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Scribes Show Support for Writers Guild Leaders in Talent Agency Fight

Despite a cold and rainy night, Hollywood writers have given a strong endorsement of the leadership of the Writers Guild of America in the current battle over talent agency regulations.

About 1,000 members attended a spirited meeting Wednesday at the Sheraton Universal Hotel in Los Angeles, a week after the first formal negotiating sessions between agencies and the WGA to discuss the guild’s proposals to revamp key rules for agents.

“There was a lot of unity tonight,” one member said. “It reminded me of the meetings two years ago to support a strike authorization.”

Both sides will meet again on Feb. 19, seven weeks before the current franchise agreement expires. During the past year, the WGA has been pressuring Hollywood’s agencies to revamp the rules for agents due to affiliates of Hollywood’s two largest agencies — WME and CAA — moving aggressively into production, creating the potential for conflicts of interest that arise when the same company represents the creative talent on one side of the table and is the employer on the other.

The key WGA proposals would effectively end all packaging deals, in which agencies receive both upfront and backend fees. The WGA has also proposed that “no agency shall have an ownership or other financial interest in, or shall be owned by or affiliated with, any entity or individual engaged in the production or distribution of motion pictures.”

Wednesday’s meeting was the third for members in the past week, following a Feb. 9 meeting in Beverly Hills, Calif., and a Tuesday night event in New York. The latest session included discussion of whether members would be forced to drop their agents if the agencies are no longer covered by the WGA-ATA agreement, which will expire on April 6 if a new deal isn’t worked out. One member told Variety that, despite the saber-rattling, he expects a settlement before that scenario plays out.

The Assn. of Talent Agencies had said the Feb. 5 negotiating session was unproductive and had “serious doubts about the sincerity of WGA leadership’s desire for a negotiated solution.” The ATA issued a statement Wednesday that further criticized the WGA while still expressing optimism that a deal will emerge.

“It’s concerning for us to learn the WGA leadership is recommending writers terminate their relationship with agents if a resolution isn’t achieved by April 6th, especially as writers head into staffing season,” it said. “We encourage the WGA leadership to work in partnership with agencies to find solutions to the challenges writers face in today’s changing media landscape instead of dividing writers from their agents. We are committed to meeting with WGA leadership as much as needed over the next seven weeks — and beyond if necessary — to find the right set of such solutions.”

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