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Writers Guild Makes Concession on Film Financing in Agent Talks

The Writers Guild of America has made a concession in film financing in its negotiations with Hollywood talent agents — the second in six weeks of talks.

WGA West executive director David Young said Wednesday that it had made a “significant move” toward reaching a deal with the Association of Talent Agents for a revamped franchise agreement on how agents represent writers. Young said in letter to ATA executive director Karen Stuart that the two sides will return to the bargaining table for a sixth session on Thursday.

“It is our hope that this significant move on our part will bring the parties closer to an overall agreement and that we can have further discussion of this proposal at our negotiation session tomorrow,” Young said.

The report comes with the WGA and the Association of Talent Agents having made little progress in negotiations to revamp the 43-year-old rules governing how agents represent writers. They face an April 7 deadline to reach a deal. The WGA said it will require its members to fire their agents if they have not agreed to a “code of conduct,” which eliminates agency packaging fees and ownership in production companies.

The film-financing concession applies to agents receiving compensation for work on financing and sales above their commissions for work on independent films with budgets of less than $20 million — as long as the client has consented to the agent performing that work. Those projects above $20 million are permitted only with a waiver from the Guild.

The WGA’s proposed code of conduct now reads, “Agent shall not circumvent limits on commissions under this Agreement by charging fees for other services, except that agency shall be permitted to receive compensation for feature film financing and sales services on behalf of writer clients, so long as: 1) the agency fully describes the fees for such services to the writer client in advance of contracting to perform them; and, 2) the writer client has consented in writing to proceed with the agency’s performance of such services.”

“Such compensation shall be only in the form of a percentage of funds raised from the financing and sales services. Such services include but are not limited to raising equity and debt, representing the film to domestic and international distributors, arranging co-productions, and advising the filmmakers on incentives and rebates. Such fees shall only be permitted for films with intended budgets greater than $20 million with the consent of the Guild.”

Most independent projects fall below the $20 million threshold. Film Independent limits eligibility for the Spirit Awards to projects with budgets of $20 million and under.

Stuart has asserted that agencies helped secure financing and distribution of more than 1,000 independent films over the past five years and noted that doing so is not highly profitable for agents.

“We do it because our clients value these projects, because independent producers generally do not do this type of work, and because studios largely have abandoned producing these types of film and are not willing to invest in these kinds of passion projects,” she said.

The WGA withdrew a proposal last month that would have barred agents from commissioning writers’ scale – which are the guild’s minimum salaries.

(An earlier version of this article stated incorrectly that the WGA’s concession was for independent films with budgets of more than $20 million)

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