Measure hinges on board's blessing

The agency business took a major step Wednesday toward unshackling itself, as a key group of percenters agreed to the Screen Actors Guild’s proposals for a two-year waiver, granting agents significantly expanded powers.

The strategic planning committee of the Assn. of Talent Agents approved the entire SAG proposal, removing the need for further negotiations between the organizations.

The only obstacle left to agents assuming their new powers is for SAG’s 36-member executive board to give a final OK on March 7.

“We could not be more pleased with this agreement,” said Karen Stuart, ATA executive director. “It is designed to align the interests of SAG and ATA to the benefit of the agency clients, who are the SAG members.”

The ATA vote came a day after SAG’s national board approved most of the proposals that agents and the union had hammered out over the past year. The SAG panel had left three points for its executive committee to negotiate, but, possibly in a sign of its desire to avoid last-minute complications, the ATA decided Wednesday to agree to the entire package.

However, SAG president William Daniels stressed Wednesday that the agents do not yet have a done deal.

“This agreement still has to be passed by the national executive committee on March 7, and it’s not in place until then,” he said. “For now, it’s still an open question.”

Daniels, who was elected last November following a campaign promising that SAG leadership would be more responsive to members, also said the issue is a critical one. “It’s something that will be with the union for many, many years,” he added.

SAG executive director Ken Orsatti also said Wednesday that the deal has not been completed and that the final package will be reported to the executive committee.

The two-year waiver lifts long-standing SAG prohibitions on agency ownership by motion picture producers, distributors or networks. The ATA said Wednesday it had made a key concession by agreeing that such owners cannot have a controlling interest in more than one agency.

The agreement does not alter the ban on agents producing films and television shows, but it will allow them to own noncontrolling interests in production companies.

In exchange, agents have agreed to safeguards to avoid conflicts of interest such as full disclosure to clients of any agency interest in potential employers of the clients.

Other conditions include partnering with SAG on diversity initiatives; cooperating with SAG in organizing employers who are not signatories to SAG agreements; providing SAG with information on new media and runaway production; funding for performance bonds to cover defaults; advising clients and SAG if an agency enters negotiations to be sold; and giving SAG the power to revoke an agency’s franchise if terms of the waiver are breached.

Agents have insisted that they have two major goals in their drive for SAG to change its rules: to allow agencies to form alliances with potential partners amid a fast-changing business environment; and to stop the defections from their ranks into management companies, which face far fewer restrictions and regulations.

“The agreement reflects the strong working relationship with SAG and ATA, and signals the intention for further collaboration which mutually benefits everyone in an increasingly complex entertainment marketplace,” Stuart said.

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