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WME Urges Writer Clients to ‘Speak Up’ and Push WGA for ‘Good Faith Negotiation’

Ari Greenburg, president of WME, has asked the agency’s writer clients to push the Writers Guild of America to commit to good-faith negotiations.

Greeenburg issued the memo Monday following four town-hall meetings at the agency’s Beverly Hills headquarters that were attended by hundreds of writers. WME has encouraged clients to push guild leaders to back off its hardline stance. Greenburg’s memo also outlined steps the agency vowed to take in responding to the concerns raised by scribes as part of the WGA’s member outreach initiative on the guild’s efforts to reform its franchise agreement with Hollywood’s major talent agencies.

“We need you, the writers, to speak up,” Greenburg wrote. “Please remind your guild leadership that a ‘no compromise’ edict on packaging and production is not a negotiation. We need the WGA to commit to a good faith negotiation that allows both sides to get the issues out in the open, come to a conclusion, make a deal, and get back to work.”

The WGA has been seeking to revamp the rules of engagement for agents with WGA members. The changes proposed by the WGA 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.” WME, CAA and UTA in recent years have taken steps into content production and distribution, raising conflict of interest red flags in the view of many industry insiders.

The WGA and the Association of Talent Agents are facing an April 6 contract expiration deadline to hammer out a new franchise agreement governing the rules for agents representing WGA members. The guild’s deal with the agencies hadn’t been touched since 1976, until the WGA identified packaging in particular as a source of concern for members.

If a deal isn’t reached, the WGA has vowed to implement its own Code of Conduct spelling out new rules — which would require members to fire their agents if they haven’t signed on to the code. The two sides have been firing potshots at each other but have not held negotiations since Feb. 19 in Los Angeles and have not set a new date.

“We are aligned with you and your guild in finding solutions to this issue,” Greenburg said. “However, we do not believe the answer is getting rid of packaging fees and affiliate production, which brings jobs and opportunities to writers. We believe the answers can be found when we have the ability to engage in a real dialogue with guild leadership, much in the same way that we did with you this week.”

He also said WME would step up efforts to be transparent, provide more data and heighten its communications with clients.

Read the entire memo below.

This week WME hosted four town-hall meetings attended by hundreds of writers, and we spoke with many of you individually.  Thank you to everyone who gave up their time to be there. These were healthy and constructive sessions, and clearly long overdue.  They were not always easy conversations, but we came to a better understanding of your needs and concerns.

We took away three themes:

TRANSPARENCY – We heard that you want continued transparency and choice.  We will put additional business practices in place to ensure that you have all of the information needed to make the right decision for you, especially when it comes to packaging and working with our affiliated companies.

DATA – We recognize that you cannot make an informed decision based on anecdotes and blind quotes in the press.  We have taken your suggestion to compile our own data so that you have the facts.  We’ll have an update for you on this in the coming weeks.

COMMUNICATION – We learned that while many of you speak with your agent regularly, you also need to hear from your agency.  We need to hold forums like this more often.  As we mentioned, we will be hosting future open houses throughout the WGA negotiation and beyond.  Stay tuned for information about upcoming dates.  Additionally, you can reach out to clientmailbox@wmeagency.com for any questions or comments on the current situation with the WGA, and for any other agency inquiries that go beyond your individual agent.

We heard that there is fear, anxiety, and uncertainty about the future.  Despite 1000 television shows, and the megadeals we read about in the trades, this is a challenging time for some writers having to adjust to new economics created by market forces including massive media consolidation and changing television models.

We are aligned with you and your guild in finding solutions to this issue.  However, we do not believe the answer is getting rid of packaging fees and affiliate production, which brings jobs and opportunities to writers.  We believe the answers can be found when we have the ability to engage in a real dialogue with guild leadership, much in the same way that we did with you this week.

As we told you in these meetings, we will never ask you to leave your guild.

But, we do encourage you to ask your guild leaders to come to the table.  We need you, the writers, to speak up. Please remind your guild leadership that a “no compromise” edict on packaging and production is not a negotiation.  We need the WGA to commit to a good faith negotiation that allows both sides to get the issues out in the open, come to a conclusion, make a deal, and get back to work.

These are the questions we ALL need to answer:

Packaging:  Will writers be better off if packaging fees and affiliate activity were to go away, as the guild proposal suggests?

Will an individual writer make more money?
Will the WGA in total make more money?
Specifically, will writers who have seen wages stagnate make more money?

Affiliate Production:  Will writers be better off if affiliate production were to go away, as the guild proposals suggests?

Will the major studios adapt progressive business terms like affiliates?
Who will handle film sales and financier representation?
Who will make the award-winning film and television projects, and the mid-budget adult dramas currently made possible through agency affiliates?
Why are more jobs and options for writers a bad thing if they have a choice?

We look forward to answering these questions and exchanging information with the WGA.  We are ready, willing, and able to meet with them as long as all of the proposals are on the table.  In the meantime, know that we love our writers and will continue to advocate for your best interests.  We are ready for a real conversation driven by facts and data.

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