With five mid-level agencies agreeing to Writers Guild rules on representing members, WGA West president David Goodman has allowed that there is room for small compromises with other agencies.
“The Guild will not allow agencies who’ve stepped forward and made a deal with us to be put at a disadvantage,” Goodman said. “We are in the process of eliminating packaging and disarming agency producing, while getting the information necessary to address writer late pay, free work and agency transparency. We have not fully succeeded yet, but we are succeeding and we’re willing to continue to make small compromises.”
Goodman made the statement to Variety on Saturday, five days after the Rothman Brecher Ehrich Livingston agency signed the WGA’s Agency Code of Conduct. That allowed the agency to return to representing WGA members again, seven months after Goodman ordered members to fire their agents if the agents had not agreed to bans on packaging fees and affiliate production.
Mid-level agencies Abrams, Buchwald, Kaplan Stahler and Verve had previously agreed to the code along with more than 70 boutique agencies. The Abrams Agency agreement with the WGA was announced on Nov. 13.
The WGA said in a Nov. 16 message to members that there are some modifications to its WGA Come of Conduct under the Rothman Brecher agreement, such as packaging fees being banned after a sunset period ending Jan 22, 2021, and allowing agencies to own up to 5% of production companies — a percentage that the WGA described at that point as “minimal.”
Goodman also said in his statement Saturday that the 15,000 WGA members are managing to continue their careers despite the refusal of the four major agencies — CAA, ICM Partners, UTA and WME — to sign the code. And he predicted that the Big Four, as they are known, are faced with losing their literary agents.
“Though there is some disruption, writers are overwhelmingly making their way through the current environment, while major agencies have about 500 lit agents mostly sidelined,” Goodman said.
“The idea that this struggle becomes easier for agencies as we go along is nonsense. Writers still drive this business,” Goodman added. “The major agencies will have to make a deal with the WGA, or spin off their agency business, or lose their lit agents, who will leave and sign with the WGA. Meanwhile, almost all of the agencies can live with a low-percent affiliate arrangement.”
The Association of Talent Agents, which had served as the negotiating arm for the Big Four and other agencies as negotiations cratered earlier this year, responded on Nov. 17 to the Rothman Brecher news by urging the WGA to allow its members to work with the agents of their choice.
“Writers who agree with the WGA leadership are of course free to join the agencies that have signed with WGA, and writers who care most about other issues should be free to join agencies that offer services that meet their needs,” the ATA said on Nov. 17. “There is no reason for WGA to continue to restrict the freedom of writers. Writers should be able to decide which issues are most important to them and then freely decide which agent to hire.”
The WGA sued CAA, ICM, UTA and WME in April over the legality of the agencies collecting packaging fees. CAAl, UTA and WME countersued the WGA and recently consolidated their antitrust suits against the guild into a single action, accusing the union of engaging in an illegal group boycott. The federal judge handling the case recently set a Jan. 17 hearing. Goodman warned Saturday that the action will unveil specifics about those fees.
“Finally, discovery under our lawsuit approaches, at which point we will all find out how much the agencies and studios have been making under their packaging agreements, which until now has been a closely guarded secret,” he concluded.
The news about Goodman’s statement was first reported by Deadline.