Striking writers' collateral damage spreads

Two months into the writers strike, ICM on Wednesday became the first major talent agency to invoke the force majeure clauses in its agents' contracts.

Several agents, including Renee Tab, Eva Lontscharitsch, Jenny Fritz and Brian Levy of the motion picture literary department, have been suspended, sources said. All will receive special "strike pay" and benefits for the duration of the strike and may return after its end. Additionally, there will be temporary salary reductions in the neighborhood of 20% in all strike-affected departments, but no assistants will be laid off. The assistants of the suspended agents will be reassigned.

For ICM, the belt-tightening comes after a strong year capped by sizable bonuses paid to the entire staff last month. Agencies, which saw a major portion of their revenue dry up with TV production shutting down, have been hit particularly hard by the strike.

The writers walkout already has led to a temporary 20% salary reduction among the top echelon of agents and executives at UTA as well as the firing of about 10 assistants at Innovative Artists. With no end in sight to the strike, agencies had been expected to begin suspending or laying off agents in January under the force majeure -- or "act of God" -- provision triggered in extraordinary circumstances like a major strike.

Several smaller agencies and management companies, which rely heavily on booking guest stars on series, might go under in the next month or so, observers say.

Many smaller talent representation players already have laid off assistants and low-level agents who are now searching for new jobs, but with the entertainment market so tight because of the strike, they might have to look elsewhere.

"There are some good people leaving the business for good," one manager said.


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