CAA to Hollywood: Sorry, no free parking
If you were ever looking for the zeitgeist-ish sign of harsh times, try getting your parking validated when you visit CAA's stylish headquarters in Century City. Ain't gonna happen no more, my friend. Big-shot visitors to Hollywood's top talent agency have been in an uproar in recent weeks after learning that if they want to valet their Porsches and Priuses, they'll have to pay $34 for two hours' parking--or suffer the indignity of driving across the street and parking at Century City's Westfield mall. CAA's top agents have been deluged with angry e-mail and phone calls from producers, managers and other industry quasi-royalty who've voiced outrage over the new cost-saving move.
One agent said he got an earful from an indignant filmmaker who couldn't believe that after making 10 movies he was being forced to shell out all that dough just to take a meeting at his own agency. So how should we view this? Is all this grousing yet another sign of pathetic Hollywood entitlement, when regular working folk are putting up with far, far greater sacrifices in the midst of a severe economic downturn? Or is this a signal that CAA, like every other industry institution, is battening down the hatches in an effort to struggle through hard times?
CAA insiders say they have no say over the parking charges, since the valet concession at their building (which they don't own) is unionized and out of the agency's control. They were able to negotiate a small reduction in the parking charges, but the agency believes it has to engage in serious belt-tightening to deal with the industry's brutal economic climate, where studios (the latest being Warners) are laying off employees left and right. CAA says if it continued to pay the valet parking costs (as other agencies continue to do, believing it is a necessary service for valued clients), the agency would have to lay off assistants and service staff. By letting visitors foot the bill, they are avoiding firing valued employees.
"We either spend the money on assistants and young agents or we spend it on parking," is how one top agent put it. As for the unhappy talent in town: "If they're really that upset, then they should take meetings on the phone." I know that CAA has quietly pursued other cost-cutting measures with its own agents, cutting back on the use of town cars and limos, among other moves. So it does seem to be practicing what it's preaching. I think the real message here, as studios are laying off employees, producer deals are disappearing and star talent is taking less up-front money for all sorts of new projects, is that the Hollywood gravy train has left the station.