The war between the Writers Guild of America and Hollywood agents has escalated as the two sides battle over the rules on how writers are represented.
The latest volley emerged Friday from Karen Stuart, executive director of the Association of Talent Agents, who accused WGA leaders of misleading its members and asserted that the guild leaders are attempting a power grab that would imperil the agencies.
“Essentially, the guild is dead-set on instructing their members to vote to walk away from their ATA agencies and agents if the agencies don’t comply with the guild’s unilateral mandates,” she said in a message to ATA members. “As frustrating as it is that the guild leadership refuses to have an honest dialogue with us, it is even more concerning that they are insisting on policies — and misleading their members into voting for mandates — that don’t reflect the current landscape or what you do day in and day out.”
WGA West President David Goodman told Variety in response that the guild is open to dealing the issue through negotiations and accused the ATA of dragging its feet, noting that WGA made its proposals nearly a year ago.
“The WGA is focused on only one thing: fixing problems that hurt writers,” he said. “The necessary changes may come through either negotiations or a Code of Conduct. We’re open to both. As it is, we gave the ATA our opening proposals over 320 days ago and they still have not provided any formal responses, as is standard in negotiations.”
Leaders of the WGA announced Thursday that they had sent Hollywood talent agencies a proposed Code of Conduct with tough new restrictions on how they operate as agents for writer clients. The guild will hold a March 25 vote on the new rules — which would effectively end all packaging deals, in which agencies receive both upfront and backend fees, and bar agencies from any financial interest in any entity or individual “engaged in the production or distribution of motion pictures.”
The WGA has made it clear that it wants its 12,000 members to cut ties with their agents if the agents do not sign on to the new Code of Conduct. The current 42-year-old agreement will expire on April 6. The WGA and the ATA held negotiations on Feb. 5 and 19 and have not yet set another session.
“The WGA’s proposed code of conduct would not only have negative unintended consequences for writers, but it would also be terrible for ATA member agencies because it would drop ATA, your collective representative out of the agreement, and give the Guild unilateral authority over the agencies’ relationships with their clients and set a precedent that allows guilds and unions to impose unilateral restrictions on all aspects of our business,” Stuart said.
Stuart said in an email to ATA members on Friday, “Let’s be clear – the WGA’s “Code” is not about agents’ conduct. Their proposals are a sweeping attempt by the WGA to remake the entire industry, restraining not only the business of agencies and their affiliates but also interfering with the livelihoods and businesses of
producers, actors, directors, and studios. The ATA will continue to advocate for all our clients, including writers, and will reject the guild’s self-described ‘power grab’ that will harm not only their own members but others throughout the entire industry. The date for our WGA Franchised Agents’ Membership meeting will be sent shortly.”
Read Stuart’s messages below.
As you may know (or have already received), the WGA is sending emails directly to agents in their quest to gather support for their attempt to divide our membership. As with much of their rhetoric to date, the WGA email contains a number of misstatements. As you have likely heard, on February 13, WGA’s leadership team informed members that they will hold a vote on March 25 on whether or not to implement a “Code of Conduct” that agencies have to follow in order to work with guild writers. This announcement took place just one week after our first meeting with the guild to discuss a new franchise agreement and just a few days before our second meeting, showing a true lack of sincerity to negotiate in good faith.
Essentially, the guild is dead-set on instructing their members to vote to walk away from their ATA agencies and agents if the agencies don’t comply with the guild’s unilateral mandates. As frustrating as it is that the guild leadership refuses to have an honest dialogue with us, it is even more concerning that they are insisting on policies — and misleading their members into voting for mandates — that don’t reflect the current landscape or what you do day in and day out. The WGA’s proposed code of conduct would not only have negative unintended consequences for writers, but it would also be terrible for ATA member agencies because it would drop ATA, your collective representative out of the agreement, and give the Guild unilateral authority over the agencies’ relationships with their clients and set a precedent that allows guilds and unions to impose unilateral restrictions on all aspects of our business.
ATA’s collective voice is strong and we must continue to work towards a new franchise agreement that reflects what is best for artists and the industry in the new media ecosystem. ATA will continue to fight for the best interests of ALL of our members and all artists who we represent – to do so, we must not get sidetracked by the WGA leadership’s tactics. ATA will not agree to anything that would indefinitely hold agencies captive and instead will keep our eye on the ball, which is a new franchise agreement that provides clarity, certainty and forward-looking operating procedures for our longstanding relationship with WGA and most importantly, that enhances – not diminishes – agents ability to advocate for writers and ensure their careers can flourish. Let your voice be heard by voicing your unwavering support to stand united with your trade association and peers. We will be calling on you for your support. You will receive a member meeting notice in the upcoming days. Visit the ATA website for up to date information.
Here is Stuart’s email to members on Friday:
In our effort to keep you informed about WGA’s attempts to divide ATA agencies, I am
contacting you this afternoon with some very important information for you to review about
how the WGA Code of Conduct would negatively impact our businesses.
But before I do, I want to remind you that while we are frustrated right now with where things
stand with the WGA, we have not forgotten how we’ve worked closely together with the guild
for many decades in supporting them through various challenges and campaigns to benefit
writers. The WGA has a role – just like agencies do – in ensuring writers have the best possible
work experiences, and we remain committed to collaborating on an agreement that will allow
us collectively to serve and advocate for our clients’ best interests in today’s Hollywood.
As for the WGA’s attempt to divide our membership with misinformation and myths and their
unilateral attempt to impose what they are calling a “Code of Conduct,” be assured that ATA
will respond. When we respond to the WGA, we will be writing on behalf of each and every one
of you, the writers’ biggest advocates along with their guild. If you have any questions, please
contact me or President Jim Gosnell.
Let’s be clear – the WGA’s “Code” is not about agents’ conduct. Their proposals are a sweeping
attempt by the WGA to remake the entire industry, restraining not only the business of
agencies and their affiliates but also interfering with the livelihoods and businesses of
producers, actors, directors, and studios. The ATA will continue to advocate for all our clients,
including writers, and will reject the Guild’s self-described “power grab” that will harm not only
their own members but others throughout the entire industry. The date for our WGA
Franchised Agents’ Membership meeting will be sent shortly.
For those of you who have not yet reviewed the proposed “Code,” we want to summarize some
of the sweeping changes the WGA is proposing:
WGA Proposed (“Code”): Established unilaterally by Writers Guild of America, West, Inc.
and Writers Guild of America, East, Inc., enforceable solely by WGA-friendly arbitrators,
and unilaterally changeable by the WGA on 60 days’ notice.
Current ATA/WGA (AMBA): Agreed upon by WGAW, WGAE and ATA.
Code proposes to unilaterally establish:
• Upon request by Writer, Agent shall disclose to Writer the names of all other clients
represented by Agent who are employed on, or actively being submitted for
employment on, a project. Such disclosure shall be made in writing within ten (10) days
of the Writer’s request.
• Agent shall provide promptly and no less frequently than quarterly to Writer and to the
Guild an itemized statement showing in standardized electronic format (a) all
compensation received by or on behalf of Writer; and (b) all commissions received by
Agent related to its representation of Writer. Writer and Guild shall have the right to
audit such statements.
NOTIFICATION TO GUILD
• Agent shall provide the Guild with a copy of the agreement or essential deal terms of
any engagement or other transaction involving a Writer no later than 10 days after the
earlier of (a) the existence of a binding contractual commitment; or (b) the
commencement of Writer’s writing services.
• Agent shall provide the Guild with immediate notice of Writer’s commencement of
services or delivery of literary material, or other material fact triggering compensation,
and a copy of any invoice or other documentation relating to the payment obligation.
• Agent shall immediately notify the Guild in the event a payment is late.
• Agent shall cooperate fully with the Guild in any investigation or contract enforcement
action undertaken on behalf of a Writer.
• Agent shall provide the Guild with an annual report summarizing Agent’s diversity
efforts and reflecting, through anonymized data, the employment history of all Writers
represented by the Agent, broken down by membership in statutorily protected classes.
• Remove ATA from process entirely.
• Any dispute concerning the interpretation of, or the performance of any obligation
under the Code or new Rider W may be brought by the Guild to suspend or remove an
Agent from the list of subscribing Agents.
• There are five arbitrators for each of WGA East and West who are empowered to decide
every dispute, including permanently barring an agent from doing work on behalf of
• A single arbitrator from that list can hear and decide the entire matter, including
awarding damages, issuing and injunction, or barring the agent permanently from the
list of subscribing agents on an expedited basis. Upon a finding that the opposing party
acted in bad faith, the arbitrator may also award attorneys’ fees and costs.
TERMINATION OR MODIFICATION
• The Guild may terminate or modify the terms of this Code to be effective 60 days after
its service of such notice.
RIDER W (Agency/Writer Agreement)
Some new provisions:
• ATA is removed.
• “Rider W,” is made part of the Code of Conduct (“Code”) and applies to all contracts
between agencies and writers oral or written.
• Term of the Representation Agreement is reduced from 2 years to 1 year.
• Writer may terminate
o If not offered employment from a responsible employer during any period in
excess of four consecutive months
o For any material breach by Agent of the provisions of the Code of Conduct or of
Agent’s fiduciary obligations to the Writer
o If Agent is removed from the list of agents subscribing to the Code of Conduct
Agent’s commission shall be limited to ten percent (10%) of Writer’s gross compensation,
including Writer’s profit participation, provided, however, that Agent shall not be entitled to
receive commission on residuals or any other minimum payments to Writers for reuse of a
motion picture under any applicable CBA. Note that this provision, like the others, can be
unilaterally changed on 60 days’ notice.