The Writers Guild of America has called off negotiations with the Association of Talent Agents in favor of pursuing individual talks with nine top agencies as it enforces a total ban on packaging fees and affiliated production for agents representing guild members.
WGA West president David Goodman announced the guild’s decision to reject the ATA’s most recent revenue-sharing offer in a 16-minute video posted late Wednesday on the WGA West website. Goodman said the offer made June 7 by the ATA in the sides’ first meeting in two months did not solve the guild’s fundamental objection to what it sees as a conflict of interest in agencies receiving packaging fees from production entities.
“Revenue-sharing does nothing to incentivize your agency to get you a penny more in salary,” Goodman said in the video. “It does nothing to address the real problem.”
Goodman said the guild has decided to end talks with the ATA and approach nine agencies that represent significant number of writers for one-on-one talks with nine firms: WME, CAA, UTA, ICM Partners, Paradigm, Gersh, APA, Rothman Brecher and Kaplan Stahler.
Reps for the ATA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The WGA is in the midst of litigation with four top agencies — WME, CAA, UTA and ICM Partners — after it implemented a new Agency Code of Conduct in April. The guild directed members to cut their ties with agents who won’t adhere to the new code, which replaced an agency franchise agreement that hadn’t been changed since 1976. The WGA’s decision to end talks with the ATA could spark countersuits from the larger agencies.
The guild maintains that the growth of packaging fee income for agencies has skewed the interests of representatives away from fighting for higher writer fees in favor of maximizing the agency’s stake in backend profits, received through packaging fee deals. The agencies counter that the packaging process helps writers and others working on packaged shows save 10% of their income as the standard commission is typically waived for all clients working on a packaged project.
Goodman called the impasse that has emerged with WGA members firing their agents as part of a “difficult but necessary struggle” to fight a longstanding industry practice that has been that target of criticism for years. The WGA previously engaged in a legal battle over packaging in the mid-1970s that led to the 1976 franchise agreement.
Goodman said the guild’s agency campaign negotiating committee gave “thorough deliberation” to the offers presented by the ATA on June 7 but concluded that the offer to share 2% of agency profits from packaging with the WGA was untenable.
“A fundamental wrong can’t be righted simply by a payoff,” Goodman said.
Not only is the 2% offer too low, Goodman noted. He also asserted that the difficulties of deciding how that money would be divided among writers and how the guild would monitor agency income from packaging. Goodman described the agency proposal as an “administrative morass from which we would never escape.”
The WGA West president made it clear that revenue-sharing is off the table for the guild, in keeping with the “demand the agencies abandon packaging fees and realign their interest with their clients,” Goodman said. “We will not discuss it further.”
Goodman expressed the guild’s exasperation with the ATA negotiation process on the issue of banning agencies from having corporate ties to production entities. He asserted that the ATA member companies told the negotiating committee on June 7 that they were not able to discuss terms on behalf of those production entities because they are separate businesses from the talent agencies. Goodman called that stance “simply outrageous” and “an insult to all the writers in the room.”
Goodman acknowledged that the guild’s tough stance on agency reforms has stirred divisions among WGA members. There is no doubt the guild is bolstered by the staunch support of members who voted overwhelmingly — by more than 95% — to implement the Code of Conduct reforms in March. But there is also growing frustration at the agency impasse and opposition to the guild’s handling of the talks.
Earlier this week, a group of 20 writers sent a letter with pointed questions to WGA West board members and agency campaign negotiating committee members. Among the signatures on the letter were screenwriters Brandon Camp, Phyllis Nagy, Kyle Killen, Peter Landesman, Graham Moore, Ayelet Waldman and Rasheed Newson.
“As this action enters its third month, this lack of response from Guild leadership to the substance of the proposal is a breach of the trust membership placed in you to negotiate a new code of conduct with our agencies,” the letter states. “We did not vote for a stand-off. Further, the lack of transparency with membership is disrespectful. Our trust and loyalty are not blind.”
WGA West executive director David Young responded Thursday with point-by-point answers to the questions about the guild’s over-arching goal in implementing the agency reforms. He acknowledged the uncertainty stirred by the guild’s move and urgent members to stand in solidarity with the agenda set by the leadership.
“Part of the uncertainty is not knowing exactly how long it will take to get a fair deal. Often that is the toughest part. We hope writers will support the campaign until we can get that fair deal,” Young wrote. He also rebutted the criticism in the letter that WGA leadership has not been forthcoming with members.
“How an economic contest gets decided in the labor arena is through the process of conflict, struggle, negotiation and ultimate resolution. The Guild is still in that process with the agencies, and we have tried to be transparent with membership throughout,” Young wrote. “I think you confuse your minority dissent – which is your absolute right – with the right to tell elected leadership and an overwhelming majority of membership to accept the process or outcome that you’d like to see. That does not make sense in a democracy, and to call us disrespectful for this seems, frankly, disrespectful of those in the majority and in leadership.”
In the WGA video, Goodman addressed the concerns raised by some that the agency campaign will sap some of the guild’s focus on what are sure to be tough negotiations early next year with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers on a new master contract. That three-year deal expires on May 1.
“There are some who have expressed concern we are jeopardizing our (AMPTP) negotiations by taking this fight on,” Goodman said. “The reverse is true. This fight has shown the guild’s strength and sense of purpose.”