Villains, L.A. and New York - Founded: 1998

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Principals: Robin Benson, John Marshal, Jim Giddens

Roster: Douglas Avery, Ken Fox, Larry Frey, Jim Giddens, Phil Joanou, Bjorn Stein, Axel Laubscher, Brett Ratner, Coen Brothers, Robert Altman, Albert Brooks

Right before the principals at Villains opened shop four years ago, executive producer Robin Benson remembers receiving the following warning from their New York rep Carl Forsberg: "You must abort! You'll go bankrupt!" because of the sinister implications of their chosen moniker. They went ahead with it anyway, and the only notoriety Villains has gained has been for stealing the show with fresh creative. The shop is backed by a "smallish" core of full-timers, as well as steady relationships with well-reputed feature talent. Sizzler-of-the-moment Joanou was in top form for choice clients UPS, Lexus, Toyota and Vanilla Coke. Altman delved into celebrity soul for a star-studded E! promo campaign, and the Coen Brothers lent their talents to H&R Block and the Gap. As for expansion, the shop also beefed up while staying small when it formed a "sibling" relationship with the renegades at Smuggler this spring. The two are independent entities, but they share resources that "make economic sense," and are engaged in an ongoing "love-fest," Benson says. "There was a mutual affinity. Personally and creatively, we meshed very well with them." Moreover, the folks at Villains, going on four and a half years, are more than eager to give their new partners their two cents on starting up, but "mostly they disregard our advice just like any younger sibling would," she laughs.

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