Leaders of Hollywood agents and writers have conducted what’s become a deeply disappointing set of negotiations — fueling the town’s growing uncertainty over the outcome.
As of late Wednesday afternoon, neither the Writers Guild of America not the Association of Talent Agents would disclose when — or if — they will meet again. The two sides, which have not met since March 26, face a looming deadline of 12:01 am PT on Sunday, April 7, when the WGA’s agency franchise agreement expires.
At that point, the guild will require its 15,000 members to fire their agents if they have not signed the WGA’s new “Code of Conduct,” a scenario that’s been unnerving Hollywood in recent days. The WGA has advised its members that agenting duties can be handled by managers and lawyers but agents say that’s illegal under California law. WGA leaders have also warned that the guild may file a conflict-of-interest suit against WME, CAA, UTA and ICM.
The ATA and WGA could still make a deal by the deadline or extend the expiration if they’re making progress. But, up to this point, negotiators have shown a profound lack of flexibility. There have been plenty of vitriolic attacks on each other but little progress toward reaching a compromise.
The WGA’s two key demands are included in the Code of Conduct — elimination of agency packaging fees in television and banning ownership interest in production companies owned by affiliates of CAA, WME, and UTA. The WGA’s membership backed up its leadership in recent voting with more than 95% support for the code, which goes into effect on April 7. No major agencies have signed the code yet.
The split between the two sides came into focus on March 26, following the seventh negotiating session since Feb. 5. The WGA asserted it had agreed on a proposal regarding inclusion and made adjustments to its proposal on information sharing but asserted “progress has been frustratingly slow.” It accused the agencies of issuing the same ultimatum they had on Feb. 26 to allow “conflicted practices.”
“That we cannot and will not do,” the guild said. “Right now, seven weeks into those discussions, the agencies will not even agree to give the Guild information that would help writers get paid on time. They have stood on their principle of ‘choice,’ which is, in reality, a demand to negotiate writer-by-writer, rather than acknowledging the Guild as the representative of all writers and their proper negotiating partner. We hope to make a deal before expiration, but we won’t be intimidated by another threat from the agencies.”
For their part, the top negotiator for the agents predicted on the same day that the negotiations would go down to the wire — in what seems now to have been a self-fulfilling prophecy. Karen Stuart, executive director of the Association of Talent Agents, singled out WGA West executive director David Young for orchestrating the current situation.
“There is no real exchange of ideas — there are no answers to our questions, many of which your own writer clients are asking you for answers to,” she said in a message to agents. “The WGA has a standard negotiating practice and it is clear they will not bargain in good faith until the clock runs down.”
“In our March 21 meeting, David Young laid out his three-pronged negotiating strategy. He said that we’re still in phase two – the threatening phase,” Stuart said. “We look forward to a time when the WGA stops subjecting our members and the entire industry to ‘threats’ and moves on to their ‘phase three’ so that we can get to work on a deal.”
Young led the 2017 negotiations with the studios when they reached a deal on its master film-TV contract with less than an hour prior to expiration.
Stuart said at the time that “chaos” was coming: “WGA’s proposed contingency plan proposes that online resources, managers, attorneys, replacement agents and writer-to-writer networking can get the job done in place of your current agents. Writers count on agents to get them their next job and thoughtfully guide their career trajectory. A website cannot do this. It is illegal for lawyers and mangers to do this. This is going to hurt writers who are not in deals, don’t have their next job, and who have been historically underrepresented in our industry.”
The WGA negotiating committee notified members in an email Wednesday night that it had not heard from the ATA since last week and had made four minor modifications in its proposals in independent film, disclosure requirements for smaller agencies, and the amount of time for representation agreements.