The WGA is looking to enlist support of Hollywood managers in its battle against the industry’s largest talent agencies.
The WGA has invited a slew of top managers to attend meetings set for this week and next to explain the guild’s rationale for its bid to impose tough restrictions on talent agency packaging fees. The guild also wants to curb the recent expansion of agency affiliated-companies into production and distribution.
The WGA and the Association of Talent Agents are up against an April 6 contract expiration deadline to hammer out a new franchise agreement governing the rules for agents representing WGA members. If a deal isn’t reached, the WGA has vowed to implement its own Code of Conduct spelling out new rules. During the past week the sides have traded barbs but no new date for talks has been set since the last tense session was held in Los Angeles on Feb. 19.
The WGA plans to hold the first managers meeting at 9 a.m. on Feb. 28 at the W hotel in Hollywood, and another session on March 5 at the Beverly Hilton, also at 9 a.m. The WGA’s email invitation sent Feb. 22 said guild representatives “will discuss the upcoming changes to agent representation of writers and how managers can support their writer clients during this period.”
The WGA’s invitation included a link to a 31-minute speech delivered Feb. 13 by WGA West president David Goodman at a meeting with members to outline the guild’s goals. “Please review the speech prior to attending the meeting,” the guild advised.
The guild has said it hopes to enlist the help of managers and lawyers help fill the void if the guild asks members to stop working with their agents. The timing of the expiration coincides with network TV’s staffing season, one of the busiest periods of the year for writers seeking new work. A WGA rep confirmed the meetings set for Feb. 28 and March 5 but otherwise declined to comment.
“If you have a manager or a lawyer, talk to them about what’s coming. Ask for them to support you through this,” the guild told members on Saturday in a lengthy memo about the status of the agency talks.
Managers are wary of the WGA’s campaign against what the guild perceives as insurmountable conflicts-of-interest issues for agencies who receive packaging fees on shows created by their writer clients. The WGA argues that agents no longer have incentive to fight for salaries and creative rights for writers because packaging fees are paid by the studio, and thus the agents are more invested in keeping a packaged show on the air and churning out fees. Agents say the WGA’s proposals are an overreach and have the potential to broadly disrupt the creative community if the WGA forces a showdown between top scribes and showrunners and their agents.
Numerous managers and lawyers expressed wariness about the WGA’s proposal, which up-ends decades of industry tradition. Many managers are also compensated in part through producing fees on client shows that are also paid by the studios, so there is concern that the WGA’s campaign could eventually to the management side. It’s expected that the major management shops will be represented in some form at the meeting, if only in order to prepare for what may come next. The WGA is planning to hold a vote among its members on March 25 to affirm the guild’s decision to establish a Code of Conduct if the franchise agreement is not renewed.
The code as proposed takes aim at conflicts-of-interest in packaging and producing. It also requires agents to share all contracts and deal-related materials with the guild in order to “more effectively enforce the compensation and late-pay provisions” of the WGA’s master film and TV contract with the studios.
One senior executive at a top management firm called the WGA’s proposals “a joke” and predicted the WGA wouldn’t have as much muscle on the issue with guild members as it would in a traditional labor contract dispute with studios. The source also expressed surprise that the guild was going full throttle agencies when the business landscape is in such flux. The packaging fee formulas at most agencies are less lucrative than they once were because fewer shows are becoming syndication home runs. Instead, Netflix, Amazon and other new entrants pay a pre-determined percentage of the overall budget as upside for profit participants.
“It’s crazy. They should be turning their attention to Disney Plus and WarnerMedia and all these big platforms that are going to try to bring prices down and extend the work span of writers,” said the manager.