A Writers Guild of America negotiator has blasted Hollywood agencies over how they have characterized what would happen if packaging fees are eliminated.
David Shore, co-chair of the guild’s negotiating committee, said in a message Thursday to WGA members that he strongly disagreed with the agents’ contention that eliminating packaging fees won’t result in more money going to writers, and that it will just go back to the studio.
“That seems either naïve or disingenuous,” he said. “The agencies have been able to get the studios to pay these fees in exchange for delivering us to the studios. The value of that service remains unchanged. But more than seeming wrong, I know it’s wrong.”
Shore, the creator of “House,” “Sneaky Pete” and “The Good Doctor,” said the agents are incorrect, based on his own history.
“I insisted that a show I was developing not be packaged,” he said. “And, as a direct result, I received control of the points that were normally allotted to the agencies. Furthermore, I have been able to increase my budget by an amount equal to an imputed packaging fee. That extra money now goes to the show, where it belongs, to use as we see fit, not to an agency.
Shore’s message came a day after the Association of Talent Agents rebuffed characterizations made by the guild that the talks were at an “impasse” and that agents were withdrawing from the negotiations. Leaders of the WGA and ATA both asserted Wednesday that they were ready to resume talks but no date has been set for the next negotiation. The guild and the ATA have held two acrimonious sessions on Feb. 5 and Feb. 19 that only managed to raise the level of rancor.
The WGA has been seeking to revamp the rules of engagement for agents with WGA members with changes that would effectively end all film and TV 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 ATA has said that packaging provides “tremendous” benefits to artists in all lines of work – including directors, producers, actors and writers who each save their 10% commission if their agency is one of the packaging agents on a particular show.
“If packaging fees are eliminated, the consequence is simple – writers will have to pay more money out of their pockets,” the ATA said. “Studios, on the other hand, would pay less – they would retain the fee and share of the profits that would otherwise go to the packaging agency, and artists would have to pay the standard 10% commission on their earnings. Contrary to myths being circulated, those packaging fees likely would not be redistributed in any way to talent.”
“The studios would keep the money they pay the agencies now. The studios likely will have to pay for more development executives or more creative producers, who will have to do the work packaging agents do now. Studios will recoup these costs at writers’ expense.”
The WGA and the ATA face an April 6 contract expiration deadline to hammer out a new franchise agreement governing the rules for agents representing WGA members. The WGA has scheduled a March 25 vote for members to implement its own code of conduct spelling out new rules, which will require members to fire their agents if they haven’t signed on to the code.