WGA West Election Q&A: Phyllis Nagy on Writers Facing ‘De Facto Work Stoppage’

Screenwriter Phyllis Nagy was inspired to run for the presidency of the WGA West out of her frustration over the guild’s impasse with Hollywood’s top talent agencies.

Nagy has come to represent the significant number of writers who are urging the guild to seek a negotiated solution to the agency fight, which forced more than 7,000 guild members to sever ties with their representatives starting in April. Nagy is going up against incumbent president David Goodman, who is seeking a second term. Election results will be unveiled after noon PT on Sept. 16.

Nagy, an Oscar nominee for 2015’s “Carol” and Emmy contender for 2005’s “Mrs. Harris,” wants to end the litigation with the Big Four agencies. She has sounded the alarm on the impact of going agent-less on writers who primarily work in features, who often depend more on reps to help scout out new work than TV scribes with their networks of writers-room contacts. Nagy advocates that the guild focus its energy and resources on what could be tough master film and TV contract negotiations with the major media conglomerates next year.

Nagy has also taken aim at the touchy issue for the guild of how membership dues are calculated, reflecting longstanding complaints that feature writers pay higher dues proportionally than TV writers.

“This issue requires in-depth data-driven study, and acknowledgment that some members of the guild are bearing an undue burden of the dues that support all our hard-earned guild benefits,” Nagy stated in announcing her candidacy. “This has been a problem for decades, and it must be addressed.”

In a Q&A last week with Variety, Nagy reinforced her determination to end the agency impasse.

What have you learned about the issues facing the guild since your nomination announcement? What has surprised you?

What has surprised me is the passion of the members on the issues of packaging and the way agents are seen to represent [writers]. There’s such polarization. [In the WGA’s member referendum], 95.3% of those who voted in March supported the [guild’s new agency] Code of Conduct. But people believed that they were voting for a negotiated agreement. I don’t think that [referendum] question would get the same level of support now.

Why are you so critical of guild leadership’s “divide and conquer” strategy of getting mid-sized agencies to agree to the packaging and production bans, to put pressure on the larger agencies.
With divide and conquer, the best result would be to have eight or nine mid-sized agencies signed by the time the [Minimum Basic Agreement] is being negotiated next year. The impact has been that the bigger agencies are packaging more and more around directors and actors, leaving writers in a for-hire position.

Do you think your candidacy has heightened interest in the guild’s election?

All the people who are not happy with the situation are speaking to us. It’s very clear to us that there are members who don’t believe in the all-or-nothing strategy, and that’s not limited to just 100 people. We are in a de facto work stoppage. There’s a lot of fear about not making a living in a non-strike situation. We did this [election slate] because we did not think that the guild’s strategy would be effective.

What are some of the core concerns you’ve heard in talking to members?
Who is going to get me the best deal — me, my manager, my lawyer or my agent — and healthcare. People are not qualifying for their benefits. I mentioned that at a member meeting in May. Nothing has happened.

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