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Agencies Offer to Restart Talks With WGA to End Packaging Fee Standoff

Hollywood’s largest talent agencies have offered to restart negotiations with the WGA to end the standoff over the guild’s effort to impose new rules on talent agents.

In a letter to WGA West president David Goodman sent Wednesday, UTA co-president Jay Sures extended an olive branch and suggested resuming talks next week. UTA later sent the letter as an email message to its former writer clients. Goodman had been a longtime client of UTA until the breach that began on April 12.

“If this dispute is truly about addressing Packaging and Affiliate Production, then we are ready to get back to the table with you,” Sures wrote to Goodman. “We are open to concepts of true revenue sharing and have already committed to requirements of explicit client consent and overall transparency and accountability. To be clear, we have publicly stated that if a writer does not want his/her show packaged, we will honor that. Let’s put an end to this unnecessary and extremely costly litigation that is a great detriment to your membership and the agencies.”

The WGA had no immediate comment.

The WGA and Hollywood’s largest talent agencies have been at odds for six weeks, ever since the guild instructed its nearly 15,000 members to fire agents who refuse to sign on to the newly implemented Agency Code of Conduct. More than 65 boutique agencies have signed the code along with 30-agent Verve, which gave the WGA a major boost when it signed on May 16.

The WGA and Association of Talent Agents had a series of negotiations in February and March to hammer out a deal for a new agency franchise agreement, the first revisions to the agreement in more than 40 years. The guild aims to ban the practice of talent agencies receiving packaging fees on TV series that are paid by the production entity. The WGA last month filed a lawsuit against WME, CAA, UTA and ICM Partners, asserting that packaging fees are an inherent conflict of interest. The WGA amended the lawsuit earlier this week to add a fraud charge to its claims.

Sures has been a key player in the talks on behalf of the ATA. Last month, as the clock ticked down on the expiration of the previous franchise agreement, Sures reached out to Goodman to help set up an eleventh-hour negotiating session between the sides on April 5. That meeting led the WGA to agree to delay implementation of the code for a week. But the sides still couldn’t come to terms and the code took effect April 12.

The WGA maintains that packaging fees and the growing practice of talent agency parent companies investing in production-distribution assets as a violation of agents’ fiduciary duty to clients. The guild has said the ATA’s offers to make packaging more transparent and optional for clients, among other offers, fall short of addressing the problem.

Here is Sures’ full letter to Goodman:

Dear David-

As a longtime client (now former client) of UTA, and as someone I have spoken to along the way in the WGA/ATA dispute, I thought I would reach out once again in an attempt to figure out a path to a resolution to this mess.  It has been over a month since we all sat across from one another at the negotiating table for what I thought was a sincere good faith negotiation.     

What I have heard from many of your members is that they want us back at the negotiating table.  They want a deal and they want one now.  Many feel this fight has gone on too long with those that didn’t have existing jobs or overall deals feeling like they are at a disadvantage to those that did.  Feature writers are being burdened unfairly.   I know you have gotten many of those notes from members, because those very same notes have been forwarded to me and my agent colleagues with the passionate pleas to come to terms on a new agreement.

So we now find ourselves at a crossroads.  The lawsuit that your guild filed a month ago and amended this week is a reality.  By law, we must respond to it and we will.   We will be forced to defend ourselves, our reputations, our hard work, and our integrity with everything we have.  I know you would do the same if the roles were reversed.

We have acknowledged concerns in the areas of Packaging and Affiliated Production and put forth a comprehensive Agency Standards for Client Representation that focuses on client choice, transparency and universally accepted standards of dispute resolution through independent and unbiased arbitration.  We never received a response to this comprehensive proposal.  If this dispute is truly about addressing Packaging and Affiliate Production, then we are ready to get back to the table with you.  We are open to concepts of true revenue sharing and have already committed to requirements of explicit client consent and overall transparency and accountability.  To be clear, we have publicly stated that if a writer does not want his/her show packaged, we will honor that.   Let’s put an end to this unnecessary and extremely costly litigation that is a great detriment to your membership and the agencies.  

We should be by your sides fighting for the things writers  need and deserve in your upcoming AMPTP negotiation. So, in that spirit, let’s get in a smaller room next week and put ALL the issues on the table.  Our group will be there.  Please try to get yours.  If possible let’s plan on next Wednesday at one of our previous meeting locations.  Many people are depending on us to get everyone working again.  I look forward to hearing from you. 

Respectfully,

Jay 

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