In an attempt to calm an explosive situation, Hollywood agents have offered counter-proposals to the Writers Guild of America following several weeks of acrimony.
The Association of Talent Agents proposed Tuesday a “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” — meaning a production company affiliated with the agency. The proposals also included provisos to promote diversity among writers.
The two sides held their third session Tuesday, with the WGA expected to respond at a meeting Thursday. The session came on the heels of a blistering report by the WGA accusing the top four Hollywood talent agencies of extensive and illegal conflicts of interest in order to explain the WGA demands for banning packaging and agency ownership of production companies.
The WGA responded by calling the ATA proposals “a small step” and said it will make counterproposals on Thursday.
“Their proposals require each individual to respond to a powerful agency – that is virtually no choice at all,” the WGA said. “The solutions in the new agreement need to be collective through the Guild, not individual. Their proposals require each individual to respond to a powerful agency – that is virtually no choice at all. The solutions in the new agreement need to be collective through the Guild, not individual.”
James Gosnell, president of the ATA and president-CEO of the APA agency, opened the session with conciliatory remarks, saying, “If we are to come up with a joint agreement, which I know our clients desperately want us to have, then we need to roll up our sleeves and get to work on a constructive process that will result in an agreement that works for everyone.
“We need to avoid the name calling and divisiveness that get us nowhere and will only set us back,” he added. “Your agents are not your enemies, and they do not want to take advantage of you. If that were true, we wouldn’t be here today, and you would not be represented by us. Today, we are going to provide you with a thoughtful response to your proposals.”
Gosnell said the agents agreed on the majority of the WGA’s issues.
“With some nuance, changes, additions and modifications, I truly believe we can come to a consensus,” he said. “From diversity, to hostile work environments, to timely payment of writers, and writers not working for free – these are all issues on which we agree with you 100%… because they’re reasonable, make perfect sense, and are in the best interest of everyone concerned.”
Gosnell also said some writers are making less money due to consolidation, streaming, globalization and short orders with most shows at eight to 13 episodes. “As a result, even as writers’ quotes increase, their take home compensation is either flat or down, simply because they’re working on fewer episodes with production schedules spread over longer periods,” he said.
“Conflating writer salaries being down with affiliated productions and packaging is not supported by the facts,” Gosnell added. “Furthermore, to say that agencies can’t package or take sales fees on movies would shut down the independent movie business, as we know it. We don’t believe your members or you want that either.”
He framed the proposal as being about choice and empowerment: “It will enable writers to have a choice. It will take the power and put it into the hands of the client, which is exactly where it should be.”
The WGA has been seeking to revamp the rules of engagement for agents with WGA members with changes that would effectively end all film and TV 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 and the ATA face an April 6 contract expiration deadline to hammer out a new franchise agreement governing the rules for agents representing WGA members. The WGA has scheduled a March 25 vote for members to implement its own code of conduct spelling out new rules, which will require members to fire their agents if they haven’t signed on to the code.
Karen Stuart, exec director of the ATA, issued the counter-proposals, leading off with a statement saying the ATA is committed to protecting writers and developing a new agreement that reflects the seismic shifts in the media landscape and fosters the best outcome for artists for the foreseeable future.
“The ATA has carefully and thoughtfully reviewed the WGA’s 27 proposals and reflected upon conversations initiated with hundreds of writer clients during the past weeks,” she said. “ATA has presented Guild leadership and writers broadly a new ‘Statement of Choice’ and specific counter proposals for consideration that reflect a balanced and reasonable solution and ultimately best serve the interests of all artists.”
Read the ATA’s proposal here.
Read Gosnell’s statement here.