EXCLUSIVE: Jeff Berg Opens New Agency ‘Resolution’ Monday; UPDATE: Investor ID

EXCLUSIVE UPDATE 7 PM: I can now reveal the identity of Jeff Berg’s principal investor and financial partner. His name is Jahm Najafi, a former Salomon Bros banker active in real estate and private equity with investments in diverse companies and brands. According to news reports, he isn’t in the deal-making stratosphere, but the CEO of Phoenix-based private equity firm Najafi Companies is in the mix of many high-profile deals. MORE BELOW

EXCLUSIVE 1:54 PM: Inside 1801 Century Park East on the entire 23rd floor, Jeff Berg‘s new full-service Resolution agency capitalized with about $200 million is opening its doors on Monday. The offices are still being painted and the Jeff Berg Resolution Hollywood Agencybathrooms are a work in progress. But the longtime ICM Chairman at age 65 just moved into the new space this weekend now that the phones and Internet are up and running and the conference room is finished. Today he’s calling clients. He’s already more than a week ahead of schedule. Over the next six months, Hollywood and New York and Nashville will witness a series of announcements about agents being hired from the top tenpercenteries and midlevel executives being culled from the Industry. Most are still in secret negotiations on Resolution contracts, others are signing non-disclosure agreements, several are in the process of being raided, and still more are daily dialing Berg to inquire about coming over. Their own companies don’t know they’re even contemplating departures. There hasn’t been a major full-service agency start-up like this since Endeavor was formed in 1995 by four former ICM agents who left Berg et al in a midnight stealth. Resolution will keep making headlines as Berg slowly builds his film/TV/talent/literary/music/publishing/digital tenpercentery to an anticipated staffing level of 35 agents plus support staff in LA, 25 agents in NYC, and 10 agents in Nashville. He’s still not settled on his Manhattan office, looking at a variety of spaces in Midtown, Downtown, Chelsea. “He’ll figure that out,” an insider tells me.

It only took him 8-to-10 weeks to set up Resolution doing it primarily by mobile phone, a gmail account, and temporary digs. Berg already has Resolution’s executive infrastructure put together: his COO will be his new partner, former music agent Jeff Franklin, CFO will be former William Morris Agency Finance Director Laura Li, and chief counsel will be former Universal Business Affairs’ Jonathan Gumpert (father of Andrew Gumpert who runs business affairs at Sony Pictures). Still to come is a “people person” senior agent who will function as the catalyst to help keep morale at a high level — because no one knows better than Iceberg what his reputation was and still is. I understand that Berg and Franklin went far with a top CAA senior agent who ultimately stayed put.

Already Resolution has booked 3 lucrative concert tours for this summer. Lit agents have been hired, including Rich Green and Shari Smiley from CAA and Abram Nalibotsky from Gersh, while Paradise Artists’ Steve Schenck will run the music division, with former ICM agent Terry Rhodes part of that music mix. Big names from CAA, UTA, ICM are in play or have been. But Berg is proceeding slowly when it comes to hiring, not wanting to “throw people at offices” and not looking to “have a 1,000 person firm”, in the words of insiders. Instead, he intends to run a leaner operation than his soon-to-be competitors.

Rumors are rampant who’s coming and who’s not. There also are many big deals afoot. I hear Berg will issue some kind of statement on Monday. [2ND UPDATE: The principal investor who's capitalizing Resolution to the tune of "more or less $200M" is Najafi. The name is not well-known to Hollywood. But he bought the direct-marketing business Direct Group from German book publisher Bertelsmann AG. (Direct Group owns the Book-of-the-Month Club, Columbia House and record club BMG.) Also he's invested in Cinram which is the largest video duplicators, SkyMall in-flight catalogue and ecommerce sitel, as well as the Phoenix Suns basketball team. Najafi Companies makes “highly selective investments up to $1 billion in transaction value…and often in industries out of popular favor.” Unlike most private equity firms, Najafi Companies doesn’t raise money from outside investors to do deals. It also tends to hold onto investments for 5 to 10 years, longer than typical in the quick-flip business. This Harvard MBA-trained Iranian American did his undergraduate at Berkeley which is Berg's alma mater.]

The capital will enable Berg to embark on a “build and buy” strategy which includes purchasing other agencies. Also in his wheelhouse, Berg is contemplating a separate operation that could do gap financing along the same lines as Media Rights Capital which after some struggles just scored big with Seth MacFarlane’s Ted. All this secrecy should come as no surprise. I’ve written previously about how Berg growing up shocked his family with the news that he wanted to join the CIA. Instead, he’s spent a lifetime as a Hollywood agent. And now, after exiting ICM on October 26th following a bruising management buyout battle with Chris Silbermann and Rick Levy refereed by investor Rizvi Traverse, Berg is building his own tenpercentery from scratch.

Insiders tell me that Berg appears energized by Resolution. ”This is an exciting moment for my life and career. I spent a lot of time thinking this through,” Berg is telling prospective agents. And then he describes how he went on a ‘listening tour’ throughout Hollywood after his ICM departure. According to sources, Berg says: ”I spent a lot of time listening to execs, agents, producers, clients. And the overwhelming sense I got was there’s a real opportunity to do something new in the agency business. As the major firms have grown larger, they also have become more distant. The way to counter that is less overhead, greater focus, more efficiency. I’m not looking to create ICM 2.0.”

Resolution might not have been possible if one of Berg’s daughters had not made a miraculous recovery from a brain hemorrhage. That year-long family struggle and ICM’s two-year internal fighting occupied his heart and his head. Now that daughter is starting her own company just like Dad. I’ve learned that, amazingly, Berg has no non-compete or non-solicitation with ICM because of the way they in the end threw him out. ”I can’t be angry,” Berg tells prospective agents. “I was given a visa to go do my thing.” I can’t wait to see how the agency landscape changes this year as a result.

Comments (112)

  • New Agency for a New Hollywood… we’re loading up the truck and moving back to Beverly… Hills that is, swimming pools, movie stars..!

    Comment by Lib — Sunday January 27, 2013 @ 2:06pm PST  
    • They’re based in Century City….

      Comment by nope — Monday January 28, 2013 @ 6:18pm PST  
  • Berg is a shark and doing the right thing. Very exciting.

    Comment by Shark Lover — Sunday January 27, 2013 @ 2:06pm PST  
  • AFOP. This should be called Agency For Old People

    Comment by Jimmy — Sunday January 27, 2013 @ 2:11pm PST  
    • if the idiot who posted the above knew hollywood- he’s blow anyone to get into Berg’s door.

      Comment by grease1977 — Sunday January 27, 2013 @ 7:39pm PST  
      • I agree, grease1977 — Jeff Berg represents legendary Hollywood; Jimmy’s comment proves he’s obnoxious Hollywood.

        Comment by bOB c. — Friday February 22, 2013 @ 10:08pm PST  
  • I want in!

    Comment by MP — Sunday January 27, 2013 @ 2:20pm PST  
  • THIS…is getting good! Wonder who the top Senior CAA agent was? Can’t wait to see who is going over there! Congrats to Berg!

    Comment by MnL — Sunday January 27, 2013 @ 2:20pm PST  
    • I am with you. Would like to know who it was also! Sounds like they will announce when they can! Looking forward to that and Congrats to Berg and Company! Green and Smiley were excellent choices!

      Comment by Sisboomba — Monday January 28, 2013 @ 10:44am PST  
  • This is going to be interesting to watch. One smaller agency that also shouldn’t be ignored is Verve. In many ways, they’re the opposite of Berg — young, friendly, personal. But I’m really rooting for the Berg agency to land some big agents and talent. It’s about time for a new heavy hitter in town.

    Comment by Interesting — Sunday January 27, 2013 @ 2:24pm PST  
    • Verve isn’t the only agency to watch this week. A little birdie told me Berg has cherry-picked the agencies in the #6-10 spots.

      Comment by The J-Man — Sunday January 27, 2013 @ 8:26pm PST  
  • Absolutely love the name. Very exciting news!

    Comment by Steve — Sunday January 27, 2013 @ 2:36pm PST  
  • This sounds phenomenal. Exciting frontier ahead for this sector of the industry!

    Comment by Supporter — Sunday January 27, 2013 @ 2:37pm PST  
  • Our industry is changing and it is exciting. Best of luck to all at Resolution!

    Comment by Sandra Milliner — Sunday January 27, 2013 @ 2:38pm PST  
  • Nice break and extensive context, Ms. Finke. I’d have to say that Berg’s startup with Resolution is an EXCITING, potentially game-changing development in the talent agency community here, which has been so badly consolidated over the last five-plus years (i.e., Endeavor to William Morris and other agencies like Broder Kurland being gobbled up by the majors including ICM).

    I hope that Mr. Berg really SEIZES the opportunity to build an agency that also has an OPEN-MINDED, OPEN-DOOR policy fully extended to both “unproven” and proven above- and below-the-line talent in this town. After all, what’s been crippling both the movie and television businesses in this town is a MYOPIC obsession going with “name” talent and “established” formulaic business practices to center all film/TV development around a “clubby circle” of only A-list writer-producers-directors and “fanboy-type” comic franchises — there needs to be a renewed emphasis on NEW VOICES and NEW, BREAKTHROUGH LITERARY MATERIAL, not just what they think is “proven box-office” (but gets little, of any, critical acclaim and notice).

    That’s why I am hopeful and optimistic that Mr. Berg’s new, hungry and re-energized talent agents/lit agents really have the opportunity to reverse these stagnant business trends and shift the paradigm of how “gatekeepers” in this town do business. Just like the rest of our “corporatized” country, more COMPETITION is always better for business, the economy and people in general!

    Cheers to Mr. Berg for having the vision and entrepreneurial spirit to mount this — I wish him and Resolution great SUCCESS going forward! :-D

    Comment by Resolution Can Be a Revolution! — Sunday January 27, 2013 @ 2:47pm PST  
    • Best comment I’ve read on Deadline in a while.

      Comment by Joe — Sunday January 27, 2013 @ 3:05pm PST  
    • You’re obviously “talent” (I use the term loosely) and not a producer as you seem to not understand why there is an emphasis on “‘name’ talent and “established” formulaic business practices to center all film/TV development around a “clubby circle” of only A-list writer-producers-directors and “fanboy-type” comic franchises.” It’s called risk mitigation in a very uncertain climate. Independent film finance practically dried up in 2012 due to stifling tax rates and a no-growth economy. The (unsurprising) Hollywood tax breaks (cough…kickback…cough) in the fiscal cliff deal will hopefully open the flood gates in 2013 for indie financing allowing more “unproven” voices to get their shot. I’m with you in that I would like to see more of that, but it’s really not Hollywood’s fault (as much as I’d like it to be).

      Comment by Adam — Sunday January 27, 2013 @ 5:06pm PST  
      • If all of the Hollywood suits (agents/managers/studio execs) think like you do about “risk mitigation” (which is probably true, unfortunately), what you said just feeds the industry-wide obsession for “SAMENESS” in filmmaking. Come on, where is the next generation Robert Evans execs at the studios to greenlight the next “Godfather”- or “Chinatown”-like EPICS this town so desperately needs — there is NO ORIGINALITY in just doing “risk mitigation” and making the “safe bets” on the same A-listers and clubby creatives all of the time??!!

        Like Evans, what do you think happened when Darryl Zanuck decided to “take a chance” on a new “kid” director named Spielberg to make an “original” movie like “Jaws” back in 1974. And look now, Spielberg (ditto Lucas, Peter Jackson, James Cameron, etc.) has his name on everything from movies to TV shows to merchandisable action figures in toy stores — it’s time other new FACES are given chances, too!

        Sometimes you have break the molds to get BOTH hit box office and new original material and talent to shake things up — where’s the FUN and CHALLENGE in just practicing risk, shmisk mitigation, man??!!! That’s the kind of myopic, gelding-like thinking that’s often crippling Hollywood so bad in domestic and international box offices! Balls out, I say!

        Comment by Resolution Can Be a Revolution! — Sunday January 27, 2013 @ 8:56pm PST  
        • Adam insinuates that he’s a producer, probably indie, which means he’s lucky if he can afford a suit, much less be one.

          It’s not just a question of mitigating risk by attaching name talent, international pre-sales are contingent upon it, and most indie financing deals can only close if a certain number of pre-sales have been made, unless you find a swashbuckling Daddy Warbucks who will write a check for the whole thing. You don’t need Paul Krugman to tell you how many of those are floating around these days.

          Also, I think you will find that most of the bigger agencies rep quite a few non-names.

          Comment by James Killough — Monday January 28, 2013 @ 12:49am PST  
        • The Godfather was an international bestseller. Robert Towne was a top of the A-list screenwriter when he wrote Chinatown. I get your point, but those are not good examples.

          Comment by Cody — Monday January 28, 2013 @ 7:41am PST  
          • Oh brother, Cody, I think you’re splitting hairs here. I brought up “Godfather” because some execs at Paramount were not BIG on a young director named Francis Ford Coppolla being chosen to helm it — but Evans stuck by his guns.

            Sure, Robert Towne was (and is) a KNOWN screenwriting commodity, but again some Paramount execs again doubted Roman Polanski’s commercial “bankability” in taking over “Chinatown.”

            I’m thinking there might be some studio watchers here who would agree that “Godfather” (part 1 in particular) and “Chinatown” were the kind of big-bucks, risk-taking type projects that the “fanboy-driven” studios of today would NOT take a risk on. Give me a break here, Cody!

            Comment by Resolution Can Be a Revolution! — Monday January 28, 2013 @ 3:41pm PST  
      • With respect! The Hollywood (and Publishing) models are risk averse.
        Clearly agents are agents because their model is to maximise revenue and profit. That’s limiting and has a direct correlation with stifling creative output and experiment. (Even the financially successful outputs are creatively sterile.) In brand marketing the most ‘popular’ brands in general are bland and for the mob.

        The mob however can surprise us often by realising an exceptional proposition.

        There is a great wrong thinking by taking an accepted model and working from that – it’s true in R&D and scientific research in general. The true great ife changing advances are by those who understand risk and investing in the unknown and ambiguous. Creatives are comfortable with this.

        Sports industries recognise that as part of their investment they must spend on scouting for new talent, nurturing people who will develop under specific conditions.

        The old and tired axiom model says that talent will always surface no matter the suppressive elements. This is complete rubbish.

        There is an enormous reservoir of talent in the universe – watch out for the cataclismic changes coming to ‘e’publishing and mobile and static internet broadcasting.

        So my advice to agencies, studios – not Amazon nor Netflix – is wise up. Rewrite your greedy model and factor in say 8% or more for investing in calculated risk. If you have to reduce your salaries and profit margins then so be it. That’s the better model.

        Comment by gordon mann — Thursday April 18, 2013 @ 10:29am PDT  
    • A fragmented representation marketplace is better for the studios. Change isn’t going to happen. They will have have one more agency to play off of the others.

      Comment by JS — Sunday January 27, 2013 @ 7:48pm PST  
      • Yup, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see this agency with two or three blacklist scripts by year’s end, all from established talent.

        Comment by iLoveBurgers — Monday January 28, 2013 @ 12:13pm PST  
    • Congratulation’s on your daughter’s miracle recovery ..

      Our Friend referred us to you, Mr. Singer

      God Bless Your New Agency


      Bess Ward

      Comment by Bess Ward — Thursday April 4, 2013 @ 9:07am PDT  
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