The WGA and Hollywood talent agencies are going back to the negotiating table on Tuesday as they wrestle with the guild’s efforts to impose new rules on franchised agents that would bar them from receiving packaging fees or putting writers in agency-affiliated productions.
The guild and the Association of Talent Agents will meet at noon on Tuesday at the Beverly Hilton. The session will make the first meeting of the sides since Feb. 19, when talks ended after just two days. The ATA is expected to deliver a counterproposal to the WGA’s proposed bans on the two most contentious issues, packaging and production.
The agencies are expected to push for new rules that offer WGA members more transparency and a clear process of opting out of an agency package on their projects. The guild is objecting to a decades-old industry practice in which talent agencies receive a percentage of the license fee and profits from series that they helped pull together on behalf of writer clients. The guild is also pushing back on the diversification of the parent companies of the largest agencies into content production and distribution.
A rep for the WGA confirmed plans for Tuesday’s meeting. The Hollywood Reporter first reported news of the Tuesday session.
The WGA has ratcheted its communications to members on the ATA fight as the April 6 expiration of the current franchise agreement draws near. If the sides haven’t come to terms on a new deal, the WGA will impose a newly drawn Code of Conduct for agents that seek to represent WGA members.
On Sunday, the WGA posted five lengthy new articles in the FAQ in the “Agency Agreement 2019” section of its website to refute arguments made by talent agents in the past two weeks as the top agencies held town halls and private meetings with top writer clients in recent weeks. The WGA took aim point by point at the agencies’ rationale that packaging fees save clients the standard 10% commission (which is waived when agencies receive a package) and that it helps writers access top talent.
The WGA’s rhetoric describes packaging as a “scam” and an “unholy bargain” because packaging fees are paid by producers, not an agency’s clients. The WGA maintains that its campaign against agencies was driven by complaints from members. Agencies believe writer clients want to see this flap settled without more barbs exchanged and without the guild forcing writers to leave their agents on April 7.
“Studios increase their profits by applying downward pressure on labor costs, including writer salaries. Our agents are supposed to push back, defending and increasing our quotes,” the WGA wrote in the articled titled “But, I Like Not Paying 10% Commission.” “But agencies with packaging deals have no incentive to do so. Instead, they benefit from windfall profits by the increasingly-profitable studios. Studios complain about packaging, and yet it persists. You have to wonder whether there is not some unholy bargain going on – some soft collusion that has left writers on the outside looking in.”
On the question of the commission savings, the guild emphasizes its stance that writers will be better off in the long run if agents are only compensated by receiving a percentage of a writer’s direct income, not fees paid by a studio.
“Now this savings of 10%, ballyhooed by our agents, looks less like a free lunch. It’s hush money,” the WGA wrote.