Three years into its existence, WME's Music for Visual Media Dept. is trumpeting major successes for its newbie composers, from Alex Ebert's Golden Globe win for "All Is Lost" to Junkie XL's "300: Rise of an Empire" and "Divergent" scores, to the maestros behind three consecutive top winners at Sundance.
Has it changed the composer representation landscape? The verdict is still out.
In early 2011, William Morris Endeavor CEO Ari Emanuel invited Amos Newman -- whose experience included 15 years at record labels and four years at film-music-focused Gorfaine/Schwartz Agency -- to head up the new department.
Within a week they were meeting with composer Hans Zimmer, who subsequently left GSA for WME.
Some competitors considered the coup a smoke-and-mirrors maneuver that wouldn't last; others cited Newman's pedigree as showbiz royalty as an obvious calling card. Newman's father is singer-songwriter Randy, himself the nephew of legendary film composers Alfred and Lionel Newman.
"I certainly don't think that hurt him," says one composer agent who asked not to be identified. "He grew up in the business and came from a very prestigious and powerful agency and has built-in connections because of that."
While it's difficult to gauge what Newman brought to the table at GSA, where he didn't act as an agent, the deep well of recording artists and producers at WME gives him plenty of talent to draw upon as he attempts to extend the agency's musical reach into visual media.
"We're not just a composer agency," Newman says. "We like to view ourselves as a complete music solution. We represent a great roster of composers, but we also represent a great roster of artists, most of whom are willing to contribute something -- a song or a performance -- for a film, TV or game project."
"The Amazing Spider-Man 2," now out, is a case in point: Zimmer scored the film, but fellow WME clients Pharrell Williams and Alicia Keys produced and sang the end-title song.
Other WME recording artists who've dabbled in film music include Eddie Vedder, Jack White, Grizzly Bear and Danger Mouse, and there's no reason to think they won't be further expanding their portfolio under Newman's watch.
But Newman is just as interested in breaking acts in movies and TV as he is with pop-rock darlings who've already crossed over. If any WME client represents the future of film scoring, it may be Tom Holkenborg, better known as producer-DJ-artist Junkie XL. Based at Zimmer's Remote Control studios in Santa Monica, he's been working with Zimmer on projects like "Man of Steel." But he recently branched out on his own, scoring the action sequel "300: Rise of an Empire" and the young-adult sci-fi "Divergent." He's now working closely with Australian director George Miller on the "Mad Max" prequel "Fury Road."
"The industry is a people business," Holkenborg says. "My manager and I met Amos many years ago and we became friends. When he started working at WME, (becoming a client) was the most natural thing to do. They are powerful and represent so many different types of people, I feel really at home there."
But, he points out, "an agent can only make sure people know who you are, where you are, and if eventually there's a meeting between composer and director, it's a creative choice. The composer needs to seal the deal." That hasn't changed.
While WME boasts the kind of vertical integration that can pair above-the-line with below-the-line talent, composers and studio music execs agree it's usually impossible to "package" a composer with a filmmaker. Those collaborations -- whether it's John Williams and Steven Spielberg or Carter Burwell and the Coen brothers -- usually develop over time and rely on chemistry.
"The director often has somebody that he already has a relationship with," says a competing agent. "And if they don't, the composer decision is usually going to happen at a completely different point in the process than when it's being set up. What we do is such a niche that it can get lost in the shuffle with the bigger agencies.
"But (a larger agency) can make the introduction if they have access
If WME doesn't rep a director on a film, it might rep a producer, says Newman, so "there's always some point of entry where I can pick up the phone and speak to an actual filmmaker. That's what sets us apart."