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Writers, Agents Negotiating Again With Potential Chaos Looming

Hollywood writers and agents are scheduled to make a final run at revamping the rules governing how agents represent writers with a potentially chaotic scenario approaching.

Negotiations are scheduled to begin again at 3 p.m. PDT — a mere nine hours before the expiration of the current franchise agreement. The Writers Guild of America is expected to require a mass dismissal of agents as early as Saturday morning if the guild cannot make a new deal with agents to revamp its franchise agreement. The firings could create massive disruption in the entertainment business.

The WGA has said it will require its members to fire their agents if they have not agreed to a new “Agency Code of Conduct,” which eliminates agency packaging fees and ownership in production companies, after the current agreement expires.

The sides had been facing an April 6 contract expiration deadline, but an 11th-hour gathering on that day led to the WGA agreeing to a six-day delay in the implementation of the code, followed by three negotiating sessions on April 8, 9 and 11.

Hollywood’s largest agencies, represented by the Association of Talent Agents, have balked at the guild’s Code of Conduct reforms. The WGA asserts that taking fees from studios for packaging business and owning production affiliates are conflicts of interests to the agencies’ fiduciary duties to their writer clients. The guild’s previous agency franchise agreement with the ATA, called the Artists’ Managers Basic Agreement, had not been renegotiated since 1976.

Hollywood’s major talent agencies announced Thursday night that they have offered to share a portion of the revenue generated from TV and film packaging fees with the WGA.

“Specifically, agencies will provide a percentage of their back-end profits to writers – 80% of which will be shared amongst a show’s writers not participating in the profits of the series, regardless of which agency represents them. The remaining 20% will be invested in industry initiatives and programs to foster and expand inclusion of historically underrepresented writers. This is a meaningful investment in the writer community,” ATA executive director Karen Stuart wrote in a message to members sent late Thursday.

The ATA offer also included a payment of $6 million over three years to what is described as “an industry-wide fund to foster and encourage inclusion.”

On Friday morning, the ATA warned the WGA against authorizing managers and lawyers to negotiate deals for writers in place of agents, telling them that doing so is illegal and that the that ATA views the authorization as “unfair and unlawful competition.” It warned of unspecified “appropriate action” if the WGA continues to authorize managers and lawyers to act as agents.

The WGA responded with an accusation that the ATA was trying to bully managers and lawyers.

“The Guild stands by its action in lawfully delegating the authority it has as the exclusive representative of writers under federal law,” it said. “The agencies are attempting to intimidate attorneys and managers to stop them from performing work they routinely do.”

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