent who wasn't even allowed to work on the project.

In theory.

In theory communism works.

In practice this method comes with incredible risks, chiefly the "vanity project" aimed to change the actor in question's image to make him look more heroic, more romantic, or land them an Oscar, and a lot of these projects fail miserably, and do more damage to a career than help.

The agent acts as a layer of protection for a movie star, filtering out anything that may hinder their client's ability to rack up commissions. Sure, they may also filter out something that may be a bit daring, but also "right" for their client, but that's why a star has to pay attention to their career and the people who manage it.

A lot of people are comparing this move to one made by LaBeouf's idol Leonardo DiCaprio who has been without an agent for quite some time, and yet still has a viable career. Except DiCaprio has something that LaBeouf doesn't have: Martin Scorcese.

Scorcese casts DiCaprio in everything, whether he's appropriate (
The Departed***) or not (Gangs of New York) and it's only a matter of time before Scorcese casts DiCaprio in the title role of The Martin Luther King Story. No matter what DiCaprio does between these Scorsese projects, he will always have a fallback that comes with a great deal of artistic, and sometimes commercial cachet.

That sort of slavish devotion is extremely rare in Hollywood, and sometimes bordering on creepy, and will soon be featured in an episode of A&E's
Intervention, but it leads us to the main question of this post.

Who does Shia have?

He's done a couple of films for Michael Bay, and Stephen Spielberg. Like all the on-screen actors in the
Transformers movies he's ultimately replaceable, and serves only to serve as straight man to some special effects. Hell, people were more excited about the casting of the voice of Optimus Prime than they were about poor Shia. As for Indy 4, while it made a lot of money, it left a bad taste in the mouths of a lot of fans, and many of those fans dumped the blame, probably undeservedly so, on Shia himself.

Unless he does things just right, he could soon find himself replaced as the default under-30 actor by Joseph Gordon Levitt, who is slowly and surely building a base for himself via independent films, and an "I don't take stardom seriously" attitude that otherwise keeps him out of the tabloids.

Personally, I don't think Shia made a right move. Perhaps changing to an agency that's currently not undergoing the upheavals of a major merger, and was more capable of the sort of personalized attention he was looking for would have been smarter.

At least it's not reversible, and he should be able to find an agent soon if he chooses to do so, and I think he should do it ASAP.


Speaking of Leonardo DiCaprio, the actor has reportedly signed on with actor-director Mel Gibson to star in an as yet untitled projected about Vikings.

Like Gibson's previously directorial efforts, it will be shot in the Vikings original language, and I have an exclusive photo of the linguist who will translating the script for Gibson:
As the great linguist said: "Peerbjorn, de-peerbjorn, doo-bork-bork-bork!"

Sorry, couldn't resist a little humour.

* Shia LaBeouf is actually Norwegian for "Corned beef on rye."

** Mostly monetary, they have to make the most out of that 10%.

***He and Damon were appropriate for the parts of essentially boy-men seeking the approval of father figures, both real and false. As for Gangs, he was just a little too baby faced for the part of a street thug.

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