The Writers Guild of America and Hollywood agents have held a sixth negotiating session with a deadline for a new deal 16 days away — and it’s uncertain whether progress is being made.
The Association of Talent Agents made counter-proposals at Thursday’s session that contain provisions for more accountability and transparency by agencies for clients including giving writers consent over whether a television show is packaged, as previously promised. But they do not eliminate agencies receiving packaging fees or having ownership interest in affiliate production companies — which are key demands from the WGA.
It’s unclear whether those proposals will be enough for the WGA leaders to reach a deal. The two sides made little progress in the five previous negotiating sessions to revamp the 43-year-old franchise agreement governing how agents represent writers.
Failure to reach a deal before April 7 means the agreement expires. That could have severe consequences because the WGA will require members to fire their agents if agents have not agreed to a WGA “code of conduct” eliminating agency packaging fees and ownership in production companies.
Karen Stuart, executive director of the ATA, issued a brief statement Thursday after the session: “We had an extensive dialogue with the Guild today. We presented its leadership with our formal counter proposals in a draft agreement, and we hope they will follow-up in good faith to move this process forward.”
A WGA spokesman said Thursday night that the guild was not going to comment. Stuart did not indicate when the next session will take place. The WGA will hold voting on the “code of conduct” between March 27 and 31 and leaders have indicated that they expect the rules to be approved overwhelmingly.
The negotiating session came a day after the WGA authorized managers and lawyers to negotiate deals for writers in place of agents — if the guild tells members to fire their agents on April 7.
In packaging, an agency forgoes commissioning the client and receives a fee from the television studio. It’s become a particularly emotional issue over the past year with the WGA alleging that agents are disincentivized to get the best deals for writers when they are collecting packaging fees from studios.
Agencies have defended packaging as a means of creating employment. The ATA released a report earlier this week which calculated that writers would have lost at least $49 million annually had they had pay commissions on packaged shows.
The WGA issued a report two weeks ago titled “no conflict, no interest,” accusing the top four Hollywood talent agencies — CAA, WME, UTA, and ICM Partners — of extensive and illegal conflicts of interest. The report contains a cloaked threat of the WGA filing a lawsuit against the agencies by invoking the 1962 antitrust suit by the U.S. Department of Justice, which forced MCA to get out of the agency business after a decade of acting as both a producer and an agency.
The WGA gave official notice last April that it was seeking a re-negotiation of the Artists’ Managers’ Basic Agreement of 1976, triggering the expiration deadline. The first negotiating session took place on Feb. 5.