To come up with our Filmmaker Magazine "Indie-Friendly Agent" list, we polled 35 independent producers, from established veterans to up-and-coming no-budgeters, indie development executives, and casting directors and asked them three questions. Who are the agents who seek out artistically distinguished writers and directors and aid them in realizing good projects? Who are the agents who understand indie film financing and can be helpful in getting indie films made? And who is helpful in bringing talent to independent film productions?
While there were some cynics in our polling group ("If you find one, let me know," "There are no indie-friendly agents," and, the most succinct response, "Good-bye" were three answers we received), we also received many more enthusiastic votes for the names listed below. Because our polling group represented a cross-section of indie producers, our list also contains a diversity of agents, from seasoned veterans with high-profile clients (who might be less accessible to newcomers) to those who aggressively seek out emerging talent.
Finally, our list, presented alphabetically below, couldn't take note of some late-breaking developments - like the move of respected former Goldwyn acquisitions executive Howard Cohen to UTA where he'll be involved in indie packaging. And there are some new, younger agencies - like Endeavor, established by former ICM agents - who are making a concerted effort to court indies. Endeavor has just signed Kevin Smith as well as The Celluloid Closet's Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman.
Chris Buchanan, UTA: After graduating from Harvard, Buchanan started his career at Columbia/TriStar as an acquisition executive in New York. He later swapped coasts to run the Independent Features Department at UTA, where he currently represents such indies as Tamra Davis, George Huang, Julianna Lavin and Arthur Borman. Buchanan has also helped package such films as the upcoming features Independence, Clockwatchers and War at Home, as well as Gramercy's Cold Comfort Farm and Miramax's Curdled.
Cassian Elwes, William Morris: As an independent producer, Elwes produced over 30 films before making his move to the independent feature department of William Morris. Elwes does not represent individual clients and instead arranges financing and distribution for projects brought to him by clients both inside and outside of the agency. Most recently Elwes has packaged such films as From Dusk to Dawn, Paul Schrader's Touch, Crash, Living in Oblivion and Total Eclipse.
Ronda Gomez, Broder, Kurland, Webb, Uffner Agency: Gomez, who boasts a masters degree in folklore and mythology, reps writers and directors and says she's attracted to character-driven material. "I love to watch a career grow from the beginning," she says, and has picked up writer/director clients on the basis of their screenplays and short films. Her clients include Charles Burnett, Nicole Holofcener, Kayo Hatta, Jan Oxenberg and screenwriter Ann Meredith.
Phyllis Kaufman, Writers & Artists: Kaufman is another emigre from the world of law, having arrived at Writers & Artists after working as an entertainment attorney at New York's Pryor, Cashman, Sherman, and Flynn. Representing writers and directors, she says that her career as a lawyer has been instrumental to her approach to agenting, pointing out that through her legal work she's familiar with the full range of film production, from financing to production to distribution.
John Lesher, UTA: Having begun his career as an assistant at Bauer Benedek following his graduation from Harvard, Lesher has been at UTA since its inception. His clients, many of them writer/directors, include David O. Russell, James Gray, Whit Stillman, Rob Weiss, Paul Thomas Anderson, John Dahl and Harmony Korine. Lesher plays a key role in the financing and distribution of all of his independent client's films. Lesher is known for evincing a real enthusiasm for his client's work. "I think I look for a unique voice, and that's really it," he says of his approach to finding new clients.
Mary Meagher, William Morris: New York-based Meagher says her list is split between writers from the world of theater and film. She's been successful bridging those two worlds, most recently by agenting three high-profile programs: the Amblin' Playwrights Program, Fox New Dramatists and the New Line Drama Department. She also recently set up first-time screenwriter Wendy Riss' film The Winner with Alex Cox to direct and Vincent D'Onofrio and Rebecca DeMornay to star. "I have to keep it interesting and profitable to be in New York in order to keep my clients here," Meagher says. Her clients include Douglas Carter Beane, Greg Mottola, Alan Taylor, Brad Anderson and Nicky Silver.
Tory Metzger, CAA: Our top-ranked agent at CAA, Metzger has been in the entertainment industry for ten years and has been agenting for six. She represents writers and directors; her clients include Ang Lee and Boaz Yakim.
Robert Newman, ICM: Before moving into the field of agenting, Newman spent seven years running distribution, acquisitions, marketing and publicity as an executive vice-president at Miramax Films. Currently the Director of Motion Pictures, Special Projects at ICM, Newman represents such clients as Mike Figgis and Danny Boyle. He was also instrumental in launching Robert Rodriguez' career. Newman also assists in financing and finding distribution for independent films. Recent projects include Leaving Las Vegas and The Player.
Adam Shulman, APA: "Ever since I was a teenager, I've been interested in low-budget, independent films." says Shulman. In fact, he cites two of them - The Life and Times of Harvey Milk and The Thin Blue Line - as influencing his decisions to come out and to go to law school. Shulman sits on the board of the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Film Festival and his clients include writer/directors Mark Christopher and Daniel Bernstein and writer Scott Fifer.
Bart Walker, ICM: As the Vice President, International for ICM, Bart Walker represents individual clients as well as structures financing deals and international coproductions such as his recent work in assembling the financing for Jim Jarmusch's Dead Man. His clients include Jarmusch, Ed Burns, Tim Robbins, Paul Schrader and John Turturro.
Runners Up (By Agency). CAA: Jane Berliner, Ken Hardy; Gersh: Scott Yoselow; ICM: Patty Detroit, Stephanie Johnson, Sue Leibman, Jennifer Lyne; Jeff Robinov; Innovative: David Guc, Scott Landis, Frank Wuliger; William Morris: Jeff Field, Rick Hess, Michelle Stern, Gaby Morgerman, Johnny Planco; Sanford Gross: Brad Gross, Jessica Swirnoff.