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Hollywood Agents, Writers Guild Make Little Progress in Talks

Leaders of Hollywood agencies and the Writers Guild of America made little progress in a Monday meeting to negotiate proposed rule revisions to how agents represent writers.

The WGA said after the meeting — the fifth since Feb. 5 — that talks would resume later this week but did not give a specific day.

“The Agencies provided us with some information today,” the WGA said. “The Guild will consider it carefully and provide a response to the ATA when the parties meet later this week.”

The meeting included the Association of Talent Agents presenting responses to the WGA’s questions about film financing. The half-hour session included presenting the guild with 17 questions from agents and their writer clients about issues such as guild leaders saying that members will have to fire their agents if they don’t agree to the new rules by April 7.

Sources said the WGA leaders were non-responsive at the session to suggestions that the two sides break into small groups to discuss the details of proposals. Both sides have issued blistering reports in recent days with WGA accusing the top Hollywood talent agencies of extensive and illegal conflicts of interest while the agents have claimed that writers will lose $49 million a year if packaging is banned.

The WGA is holding a vote between March 27 and March 31 to vote on implementing a “Code of Conduct” for agents that includes eliminating agency packaging and ownership of production. The guild also announced it would hold three member meetings in the Los Angeles area — March 26 at the Beverly Hilton; March 27 at the Sheraton Universal; and March 30 at the Writers Guild Theater — along with a March 27 meeting at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center in New York.

The WGA vote among its 13,000 members had originally been scheduled to take place during a single day on March 25.

Karen Stuart, executive director of the ATA, opened Monday’s session by referring to the March 12 “statement of choice” that emphasized that writer clients get to decide on whether they want to work on a packaged show and that they have the choice to work with an “affiliated entity.”

She said Monday in her remarks that agents were frustrated by the lack of specific response from the WGA.

“We expected to see your new counter proposals in response to the work and concepts that we had provided you as a well-developed starting point,” she said. “Instead, we were presented with your original Code of Conduct simply reformatted with a new title. In essence, it contained all the same terms and didn’t respond to any of our new offers. And, it even included additional provisions that are onerous – and you had to know would be completely unacceptable – to agents.”

Stuart said the Code of Conduct would rob WGA members of choice and decision-making power.

“It’s a unilateral mandate that assumes writers can’t make good decisions for themselves,” she said. “It wipes out financial confidentiality for writers. And, it gives the guild an unprecedented and inappropriate level of power and control over agency operations.”

Stuart also express frustration over the WGA’s seeming lack of responsiveness as the April 6 deadline approaches.

“We have three short weeks before a dark cloud of uncertainly will hang over Hollywood, and we can’t allow that to happen,” she said. “If we don’t start breaking this down and finding ways to bridge the divide, we will be putting our writers in an incredibly difficult position on April 6. That simply isn’t fair to your members and our clients, and no one wants that to happen.”



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