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Hollywood Agents Propose Informal Talks With Writers Guild Over Rule Changes

Hollywood’s talent agents have proposed launching informal talks with the Writers Guild of America in response to the WGA’s effort to revamp the rules for agents.

Karen Stuart, executive director of the Association of Talent Agents, issued a letter on Thursday to guild leaders seeking an informal meeting to better understand the WGA’s concerns and proposals. The WGA did not immediately respond to Variety‘s request for comment.

The WGA notified Hollywood agents in April that it wanted to renegotiate its 42-year-old franchise agreement after the WGA West and WGA East boards voted unanimously to reopen the guilds’ franchise agency agreement. The WGA West held three meetings in March, during which their leaders accused Hollywood’s top talent agencies of being engaged in conflicts of interest in how they represent writers.

The issue had gained prominence earlier this year due to Hollywood’s two largest agencies — WME and CAA — moving aggressively into production. As Variety noted in a February cover story, the issue has the potential for conflicts of interest that arise when the same company represents the creative talent on one side of the table and is the employer on the other.

The WGA told members on April 6 that it has sent the Association of Talent Agents a 12-month notice to terminate the existing deal, known as the Artists’ Manager Basic Agreement. The terms and conditions of the current agreement will remain in effect through April 6, 2019, but will expire if a new agreement is not reached.

Agents have been saying privately that they were frustrated that the WGA leaders had not reached out informally at any point to discuss those concerns. They have also insisted that agents are merely responding to how Hollywood is finding financing amid a rapidly shifting business environment.

Stuart reminded the guild in her letter Thursday that the agents have a longstanding partnership with the writers.

“The ATA and its member agencies have been your partner in championing writers and their careers for more than 60 years,” she said. “We are proud of the relationship we have enjoyed with the WGA and proud of our agencies’ record of success in representing their clients — your members. Every day, our agencies are on the front lines fighting for writers’ needs: opportunity, creative freedom. and, of course, fair compensation.”

She then detailed the profound shifts in Hollywood that both sides are facing.

“Media consolidation and other seismic changes in the development, production, and distribution ecosystem have significantly altered the landscape writers — both new and established — face every day,” Stuart said in her letter. “As the writer’s role is central and indispensable, we know that it is of utmost importance to the WGA that writers continue to be able to create freely, access the most advantageous opportunities, and maximize their compensation; the agencies that represent writers, day in and day out, fully share those beliefs.”

The key WGA proposal says, “No agency shall accept any money or thing of value from the employer of a client” — which would effectively end all packaging deals, in which agencies receive both upfront and back-end fees. The WGA is also proposing that “no agency shall derive any revenue or other benefit from a client’s involvement in or employment on a motion picture project, other than a percentage commission based on the client’s compensation.”

The WGA has also proposed that, “no agency shall have an ownership or other financial interest in, or shall be owned by or affiliated with, any entity or individual engaged in the production or distribution of motion pictures.”

Stuart’s letter did not address the specifics of the WGA proposals and noted that she was surprised that there was no “direct dialogue” prior to the April 6 notification.

“It is our desire to work together to find the right solutions so that we can most effectively face the collective threat posed by a changing industry,” she added. “We were surprised, given our partnership, that this process did not begin with direct dialogue. Nevertheless, we have reviewed your proposed changes to our AMBA and are reaching out to suggest an informal meeting with you to better understand both your concerns and your proposals. Given our history, we believe such an initial discussion is appropriate before we sit on opposite sides of the bargaining table. As always, we proudly support the WGA and its members, and we look forward to a productive and successful dialogue.”

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