Michael Ovitz

Hollywood talent agencies never functioned the same after Ovitz sunk in his teeth. Now crunching the industry for the second time, the titan of talent intends to surpass his own reputation.

Back when Michael Ovitz ran the Creative Artist's Agency, hailed as the most powerful talent agency in the world, he would hand out copies of Sun Tzu's "The Art of War" to his staff. In 1995, Ovitz parted amiably with the company he had founded two decades earlier and the industry he had revitalized, and ascended the throne of the Disney empire as president. It was a career move he hoped would catapult him to the top of an even older and larger entertainment kingdom than the one he built himself. But instead, 14 months after unsuccessfully casting himself as Disney's president, Ovitz clashed irrevocably with Chairman of the Walt Disney Company Michael Eisner, collected an estimated $128 million in compensation, and boomeranged back to Hollywood. Last winter he formed AMG, the Artists Management Group, and is now testing his ex-employees on their knowledge of Chinese philosophy.

Same job different company: Sometimes it's best to Boomerang back an alternate route

Ovitz could have waltzed back into CAA like nothing happened, but he really had nothing to gain from returning to his old stomping ground. He left as founding father and king of the hill. By returning after his failed stint at Disney, he might have marred his reputation as a brilliant and brutal businessman. For Ovitz and for a war-gamed Hollywood, a return to CAA would not be a return to grandeur; instead, it would appear a whimpering retreat.

Ever the forward thinker, Ovitz chose the braver route. He realized that he should return to the business he knew best, but he conceded that he had learned all he could from his 20-year career at the I.M. Pei building on Wilshire Boulevard. Ovitz decided to move on to a new big, and perhaps even better, project.

During his tenure at CAA, Ovitz had reinvented the talent agent world by charging the lowest commission in the industry and beating out all the competition. He had shaken up the studios by demanding previously unheard of salaries for his actors. When word got around about the new game in town, everyone followed suit, and Ovitz succeeded in effectively changing the center of power in Hollywood from studios to agents.

After bidding farewell to Mickey and Friends, Ovitz was ready to move back to the industry he had helped to create, and subsequently formed a monolith one-stop talent management shop: AMG. Whereas CAA agents are legally prohibited from producing projects with their clients, AMG talent "managers" are largely unregulated and have a much more flexible role. They can be financial partners with their clients and usually earn hefty commissions for providing more one-on-one hand-holding services. In his comeback company, Ovitz aims to create a powerhouse that not only manages the careers of stars but also produces and distributes movies -- he reportedly wants all agents and managers to work for him.

If you can't join 'em, fight 'em

Ovitz has the distinct advantage of having done right by his clients, and he therefore has talent that trusts him. This trust has enabled him to go head-to-head with his old company -- and emerge victorious. Already many big CAA names have crossed the line in the sand to join AMG. Claire Danes, Laren Holly, Minnie Driver, Marisa Tomei, Mimi Rogers, Syndney Pollack, Martin Scorsese, and Robin Williams all have been plucked from the CAA waters.

Ovitz is now poised to hoist his newest big project even higher than CAA. The opportunity requires a huge amount of industry expertise, a fantastic reputation, and some hefty nerve. But if the past is any predictor of the future, Hollywood had better take shelter: Ovitz is back in town.

Return to Big Shot Boomerangs

Add New Comment

42 Comments

  • OvitzFan

    Michael Ovitz's daughter Kimberly Ovitz just wrapped up her Fall 2013 New York Fashion Week collection to rave reviews.  Ovitz's highlights included 3-D jewelry cut by laser - really cool stuff motivated by exoskeletons from 'natural defense systems' in insects and nature.  Pretty far out stuff.  Michael Ovitz was there along with a bunch of other big timers... great show

  • Christy

    Michael Ovitz is really involved in Andreessen Horowitz, a huge VC firm in the Silicon Valley, probably one of the biggest.  His tie is through both Marc Andreessen (who co-founded Netscape back in the day) and also Ben Horowitz, as all three served on the board of Opsware (actually not sure if all three served on the board, but all three came from upper execs at Opsware).  Andreessen Horowitz changed VC culture by using the Ovitz methods that made CAA (huge talent agency in L.A.) the success it was and is.  There's a lot written about it - he's big in VC tech stuff these days

  • Lon Medvedev

    I just read that Michael Ovitz invested in this startup called priceonomics, which sounded cool.  Didn't know he was into tech/startup silicon valley stuff.  Interesting.  Anyone else know about this side of ovitz?

  • louis jordan

    Michael Ovitz is a big VC tech investor from what I understand.  He's good friends with Zurckerberg at facebook - wondering if he is advising on their IPO..  Ovitz is also a pal of Mark Andreessen, Netscape founder - for an old-school hollywood agent Michael Ovitz is definitely dialed into the silicon valley scene - wish there was more news/info about this

  • MikeOvitzIsTheMan

    Michael Ovitz's daughter kimberly just had a big show in new york - she's a fashion designer.  Pretty awesome...    - you should relax when others misspell something... big deal zuckenberg, zurkerberg

  • MichaelOvitzFan

    Its Mark Zuckenberg, not zurkerberg.  Michael Ovitz was mentioned as an investor in GoodRX - a startup that compares rates of prescription drug prices for consumers.  He also owns a bunch of restaurants in l.a. - he's partners with voltaggio in the very successful ink, he owns hamasaku among other establishments.  Interesting guy.

  • l.a. eater

    michael ovitz owns hamasaku and also is a partner in ink. (with the period), which is michael voltaggio's restaurant.  he's the guy that won top chef with all the tattoos (hence the name).  It is a great restaurant, one of the best in l.a.  hamasaku isn't too shabby either!!! 

  • sushi diner

    didn't know michael ovitz owned hamasaku - that's a great spot with terrific sushi.  hard to pick the best sushi spot in l.a. though.  I'd have to say maybe...  hmm...  my favorite is 242 Fusion in laguna beach actually. Sugarfish is awesome.  Hamasaku fantastic...  Some good ones in japantown.  ink is at another level though 

  • louis jordan

    Zuckenberg then!  Heaven forbid I make a spelling error on a comment board.  Was quite aware Michael Ovitz was investing in GoodRX - I keep up with all the tech news.  Wasn't aware he owned hamasaku - I've been there and its great.

  • Christy

    Ovitz invests in alot of tech startups, not just the big boys like Facebook, et al.  Ovitz is a huge art collector too - the guy does it all - investing, art collection, philanthropy...  Must be an interesting life!

  • louis jordan

    from what I understand his house resembles an art museum both in layout and in contents.  he has the jasper johns and the picasso and the warhol - all sorts of amazing stuff.  Know that he's big on modern art and think as far back as he goes is the impressionist and early modern artists.  Malzen was the architect of his house which is really amazing modern work

  • MichaelOvitzFan

    Michael Ovitz is a partner with top chef winner Michael Voltaggio in the new l.a. hotspot ink., very nice spot for dining...  Ovtiz also just sold the legendary ice house in beverly hills for a handful of millions.  Was just seen dining in NY with Barry Diller - gossip rags wondering about what..  Anyhow he's still moving and shaking - would love to see him return as an agent - greatest ever!!

  • louis jordan

    ink. is phenomenal - voltaggio is a master chef!!!!  Reservation is about a month out tho - make em early

  • Phoebe Lemon

    I just ate at ink!!!  So crazy as I had no idea it was ovitz owned.  OMG I love top chef have been dying to eat at all the spots with the top chef winners.  Voltaggio is AMAZING - like so awesome.  The other one in l.a. is L.A. farm with that mean guy Stefan.  Its okay.  He goes around from table to table but mainly to stroke his own ego..  I saw him and was thinking 'Please don't come to my table!'  Thank goodness he didn't..  Anyway Ink is totally worth it - two drawbacks:  1. parking - valet is expensive 2. price - its a FANTASTIC meal but really expensive.  My husband spent $150 for the eve for the 2 of us but we did have a bottle of vino.  Michael Ovitz can definitely afford it though 

  • louis jordan

    @phoebelemon that's great you visited ink.  I've also been to l.a. farm and agree he kind of misses the mark.  His spin on american comfort foods is interesting but not commiserate with the prices he's charging for his plates.  Tapas style is the mode but alot of theses places get away with murder in terms of their portion/price ratio.  Now there's an app idea!  Portion/price app ratio, ranking all restaurants.  Ovitz is a big foodie - he frequents all the great L.a. and ny restaurants and knows the business well.  Its no coincidence he's backing ink and it is doing so well.  ink.spot on the other hand might fall a bit into that portion/price category - its relatively cheap but the sandwiches are tiny!  Happy dining

  • Phoebe Lemon

    Michael Ovitz and his interest in Sun Tzu's 'The Art of War' may be a little misleading, as it carries certain cutthroat connotations... The truth of the matter is that 'The Art of War' is in many ways a peaceful and deeply philosophical book.  Everyone in business should read it.  What I'm wondering is how CAA has changed since its heyday in the 20 years Ovitz was at the helm.  

  • MichaelOvitzFan

    Michael Ovitz is a complex personality...  To answer your question CAA remains one of the most powerful talent agencies in Hollywood, as it was when Ovitz ran it.  Creative Artists Agency, William Morris, all the big ones are still there.  The business model has changed somewhat - less of the 'packaged deal' stuff as when Ovitz was running things.  

  • MichaelOvitzFan

    Like Michael Ovitz I've read Tzu's Art of War.  Japanese executives (the book is Chinese, incidentally) are often given the book to read.  I think Ovitz may have chosen the book based on his experiences with Japanese culture.  He has always been involved with Japanese companies - Sony, etc. and moreover has a business acumen that involves knowing both yourself (return calls promptly, deliver exemplary service) and your enemies.  Don't kid yourself that hollywood isn't structured to have competing bodies vying for a finite pool of talent and financial resources.  Anyhow I read that bill bellichek - coach of the new england patriots - read the book not long before his team won the super bowl.  Suffice it to say good reading!

  • MichaelOvitzFan

    Michael Ovitz is indeed exec producing a tnt procedural drama 'tom clancy's homeland security' - read this as well.  Ovitz also is a part owner in ink. -  a Michael Voltaggio restaurant opening on Beverly Glen in a few days.  Voltaggio won Top Chef season 5 or 6, for all you tv fans.  He also just sold the 'ice house' a los angeles landmark built in 1925 for something like 22 million.  He bought it for 3 mil in 1993.  What else is going on...  Oh yeah, his daughter, Kimberly Ovitz, just put out her spring 2012 fashion line.  so that's the latest on the michael ovitz front from yours truly, his biggest fan!

  • Phoebe Lemon

    I just read that michael ovitz is going to executive produce a project by tom clancy!!!  pretty cool, I guess it is on TNT (well, I don't guess, I know) and is called 'homeland security'.  I wonder what it is about? (jk)  I'm a big clancy fan so looking forward to it