Hollywood talent agents have hit back at the Writers Guild of America over the scribes’ proposals to impose new restrictions on how the agencies operate.
“It’s hard to understand the WGA’s contention that it should be able to dictate what kinds of work talent agencies should be allowed to do and which agencies its members should be allowed to hire,” said Karen Stuart, executive director of the Association of Talent Agents, in a statement issued Tuesday.
No negotiations have been set, and it’s unclear as to what kind of oversight the WGA would have if the WGA’s agency franchise agreement expires a year from from now. It’s also unclear what kind of common ground can be found with the two sides appearing to be in opposition on every front.
The WGA issued proposals earlier this month aimed at stopping potential conflicts of interest. The key 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 notified Hollywood agents on April 6 that it wants to renegotiate its 42-year-old franchise agreement after the WGA West board and WGA East council voted unanimously to reopen the guilds’ 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 WGA material distributed to attendees at the meetings asserted that agencies with a financial interest in shows may have less incentive to get the best deals for writers. The issue has gained prominence in recent months due to Hollywood’s two largest agencies — WME and CAA — aggressively moving into production. As Variety noted in a Feb. 13 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 also 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.
Major talent agencies have expressed dismay in private conversations over the fact that the WGA leadership has not approached them over these concerns — opting instead to issue a blanket condemnation of how the agents are operating in a new environment with explosive growth opportunities. Stuart echoed those concerns in her statement.
“Two weeks ago, the WGA announced its intention to re-negotiate the 42-year-old agreement that governs how agents interact with their writer clients,” she said. “Given how well this agreement has worked over the years – and the fact that never in all that time has the WGA formally contacted the ATA to object to any of its provisions – we found the announcement as puzzling as it was surprising.
“Attempting to take away from agents opportunities and the right to commission traditional services will not benefit the writers; rather, it will have the opposite effect,” Stuart added. “The fact is that many of the practices that the WGA presents as problematic create exactly the opportunities its members have been demanding from their agents: access to other agency clients to help advance their projects, innovative deal strategies, aggressive negotiating tactics, and an expanded array of services for the writers and the talent community more generally.
She concluded: “Given all this, it’s hard to understand the WGA’s contention that it should be able to dictate what kinds of work talent agencies should be allowed to do and which agencies its members should be allowed to hire. Nevertheless, the ATA and its members are committed to bargaining in good faith, with the objective of ensuring that the interests of writers are served.”