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Writers Guild Pitches Perplexed Managers About Proposed Agent Rules

Leaders of the Writers Guild of America have met with about 100 top Hollywood managers about the guild’s proposals to revamp the rules for agents.

The spirited two-hour session, held Thursday at the W Hotel in Hollywood, produced perplexed reactions as a panel of WGA leaders and staff spelled out the specifics of the guild’s demands and answered questions from managers — who are not directly involved in the dispute. The takeaway was very much that the WGA is not going to compromise.

“The guild panel was absolutely intractable about their positions,” one attendee told Variety. “I already knew what their proposals were before I went to the meeting so I kept wondering why I was there.”

The new rules proposed by the WGA would effectively end all packaging deals, in which agencies receive both upfront and backend fees, and bar agencies from any financial interest in any entity or individual “engaged in the production or distribution of motion pictures.”

The WGA and the Association of Talent Agents are facing an April 6 contract expiration deadline to hammer out a new franchise agreement governing the rules for agents representing WGA members.

If a deal isn’t reached, the WGA has vowed to implement its own Code of Conduct spelling out new rules — which would require members to fire their agents if they haven’t signed on to the code. The two sides have been firing potshots at each other but have not held negotiations since Feb. 19 in Los Angeles and have not set a new date.

Managers who attended the Thursday meeting were struck over how any suggestion of a compromise in the negotiations was dismissed out of hand by the WGA panel, which included WGA West board member Michele Mulroney.

“I came away with the impression that they are trying to go from zero to 60 in terms of packaging and financial interest,” one high-profile manager told Variety. “It came off as if they are very unwilling to say anything that will tip their hand.”

Another manager noted that the WGA appears to be signaling that it plans to wait until the April 6 deadline before it’s willing to reach a new deal with the ATA — similar to the 2017 negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers over a successor deal to the master contract, which were concluded less than an hour before the contract expiration.

“That’s very much the style of David Young and I don’t expect that to change,” the manager added.

Young, who was not on the panel, has been executive director of the WGA West since 2005 and was the key architect of the acrimonious 100-day strike in 2007-08.

The WGA plans to hold another managers meeting at 9 a.m. on March 5 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. Managers are not licensed by the state and not franchised by the guild. As a result, they can produce projects to which their clients are attached.

Young and WGA West president David Goodman insisted on Tuesday that the guild remained ready to hold good-faith negotiations, a day after Hollywood’s major talent agencies threatened to pull out of further talks and repeated the accusation of bad-faith negotiations. Young placed the blame on the Association of Talent Agencies for the lack of progress, asserting that they have not responded to the WGA proposals issued a year ago.

Karen Stuart, exec director of the ATA, said in her missive Monday, “We remain ready, willing, and able to negotiate an agreement in good faith. Is the same true for you? Because if it’s not, we don’t see any reason to keep meeting. We await your response.”

Stuart opened the letter by saying, “We write regarding your recent public declarations that the WGA and ATA are ‘at war’ and your public pledge that there is ‘no room for compromise’ with the ATA. Simply stated, your actions run completely afoul of the value and respect we have long held for the Guild.”

She went on to accuse the WGA of refusing to speak with the ATA for nearly a year before agreeing to sit down for formal negotiations earlier this month.

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