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Writers Guild Leaders Accused of ‘Vitriol’: ‘The Guild Is in Crisis’

Oscar-nominated screenwriter Nicholas Kazan has attacked leaders of the Writers Guild of America for “vitriol” in their hardline stance on Hollywood agents.

“This Guild is in crisis,” he said in an email sent Monday to members. “It’s not the crisis you think…it’s not whether or how to negotiate with the ATA or the individual talent agencies. The crisis is internal. The agency campaign has divided membership in a dangerous and unprecedented way, turning writer against writer, friend against friend…in an atmosphere dominated by distrust and vitriol.”

Kazan, who is the father of actress and writer Zoe Kazan and the son of Oscar-winning director Elia Kazan, is part of the WGA Forward Together slate. His group is contending that the WGA needs to get back to the bargaining table after two months of staying away from bargaining. WGA West president David Goodman declared on June 20 that the guild would no longer negotiate with the Association of Talent Agencies and instead hold individual negotiations with nine agencies.

One of those nine, Kaplan Stahler, subsequently signed a deal in which the agency agreed that it would not take packaging fees or engage in affiliate production. Two other mid-size agencies — Verve and Buchwald — have signed agreements with the WGA that ban packaging fees and affiliate production.

The Forward Together slate is headed by Phyllis Nagy, who is challenging Goodman. Nick Jones Jr. is also part of the slate as a candidate for secretary-treasurer, and board candidates Kazan, Jason Fuchs, Ayelet Waldman, Ashley Miller, Sarah Treem, Marc Guggenheim, Courtney Kemp and Rasheed Newson have expressed opposition to Goodman’s approach.

Kazan, who received an Academy Award nomination for “Reversal of Fortune,” said the disagreements are dangerous due to the anger, acrimony and the moral veneer that has been cast over what is largely an economic action.

“We find ourselves deeply and perilously divided at a personal level,” he said. “That division is potentially lethal: it could destroy our union. That’s not hyperbole, it’s fact: Like all social groups, unions exist through the consent of the governed.”

Kazan warned that the WGA leaders are risking losing leverage for the upcoming negotiations on the guild’s master contract, which expires May 1. No talks have been set with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.

“If a sizable group of writers begins to feel the Guild no longer represents them…if they are mocked for even proposing a different approach or vilified for expressing a contrarian point of view, that consent will shatter and writers will abandon the WGA — because they feel the WGA has abandoned them,” Kazan said. “As a result: the Guild will lose its strength, its authority, and its ability to effectively negotiate with the AMPTP in 2020. That’s why I’m writing this. That’s what I fear.”

“So I write today not to ask for your vote, but instead to ask for your compassion, your civility, your ability as a writer to feel for others…in this case: for other writers,” he concluded. “I ask you to open your minds and hearts and listen. Otherwise who are we? What are we? What are we becoming?”

Goodman brushed off the complaints, noting that with 8,000 working members of the WGA West, unanimity is never a possibility.

“And the fact that there’s some disagreement, or that passions among individual members runs high, does not mean that the Guild is ‘fracturing,'” he added. “In every communication in this difficult campaign to fix a broken agency system, I and the rest of Guild leadership have sought out and encouraged those who dissent; there is nothing wrong with the word, it just means you disagree with the leadership on the strategy and/or goals.”

“The ability to dissent is cornerstone of democracy. And there is obvious proof that the Guild welcomes it: both those emails you cite were sent to every member through the WGAW’s official email system. We’re not afraid of honest disagreement or criticism from members, in fact we welcome it, it is one of the sources of our strength.”

Four candidates for the WGA West’s board have dropped out of the race in order to support the guild’s hardline stance on Hollywood agents. Joshua Hale Fialkov made the announcement Friday, three days after Rob Forman, Ed Herro and Chris Roessner all announced they had withdrawn.

The four dropouts mean that there are now 17 candidates for eight open board seats in a contest that’s viewed as a referendum on the WGA’s hard-nosed approach. Election results will be announced on Sept. 16.

John August, a member of the negotiating committee, recently issued a defense of the WGA’s tactic of holding negotiations with individual agencies for new franchise deals, noting that the Kaplan Stahler, Verve and Buchwald deals were conducted out of sight and not announced until they were concluded.

“The reality is that the WGA has never refused to negotiate,” August said. “In fact, it never stopped negotiating.”

Guggenheim sent a letter to WGA West members on Monday night in which he expressed concerns about “the decline of civility and rise of animosity within our ranks.”

“Somehow, we’ve allowed debate to be labeled as ‘dissent.’ We’ve allowed disagreement to be characterized as ‘disloyalty.’ We’ve allowed people with alternative points of view to be labeled ‘scabs’ or ‘shills.’ We’ve allowed writers to accuse fellow writers of not caring about writers, of being against writers.”

“This is just as harmful than package fees. It is just as insidious than affiliate production. And left unchecked, it has the potential to strangle the life from this union more effectively than any agency or studio ever could,” Guggenheim said.

“It’s on all of us, but especially those currently in leadership positions, to encourage democracy and debate and restore civility to those discussions,” he added. “To that end, I implore all of us to refrain from ascribing sinister intent to those with whom we disagree. Because if you attack a fellow writer merely because they disagree with you, then you are the one who does not care about writers.”

Guggenheim’s credits include the series “Eli Stone,” “Arrow” and “Legends of Tomorrow” and the feature films “Green Lantern” and “Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters.”

 

 

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