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How Bryan Lourd became probably the most powerful people in Hollywood

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Bryan Lourd speaks onstage through the Lincoln Center American Songbook Gala honoring Bonnie Hammer at Broadway Theatre on January 29, 2020 in Latest York City.

Slaven Vlasic | Getty Images Entertainment | Getty Images

After shocking the company world last 12 months with the news Discovery Communications would merge with WarnerMedia, incoming Warner Bros. Discovery Chief Executive David Zaslav had a mission: learn as much about Hollywood as possible and select the proper leaders to assist him run the combined company.

Zaslav begun a year-long quest to tell his decision making. He reached out to dozens of Hollywood’s elite, including ex-Disney CEO Bob Iger, former WarnerMedia CEO Bob Daley, former chairman of Walt Disney Studios Alan Horn, Endeavor Group Holdings CEO Ari Emanuel, and Creative Artists Agency co-chairman Bryan Lourd.

Lourd, 61, is not a household name, but he wields a surprising amount of influence in Hollywood. He has helped run CAA, one among the 2 largest global talent agencies, since 1995. Lourd’s Hollywood clients aren’t just A-listers, they’re A+-listers: Brad Pitt. George Clooney. Scarlett Johansson. Octavia Spencer. Alejandro González Iñárritu. Lorne Michaels. The list goes on and on.

While Zaslav solicited Lourd’s advice about whom to rent for Warner Bros. Discovery, he floated an idea by him: Would Lourd consider giving up his job at CAA to come back run the famed Warner Bros. studio?

The Lourd of Hollywood

Superagent Bryan Lourd is a pivotal dealmaker and consigliere to CEOs in a time of great upheaval for Hollywood.

The largest executives in Hollywood enjoy working with Lourd, whilst he wins lucrative deals for his star-studded list of clients, including George Clooney and Brad Pitt.

Lourd has played major roles in recent deals involving Apple, which has expanded into the entertainment business, and Disney, which has turn out to be a serious player in streaming.

“He’ll inform you to go to Hell so nicely that you’re going to ask for directions,” said one studio executive.

Agents have made similar profession moves before. In 1995, Universal precursor MCA hired CAA co-founder Ron Meyer to run its operations. Weeks later, Disney hired one other CAA co-founder, Michael Ovitz, to be the corporate’s president after which CEO-Michael Eisner’s No. 2.

Paradoxically, those hires, together with third co-founder Bill Haber leaving in the identical six-week period to run the Save the Children Federation, were what catapulted Lourd into running CAA, a part of a gaggle of so-called Young Turks who took over in 1995.

Lourd heard Zaslav’s pitch but never seriously considered leaving CAA, in response to people aware of the matter who asked not to talk since the discussions were private. On the time, Zaslav was considering Michael DeLuca, who recently departed MGM as its movie chairman when the corporate sold to Amazon, to run Warner’s DC Comics film and TV division. Lourd ultimately really useful Zaslav hire DeLuca and fellow MGM executive Pam Abdy to run the Warner Bros. studio.

In June, Zaslav listened. He hired DeLuca and Abdy as co-chairs and CEOs of Warner Bros Pictures Group. The DC job stays unfilled.

It isn’t hard to know why Lourd selected to maintain his job.

A continuing in a time of upheaval

The entertainment industry is in an “age of great anxiety,” Iger said earlier this month, “because that is an era of great transformation.” The largest global media firms are consolidating and reworking their businesses to revolve around streaming video. Technology giants Apple and Amazon have turn out to be lively, deep-pocketed competitors. A recent generation has taken over: The CEOs of Disney, NBCUniversal, WarnerMedia and CBS have all turned over prior to now 4 years.

On top of that, investors have soured on streaming video leader Netflix, driving shares down about 60% this 12 months. That is giving media leaders much more agita as an existential query hangs over the industry: Have the perfect days in media and entertainment passed us by?

That has caused corporate leaders to lean on Lourd greater than ever before, in response to greater than a dozen media executives interviewed by CNBC. Zaslav calls him “possibly the last true Hollywood star.” An old-fashioned talent agent who loves discussing old movies and doesn’t mind mentioning the issues in his own clients’ work, Lourd has turn out to be arguably essentially the most powerful person in Hollywood. He’s a “sensible consigliere,” within the words of ex-HBO chief Richard Plepler, to just about every major company within the entertainment industry.

Whether it’s advising Zaslav on whom to rent at Warner Bros., or convincing Apple TV+ to outspend everyone on his clients’ future projects, or advising firms on potential board members, Lourd has turn out to be a man-behind-the-curtain figure who stands out not just for his power but in addition for his lack of public persona.

“He’s probably the most powerful people within the history of Hollywood,” said Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos. “But you’d never perceive him to be powerful.”

Lourd declined to take part in this story.

This is not ‘Entourage’

“Trustworthy,” “consistent,” “supportive,” “very nice” and “almost quiet” aren’t terms typically related to Hollywood representation — an industry many associate with Plepler’s old HBO show “Entourage.” That series features superagent character Ari Gold, who’s played by actor Jeremy Piven and loosely based on the brash, in-your-face Emanuel.

But those terms of endearment are how five top showbiz executives – Iger, Paramount Pictures head Brian Robbins, Starz CEO Jeff Hirsch, NBCUniversal chief Jeff Shell and Zaslav, respectively – describe Lourd.

“He’s unique,” said Iger. “He’s a statesman in an industry defined by superagents who rose to positions of power by being intimidating. He’s honest. He’ll say things like, ‘Yeah, that might have higher.’ He brings people together and takes positions that individuals galvanize around.”

Ari Emanuel speaks onstage through the 2017 LACMA Art + Film Gala Honoring Mark Bradford and George Lucas presented by Gucci at LACMA on November 4, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. 

Stefanie Keenan | Getty Images Entertainment | Getty Images

While Emanuel has turn out to be famous for brief conversations and one-word e-mail responses, one executive after one other noted Lourd all the time seems to have time for longer discussions about strategy, problem-solving and checking in on personal lives.

“Bryan never feels rushed,” said Apple TV+ co-head Zack Van Amburg. “He’s able to have as long of a conversation because it takes. That is a brilliant skill, as mundane as that could appear.”

Emanuel’s job also now not mirrors Lourd’s. Emanuel has turn out to be a public company CEO, growing Endeavor first with a lot of agency acquisitions after which buying popular skilled mixed-martial arts league UFC. The purchases have turned Endeavor into an $10 billion company.

Lourd’s persona is “sensible counter positioning” to Emanuel, said Sarandos. Lourd and his co-chairmen have kept CAA private, recently doubling down on the business with an acquisition of talent agency ICM.

“I do not think it’s by accident,” said Sarandos. “It’s two very different styles at play.”

Emanuel declined to comment for this story.

Born on the Bayou

Lourd has been a mainstay in Hollywood for a long time despite growing up in Latest Iberia, Louisiana (population 28,143), somewhat greater than a two-hour drive west from Latest Orleans.

After graduating from the University of Southern California as a double major in diplomacy and journalism, Lourd began pondering of becoming an agent after reading a Latest Yorker magazine article on the Hollywood representation industry, in response to a CAA spokesperson.

Lourd joined William Morris Agency in 1983, literally working his way up from the mailroom to agent. He left William Morris to affix CAA in 1988. By the point he was helping to run CAA in 1995, Lourd was already representing Woody Harrelson, Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman, amongst others.

Lourd’s obsession with Hollywood bled into his personal life. He dated actress Carrie Fisher from 1991 to 1994. The 2 had a daughter, Billie, who can be an actress. Lourd later married longtime boyfriend Bruce Bozzi, who worked as executive vice chairman of the Palm Restaurant Group for a long time, including running its L.A. hotspot for entertainment industry stars and moguls. Lourd shares a second daughter, Ava, with Bozzi. She was born in 2007.

Sure, he’s nice, but he’s still an agent

Lourd is the quintessential behind-the-scenes maestro, said Zaslav, with aspirations that stretch beyond Hollywood.

Lourd recently held a feast at his home for Vice President Kamala Harris, after strongly advocating on her behalf behind the scenes to be Joe Biden’s running mate, in response to people aware of the matter. He’s on a lot of charitable boards, including Latest York’s Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, and two foundations developed by his clients — the Clooney Foundation for Justice and Sean Penn’s J/P Haitian Relief Organization.

When Plepler decided he would go away HBO in early 2019, Lourd was one among a really small handful of individuals with which he shared his decision weeks before he made it public or told his then-boss, AT&T CEO John Stankey.

“He’s an ally you may trust in a world that might be purely transactional,” Plepler said.

Still, regardless of his charm, Lourd is an agent. His primary role is to extract money for his clients. That is not entirely lost on Zaslav.

David Zaslav, President and CEO of Warner Bros. Discovery talks to the media as he arrives on the Sun Valley Resort for the Allen & Company Sun Valley Conference on July 05, 2022 in Sun Valley, Idaho.

Kevin Dietsch | Getty Images

“He’s each charming and sensitively thoughtful, but at the identical time, he is usually a real killer shark,” said Zaslav. “But unlike a shark, where you’re feeling the teeth, you hang up the phone feeling good, before every week or two later, if you realize you’ve got spent rather a lot greater than you thought you were going to spend. But in some way, you do not feel bad about it, and you’re feeling he’ll make it as much as you on the subsequent one.”

Or, as Lionsgate Vice Chairman Michael Burns said: “He’ll inform you to go to Hell so nicely that you’re going to ask for directions.”

Not-so-mysterious ways

Lourd’s hands are on nearly every a part of the business of entertainment. That is a part of why Zaslav considered him to steer the Warner Bros. studio.

A regular agent has a listing of clients and works to get those people as much money as possible. But Lourd’s clients are such bankable stars that it’s equally vital for Hollywood executives to be friendly with him because it is useful for Lourd and CAA. Of all of the people CNBC spoke with for this story, not one had a single critical thing to say about Lourd, aside from blaming him for ballooning talent costs. It is a testament to his natural personality – several executives weren’t as kind about Emanuel – however it might also speak to Lourd’s power.

While it seems random to outsiders how or why certain movies or TV series find yourself on particular streaming services, it begins to make more sense when viewed through the lens of Lourd.

Step 4 comes with an asterisk, because just some of Lourd’s projects deliver. Not every movie is a success, even with Lourd’s roster of stars. But his influence is just growing because the variety of surefire stars dwindle.

This 12 months, Lourd convinced Apple TV+ to pay greater than $200 million for a Formula 1-themed movie starring Brad Pitt that did not have a script. Lourd’s asking price was so outrageous to Warner Bros. Discovery that some executives scoffed on the pitch, privately calling it frothy and “bells and whistles” with no certainty it could possibly be a tentpole franchise, in response to people aware of the matter.

Apple TV+’s Van Amburg and co-head Jamie Erlicht were also unsure of Lourd’s pitch, but they knew the movie could be written and made by the team that did “Top Gun: Maverick” — director Joseph Kosinski, producer Jerry Bruckheimer and screenwriter Ehren Kruger. The one problem was “Top Gun: Maverick” had yet to hit theaters on the time of the talks.

Tom Cruise in “Top Gun: Maverick”

Source: Paramount

So the Apple team got permission to screen the film early. After watching it, they walked away confident. “Top Gun: Maverick” became one among the highest grossing box office movies of all time, surpassing $1 billion globally. The Apple deal also includes unprecedented revenue sharing for key talent, in response to an individual aware of the matter. Lourd crafted a contract allowing Pitt, Bruckheimer and other CAA clients to take part in a wide range of future revenue streams which will set a recent standard for a way major talent is paid for streaming movies, the person said.

Apple TV+ will probably be counting on Lourd and his clients to deliver on several other big-budget projects, including a yet-to-be-titled thriller starring Pitt and Clooney, and “Project Artemis,” a period romantic comedy starring CAA clients Channing Tatum and Johansson, which cost Apple a reported $100 million.

The industry’s changing dynamics, and tips on how to pay movie stars as more viewing shifts away from the box office and toward streaming, could make negotiating with Lourd difficult whilst it appears like a partnership, Van Amburg said.

“Bryan enjoys the role of being the final word diplomat,” Van Amburg said. “But I do not think we have now underpaid for anything we have ever done with him.”

Standing up for ScarJo

Lourd flexed his muscles last 12 months in a move that caught industry executives off guard since it put him in a rare public adversarial role to a serious Hollywood executive.

Johansson sued Disney for concurrently releasing “Black Widow” on Disney+ at the identical time it was released in theaters. She claimed her salary was based on an exclusive theatrical release for the film.

Disney shot back on the lawsuit with a public statement, outing how much Johansson had already made on the movie ($20 million) and blaming her for being callous to industry changes around Covid-19.

Lourd felt Disney’s statement was each misogynistic and offensive not only to Johansson but to all of his clients, in response to people aware of the matter. That prompted him to fireplace back a stern response at Disney and its relatively recent CEO, Bob Chapek, who had taken over for Iger the previous 12 months.

“Disney’s direct attack on her character and all else they implied is beneath the corporate that a lot of us within the creative community have worked with successfully for a long time,” Lourd said in a press release on the time. They’ve shamelessly and falsely accused Ms. Johansson of being insensitive to the worldwide COVID pandemic, in an try and make her look like someone they and I do know she is not.”

Disney eventually settled the Johansson suit, giving Johansson greater than $40 million, in response to Deadline. Chapek said he and Lourd have put the incident behind them and proceed to have a “running dialogue” that goes well beyond specific deals.

“[We talk] concerning the industry at large and the way it’s all evolving,” said Chapek. “It is a relationship I value. Our industry is lucky to have him.”

That is the way in which

Navigating changing industry dynamics has pushed Lourd to get creative with several deals to satisfy the needs of each firms and clients.

When Disney signed a take care of director Jon Favreau in 2018 to executive produce and write Star Wars series “The Mandalorian,” Lourd worked with Disney’s then-head of streaming, Kevin Mayer, to get Favreau a novel deal of money and Disney stock. The pondering behind the contract was “The Mandalorian” would result in a boom in Disney+ subscribers, and Favreau desired to find a way to take part in the potential upside. Mayer and Lourd decided the perfect proxy for Disney+ performance was Disney stock, understanding the corporate’s shares would largely trade on the performance of the flagship streaming service.

Temuera Morrison stars as Boba Fett in “The Mandalorian.”

Source: Disney

That turned out to be accurate. Disney shares boomed through the pandemic, even with theme parks closed, because Disney+ subscribers grew by leaps and bounds each quarter. Favreau signed his take care of Disney shares around $90. By February 2021, that they had doubled to greater than $180 per share. They’ve since come back down amid broader market declines, with Disney at just under $100 per share as of Friday’s close.

Disney+ ended its fiscal third quarter with greater than 152 million global subscribers.

“He helps individuals with company-level strategic decisions,” Mayer, who has since founded the media investment firm Candle Media, said about Lourd. “He’s an important agent, but he transcends that.”

Shell, of NBCUniversal, and film producer Jason Blum even have Lourd to thank on a highly unusual so-called first-look deal struck in 2014 that is turned out to be “wildly lucrative” for each parties, Blum said.

As an alternative of NBCUniversal paying Blum fees for his movies, which have included 2017’s “Get Out” and 2018’s “Halloween,” each of which grossed over $250 million worldwide on budgets of $10 million or less, Blum wanted to construct equity in his own production company, Blumhouse. Lourd architected a take care of then-Universal Pictures Chairman Donna Langley during which NBCUniversal took a non-controlling equity stake in Blumhouse, with Blum’s fees going back into the corporate somewhat than into his checking account.

At first, Shell, who on the time ran Universal, was skeptical of the thought. But Lourd crafted an advanced 10-year contract, giving the corporate a wide range of network and cable television shows, digital properties, and, after all, low-budget horror movies.

Shell echoed sentiments from Sarandos, Van Amburg, Starz’s Hirsch and Zaslav that conversations with Lourd steadily go well beyond talent deals, spanning subjects from potential hires to the metaverse to how live sports ought to be integrated in streaming video.

“Bryan is an issue solver,” Shell said. “He’s the closest thing within the industry to the age-old superagent of yesteryear.”

Blum summed it up more succinctly.

“I do not see him as an agent,” Blum said. “He’s a Hollywood executive.”

WATCH: Endeavor CEO Ari Emanuel breaks down the media and entertainment landscape.

Disclosure: NBCUniversal is the parent company of CNBC.

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