David Zaslav, the new chief executive of Warner Bros. Discovery, set out on a mission to learn as much as he could about Hollywood and select the best executives to assist him in running the combined company after shocking the business world last year with the news that Discovery Communications would merge with WarnerMedia.
Zaslav started a year-long investigation to help him make decisions. He made contact with numerous members of Hollywood's elite, including former Disney CEO Bob Iger, former CEO of WarnerMedia Bob Daley, former chairman of the Walt Disney Studios Alan Horn, CEO of Endeavor Group Holdings Ari Emanuel, and co-chairman of the Creative Artists Agency Bryan Lourd.
Lourd, 61, may not be well-known, but he has an incredible amount of sway in Hollywood. Since 1995, he has assisted in managing CAA, one of the two biggest talent agencies in the world. Brad Pitt is one of Lourd's A+-list Hollywood clients in addition to other A-list celebrities. Clooney, George. Johansson, Scarlett Elizabeth Spencer. Iárritu, Alejandro González Craig Michaels The list is endless.
While asking Lourd for hiring suggestions for Warner Bros. Discovery, Zaslav also put the following question to him: Would Lourd be interested in leaving CAA to take over the renowned Warner Bros. studio?
The Hollywood Lourd
In a period of significant change for Hollywood, superagent Bryan Lourd plays a crucial role as a dealmaker and confidante to CEOs.
Even though Lourd secures rich deals for his impressive clientele, which includes George Clooney and Brad Pitt, the top Hollywood executives adore working with him.
In recent partnerships including Apple, which has entered the entertainment industry, and Disney, which has emerged as a key participant in streaming, Lourd has played significant roles.
One studio executive claimed, "He'll tell you to go to Hell so pleasantly that you'll ask for directions."
Similar career transitions by agents have been made before. Ron Meyer, a co-founder of CAA, was hired by Universal predecessor MCA in 1995 to oversee operations. A few weeks later, Disney selected Michael Ovitz, a second co-founder of CAA, to succeed Michael Eisner as the company's president and subsequently CEO.
Ironically, Lourd's appointment as CEO of CAA in 1995 as a member of a group of so-called Young Turks who took over the company coincided with their hires and the departure of third co-founder Bill Haber to lead the Save the Children Federation in the same six-week period.
Despite hearing Zaslav's presentation, Lourd never gave the idea of quitting CAA any serious thought, according to persons with knowledge of the situation who declined to be identified because the conversations were private. Zaslav at the time was contemplating Michael DeLuca to lead Warner's DC Comics film and TV division. DeLuca had recently left MGM as its motion picture chairman when the firm was acquired by Amazon. In the end, Lourd advised Zaslav to appoint DeLuca and Pam Abdy, a fellow MGM executive, to lead the Warner Bros. studio.
Zaslav listened in June. As co-chairs and CEOs of Warner Bros Pictures Group, he appointed DeLuca and Abdy. The DC position is still open.
It is simple to see why Lourd decided to remain in his position.
A constancy in a turbulent time
Iger stated earlier this month that the entertainment sector is going through a "time of immense worry" due to a "period of great transition." The largest media corporations in the world are merging and restructuring their industries to focus on streaming video. Technology behemoths Apple and Amazon have developed into active, well-funded rivals. A new generation has taken charge: In the past four years, the CEOs of Disney, NBCUniversal, WarnerMedia, and CBS have all changed positions.
Additionally, investors' mistrust of market leader in streaming video Netflix has caused shares to fall by roughly 60% this year. That's making media executives even more anxious because it raises the existential question, Have the finest days of media and entertainment passed us by?
According to more than a dozen media executives questioned by CNBC, this has led corporate leaders to rely on Lourd more than ever before. He is referred to as "perhaps the last true Hollywood celebrity" by Zaslav. Lourd, a traditional talent agency who enjoys studying classic films and isn't afraid to criticise his own clients' work, has risen to become possibly the most important figure in Hollywood. According to former HBO President Richard Plepler, he serves as a "wise consigliore" to almost all of the big entertainment companies.
Lourd has emerged as a man-behind-the-curtain figure who stands out not only for his power but also for his lack of a public persona, whether it's advising Zaslav on who to hire at Warner Bros., persuading Apple TV+ to outspend everyone on his clients' future projects, or advising companies on potential board members.
According to Ted Sarandos, co-CEO of Netflix, "He's one of the most powerful figures in Hollywood ever." However, you wouldn't consider him to be powerful.
Lourd opted not to take part in this narrative.
Not the same as "Entourage"
Hollywood representation - a field that many identify with Plepler's former HBO series "Entourage" — isn't generally described as "trustworthy," "reliable," "supporting," "very pleasant," or "nearly quiet." Ari Gold, a superagent who appears in that series, is portrayed by actor Jeremy Piven and is partially modelled on the boisterous, confrontational Emanuel.
However, these are the affectionate terms used to characterise Lourd by five of the industry's leading figures: Iger, Brian Robbins, Jeff Shell, Jeff Hirsch, CEO of Starz, and Zaslav.
He's special, remarked Iger. In a field dominated by superagents who gained power by scaring others, he is a statesman. He is sincere. He will remark, "Yeah, it could have better." He fosters collaboration and adopts positions that inspire support.
One executive after another observed Lourd always seems to have time for extended chats on strategy, problem-solving, and checking in on personal life, whereas Emanuel has became infamous for brief interactions and one-word e-mail responses.
Zack Van Amburg, co-head of Apple TV+, stated that Bryan "never feels pressured." He's willing to talk for however long it takes. Although it can appear unimportant, that is a wonderful skill.
The work Emanuel does also differs from what Lourd does. Emanuel rose to the position of CEO of a publicly traded corporation, expanding Endeavor first through a number of agency acquisitions before purchasing the well-known professional mixed-martial arts league UFC. Due to the acquisitions, Endeavor is now a $10 billion enterprise.
According to Sarandos, Lourd's persona is a "great counterpositioning" against Emanuel. Lourd and his co-chairmen have kept CAA a closely-guarded secret while recently doubling down on the company by acquiring talent agency ICM.
Sarandos declared, "I don't think it's an accident. "Two very distinct playing styles are in play."
For this piece, Emanuel declined to comment.
Although Lourd was up in New Iberia, Louisiana (population 28,143), a little more than two hours' drive west of New Orleans, she has been a regular in Hollywood for decades.
According to a CAA spokesman, after earning a degree in journalism and international relations from the University of Southern California, Lourd started considering a career as an agent after reading a New Yorker story on the Hollywood representation sector.
After physically working his way up from the mailroom to agent, Lourd started working for William Morris Agency in 1983. In 1988, he left William Morris and joined CAA. Lourd was already a representative for Woody Harrelson, Ethan Hawke, and Uma Thurman by the time he was assisting to lead CAA in 1995.
Hollywood was Lourd's preoccupation, and it affected his personal life. Actress Carrie Fisher was his partner from 1991 to 1994. Billie, the daughter of the two, is also an actor. Later, Lourd wed her longtime partner Bruce Bozzi, who headed the Palm Restaurant Group's Los Angeles hotspot for celebrities and business moguls during his tenure as executive vice president of the company. Ava, Lourd's second child, is shared with Bozzi. Her birth year is 2007.
He's friendly, yes, but he's still an agent.
According to Zaslav, Lourd is the epitome of a master of the backstage, with ambitions that go beyond the entertainment industry.
According to those familiar with the situation, Lourd recently hosted a dinner party at his home for Vice President Kamala Harris after fervently pushing for her to be Joe Biden's running mate behind the scenes. He serves on the boards of several charity organisations, including the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York and two charities founded by his clients, Sean Penn's J/P Haitian Relief Organization and the George Clooney Foundation for Justice.
Lourd was one of a very exclusive group of people with whom Plepler discussed his plan to depart HBO in the early months of 2019 before going public with it or informing his then-boss, AT&T CEO John Stankey.
Plepler said of him, "He's an ally you can trust in a world that can be completely transactional.
Lourd is an agent despite his appeal, though. His main responsibility is to obtain money for his customers. Zaslav is not totally unaware of this.
He can be a true killer shark while still being charming and thoughtfully empathetic, according to Zaslav. But unlike a shark, whose teeth you can feel, you hang up the phone feeling fine before realising a week or two later that you've spent a lot more than you had anticipated. However, you don't feel horrible about it and believe he will make up for it on the subsequent date.
Or, in the words of Michael Burns, vice chairman of Lionsgate, "He'll tell you to go to Hell so politely that you'll ask for directions."
There are not-so-mysterious ways that Lourd is involved in almost every aspect of the entertainment industry. Because of this, Zaslav thought he would be a good director for the Warner Bros. company.
A typical agent attempts to obtain the clients on their list the most money possible. But because Lourd's clients are such bankable celebrities, it is as crucial for Hollywood industry leaders to get along with him as it is for Lourd and CAA. None of the people CNBC consulted for this story had anything negative to say about Lourd other from blaming him for rising talent expenses. Many executives weren't as complimentary of Emanuel, so it's a testament to his inherent nature, but it could also be an indication of Lourd's influence.
While the placement of specific movies or TV shows on particular streaming services may appear arbitrary to outsiders, it starts to make sense when viewed through Lourd's perspective.
First step: CEOs seek his counsel on hiring decisions due to his combination of dependability and industry understanding.
Step 2: These executives approach Lourd to staff initiatives. Many of them may at least in part credit Lourd for their positions and hefty pay.
Step 3: Through agreements negotiated by those same executives, Lourd secures top compensation for his clients.
Step 4: These initiatives bring in billions of dollars for executives.
Due to the fact that only some of Lourd's ideas succeed, Step 4 is marked with an asterisk. Even with Lourd's roster of A-listers, not every film is a success. But as the number of surefire stars declines, his impact continues to increase.
This year, Lourd persuaded Apple TV+ to shell out more than $200 million for an unscripted Brad Pitt film with a Formula 1-themed plot. According to people familiar with the situation, Warner Bros. Discovery officials sneered at the proposal, calling it frothy and "bells and whistles" with no assurance that it could be a tentpole series because Lourd's asking price was so high.
Van Amburg and Jamie Erlicht, co-heads of Apple TV+, weren't sure about Lourd's concept either, but they were aware that "Top Gun: Maverick" director Joseph Kosinski, producer Jerry Bruckheimer, and screenwriter Ehren Kruger would be behind the camera. The main issue was that "Top Gun: Maverick" hadn't yet been released when the discussions were taking place.
In order to view the movie early, the Apple team obtained authorization. They saw it and left feeling assured. One of the all-time top box office earners, "Top Gun: Maverick" surpassed $1 billion worldwide. According to a person familiar with the situation, the Apple arrangement also included unheard-of revenue sharing for key personnel. According to the source, Lourd drafted a contract enabling Pitt, Bruckheimer, and other CAA clients to take part in a range of potential future revenue streams that might establish a new benchmark for how significant talent gets compensated for streaming movies.
Lourd and his clients will be relied upon by Apple TV+ to deliver on a number of other high-profile projects, including "Project Artemis," a historical romantic comedy starring CAA clients Channing Tatum and Johansson, which cost Apple a reported $100 million, and an untitled thriller starring Pitt and Clooney.
Negotiating with Lourd can be difficult even though it feels like a collaboration because of the changing realities of the industry and how to compensate movie stars as more viewing turns away from the box office and toward streaming, according to Van Amburg.
Bryan relishes his role as the consummate diplomat, according to Van Amburg. However, I don't believe we ever underpaid for anything we did with him.
Taking a stand for Scar
Last year, Jo Lourd exercised his muscles in a manner that surprised industry professionals since it placed him in a rare public oppositional posture to a significant Hollywood executive.
Johansson filed a lawsuit against Disney for simultaneously distributing "Black Widow" on Disney+ and in theatres. She stated that the exclusive theatrical distribution of the movie determined her remuneration.
With a public statement in response to the case, Disney revealed how much money Johansson had already received from the picture ($20 million) and accused her of being oblivious to changes in the film industry surrounding Covid-19.
According to those acquainted with the situation, Lourd believed Disney's comment was both misogynistic and disrespectful, not just to Johansson but to all of his clients. That drove him to respond angrily to Disney and its just-installed CEO, Bob Chapek, who had replaced Iger the year before.
Lourd remarked in a statement at the time that "Disney's outright attack on her persona and all else they intimated is beneath the company that many of us in the creative community have worked with effectively for decades." In an effort to portray Ms. Johansson as someone she isn't, they have erroneously and brazenly accused her of being unsympathetic to the worldwide COVID pandemic.
According to Deadline, Disney eventually settled the Johansson lawsuit by paying Johansson more than $40 million. Lourd and Chapek, according to Chapek, have moved past the event and have a "running communication" that extends far beyond specific business dealings.
We discuss how the industry as a whole is changing, according to Chapek. "I respect our relationship. He is an asset to our sector.
This is how navigating shifting market dynamics forced Lourd to come up with innovative arrangements to satisfy the needs of both businesses and clients.
In 2018, when Disney and director Jon Favreau agreed to collaborate on the Star Wars television series "The Mandalorian," Lourd and Kevin Mayer, who was then in charge of Disney's streaming division, negotiated a special package of cash and Disney stock. "The Mandalorian" was expected to result in a surge in Disney+ subscribers, and Favreau wanted to be able to share in the possible gains. In light of the fact that Disney stock will mostly depend on the success of the company's flagship streaming service, Mayer and Lourd agreed that Disney stock would serve as the greatest proxy for Disney+ performance.
The Mandalorian's Boba Fett is portrayed by Temuera Morrison.
That proved to be correct. Even with the theme parks closed during the pandemic, Disney stock surged because Disney+ subscribers increased exponentially every three months. Favreau signed his contract for about $90 worth of Disney stock. They had quadrupled to more than $180 per share by February 2021. Since then, they have fallen again amid broader market falls, with Disney's share price closing on Friday at just under $100.
With more than 152 million global customers at the end of the third quarter of its fiscal year, Disney+.
He assists people with making corporate-level strategic decisions, according to Mayer, who later created the media investment company Candle Media. He is a fantastic agent, but he goes beyond that.
Lourd is also to thank for a highly unique so-called first-look arrangement reached in 2014 between Shell, of NBCUniversal, and movie director Jason Blum. Blum claimed that the deal has proven to be "wildly lucrative" for both parties.
Blum sought to increase equity in his own production business, Blumhouse, rather than having NBCUniversal pay him fees for his movies, such as 2017's "Get Out" and 2018's "Halloween," both of which made over $250 million worldwide on budgets of $10 million or less. In a deal he crafted with Donna Langley, then-chairwoman of Universal Pictures, NBCUniversal acquired a non-controlling stock position in Blumhouse, with Blum's fees flowing back into the business rather than into his personal bank account.
Shell, who at the time ran Universal, was first dubious of the notion. The company received a wide range of network and cable television shows, digital products, and, of course, low-budget horror films, thanks to a complex 10-year arrangement that Lourd negotiated.
Shell agreed with Sarandos, Van Amburg, Hirsch, and Zaslav who noted that discussions with Lourd frequently go beyond talent agreements and cover topics like future recruits, the metaverse, and how live sports should be included in streaming television.
Shell remarked, "Bryan is a problem solver. He's the closest thing to the traditional superagent of yore in the business.
Blum put it better than I could.
Blum declared, "I don't perceive him as an agent." "He is an executive in Hollywood."