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Agents, Writers Guild Clash at First Meeting on Proposed Rule Changes

Hollywood talent agents have given a downbeat reaction to their first meeting with the Writers Guild of America to discuss the guild’s proposals to revamp key rules for agents.

The meeting took place on Tuesday — two months before the current agreement expires. During the past year, the WGA has been pressuring Hollywood’s agencies to revamp the rules for agents due to affiliates of Hollywood’s two largest agencies — WME and CAA — moving aggressively into production, creating the potential for conflicts of interest that arise when the same company represents the creative talent on one side of the table and is the employer on the other.

In a message sent to members of the Association of Talent Agents, executive director Karen Stuart said the meeting with WGA Executive Director David Young was unproductive.

“The agencies arrived ready to listen to WGA’s explanations of their proposals as were requested to do,” she said. “However, the executive director of the WGA and his staff merely read their proposals aloud and refused to provide any of the promised explanations or otherwise elaborate on their demands. Given WGA leadership’s approach to this meeting, ATA member agencies have serious doubts about the sincerity of WGA leadership’s desire for a negotiated solution.”

“Nonetheless, the agencies stand ready to continue these discussions and have proposed a series of additional meetings prior to the agreement’s expiration,” Stuart added.

“What is most important, and what the agencies always will insist as the absolute top priority, is the protection of the artists we represent: to ensure their best interests are served and their careers can flourish at a time of unprecedented change and uncertainty in our industry. That is why we are so concerned, and emphatically disagree with what WGA leadership is telling their membership about the practices of packaging, production, and commission of scale – because WGA’s proposals are simply not in the best interest of writers.”

The guild notified the ATA last April that it wanted to renegotiate its 42-year-old franchise agreement and sent the ATA a 12-month notice to terminate the existing deal, known as the Artists’ Manager Basic Agreement, on April 6, 2019. WGA leaders have not explained what will happen if a new agreement isn’t reached at that point.

The key WGA proposals would effectively end all packaging deals, in which agencies receive both upfront and backend fees. The WGA has also proposed that “no agency shall have an ownership or other financial interest in, or shall be owned by or affiliated with, any entity or individual engaged in the production or distribution of motion pictures.”

The WGA has also set members meetings to take place on Saturday at the Writers Guild Theater in Beverly Hills, Calif.; on Feb. 12 at the Writers Guild of America East headquarters in New York; and on Feb. 13 at the Sheraton Universal in Los Angeles. Its reps had no immediate response to Stuart’s missive.

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