In a sign of increasing frustration, Hollywood agents have accused the Writers Guild of America of foot-dragging in the bitter two-month dispute.
“It has become clear as more days pass that the Guild is not interested in making a deal,” said the negotiating committee for the agents in statement issued Tuesday.
“Over the past year, members of the Association of Talent Agents – agencies large and small – have done everything possible to engage the WGA leadership in dialogue and negotiation, only to be met at nearly every turn with demands for capitulation rather than negotiation,” the statement said. “Moving forward, we will pursue a course that defends and protects our employees and maintains writers’ ability to choose the agents, agencies and business models that are best for them.”
The WGA issued a brief response to the ATA statement on Tuesday afternoon: “The WGA plans to respond to the ATA proposal this week.”
The most recent meeting, on June 7, was the first in two months and included an ATA revenue-sharing proposal to settle the packaging fee battle that led to mass firings of agents by guild members more than two months ago. CAA co-chairman Bryan Lourd emphasized that day that the agencies are willing to share 2% of their gross revenue from packaging on shows that reach profitability with lower-level writers working on those series.
The WGA responded on June 7 in a message to members, saying, “We have asked for contract language on their proposals in order to formulate the appropriate response. As we’ve stated, whatever solution we find, it will have to address conflicts of interest and realign agency incentives with those of their writer clients.”
The guild has not responded further since then. The WGA filed suit against the industry’s four largest agencies — WME, CAA, UTA and ICM Partners — on April 18 over the packaging fee issues.
The sides are battling over the WGA’s effort to bar agents who represent guild members from receiving packaging fees on TV series from production entities, a longstanding industry practice, and a ban on the expansion of the parent companies of the Big Three agencies into the production-distribution arena.
The WGA imposed a Code of Conduct on April 13 that banned agencies from taking packaging fees and engaging in affiliate ownership and told its 15,000 members to fire their agents if they had not agreed to the new code. About 70 agencies have signed the code with Verve being the largest.
The ATA has been characterizing the WGA leaders as seeking to deprive members of control over their careers. Its statement reiterated that talking point.
“The ATA agencies’ proposals were based on the core idea that writers should have control over their own projects and choice in their careers,” the ATA said. “The reality today is that some WGA members have more choice than ever before. Writers can decide whether or not they are on a package. They can choose whether they make a deal with an agency-affiliated production company. They can tell their agent whether or not they want their contracts sent to the Guild. And they can go to agencies that have signed the Guild’s Code of Conduct. We believe decision-making should continue to remain in the hands of writers.”
The ATA also blasted the WGA’s conduct — particularly that of executive director David Young — during the June 7 meeting.
“We opened and closed the session with statements asking the WGA leadership to stay engaged,” the ATA said. “We presented David Young with a written term sheet outlining our proposals. But neither Mr. Young nor the WGA negotiating committee — only half of whom showed up for this session — offered a single comment or asked a single question. They left the room and 2 ½ hours later indicated they would follow-up the next week. That week has now come and gone.”
The ATA said the committee is composed of leaders of APA, CAA, Gersh, ICM, Kaplan-Stahler, Paradigm, UTA and WME.
In a new development on the legal front, CAA and WME have asked the judge to designate the lawsuit as “complex,” which would transfer it to a new court and put it on a slower track.
The California court system sets a goal that all civil cases should be resolved within two years, and three quarters should be resolved within one year. But for “complex” cases, the goal is three years.
Cases can be deemed “complex” if they involve numerous parties or unusual legal theories. The WGA suit has both. CAA claims it will have to examine thousands of writers’ deals in order to defend allegations that it has breached its duties to clients.