The turbulent UK agency scene, where three leading players have changed ownership in as many months, is increasingly looking for a slice of the producing action - to the point of taking producer credits and fees instead of the usual commissions.
Among the ventures now producing or seriously looking at raising their production profile are ICM UK, leading local agency Peters Fraser & Dunlop, Seifert Dench, Luc Roeg and Charles Finch's Artists Independent Network (AIN) and, on a TV level at least, Michael Foster's Artists Rights Group.
"Representation is definitely heading in that direction, here and, for some time now, in the States," says Roeg.
The timing of PFD's recent sale to sports management outfit CSS Stellar and Curtis Brown and ICM's management buy-outs is probably just coincidence - certainly in Curtis Brown and PFD's case, the upheaval has more to do with senior agents looking to realise some value from their companies and their younger colleagues wanting a share.
But PFD is looking at developing or producing film and TV material - "it was one of the reasons for the sale," says joint chairman Anthony Jones. "Everything is possible."
At ICM, UK chief Duncan Heath is finalising a management buy-out from his US parent with a view to freeing himself from US regulations stipulating that agents cannot operate as producers. Heath is developing projects with Mike Newell and Martin Campbell through his recently-formed deal with the US' Catch 23 Entertainment. He says he will not take a producing credit but may take a profit participation and some form of facilitating fee that, like a producer, is payable once a film is greenlit.
"There isn't enough work to go round," says Heath. "The answer is we've got to extend. It's no good being in the stage coach business when the car has been invented."
The formula has paid dividends for TV management-production groups such as Talkback and Avalon. The likes of Peter Bennett-Jones are now forging film production ventures with credits such as Billy Elliot. "A lot of agents are trying to do it," says Seifert Dench's Linda Seifert. They know where to finance projects and they are tired of taking 10% for it all."
UK law makes it difficult to take commissions when agents are connected to production companies, so it is hard for agents to get both producer fees and commissions. Seifert Dench waived its commission and took just producers fees on Hot Gold, a low budget UK film written by its client Laurie Rowley. AIN does the same on projects where it takes producing credits.
Inevitably, some producers are sceptical about how much agents deserve their credits. Eyebrows were raised as soon as the first production, Mike Bassett: England Manager, emerged from AIN complete with a company credit and executive producer credits for Roeg and Finch. "The worry is that agents are going to insist on producing all their clients' films," says one production executive. "You could end up with the situation where agents get credits as a matter of course without really doing much."
Roeg points out that, while AIN represents Mike Bassett director Steve Barron, the company had no clients in its next production, David Cronenberg's Spider. "The most important thing is that I don't think our client and the director of the film has any issue with the work we did," he says. "The work we did was justified, fruitful and helped get the film made."
Other agents dismiss producers' criticisms as griping from people who are not up to the job and are worried about getting muscled out. Either way, the lack of stars in the UK means it is not a fertile place for the notorious US agents who demand credits.
But one concern that even agents acknowledge is the potential for a conflict of interest between a project and a client. "I'd feel conflicted, but that's old fashioned," says Jenne Casarotto.
Nevertheless, the UK film sector could well benefit from the creation of some high-powered production entities. The real problem, however, may well prove getting their producing ambitions off the ground: soberingly, in the US, Artists Production Group, the sister company of Michael Ovitz's US management company, this month brought in former Warner Bros and Columbia production chief Mark Canton after releasing only one film in three years.