John Wells has endorsed the dissident candidates the Writers Guild of America West, which is embroiled in a bitter dispute with Hollywood agents.
Wells, a prominent showrunner and two-time WGA West president, issued the statement of support in an email Sunday to members. He urged members to vote for the Writers Forward Together slate, which is running on a platform that highlights the need for the WGA to resume negotiations with the major agencies after staying away from talks since early June. Ballots went out Aug. 29 to about 10,000 members with results announced Sept. 16.
The dissidents have asserted that the WGA will be at a disadvantage should it go into negotiations next year with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers without an agency franchise deal. Phyllis Nagy is heading the slate and challenging current WGA West president David Goodman.
“Let me be clear, I am an admirer of our current Board and the Agency Negotiating Committee and count many of them as friends,” Wells said at the start of his missive. “But I disagree strongly with the institutional emphasis being placed on the current Code of Conduct battle with the agencies.”
The Code of Conduct, which bars agencies from taking packaging fees and engaging in affiliate production was imposed on April 13 and required members to fire their agents if the agents had not agreed to the ban. The WGA then sued the four largest agencies — CAA, WME, UTA and ICM Partners — over the legality of packaging, resulting in countersuits alleging antitrust violations. A trio of smaller agencies (Verve, Buchwald and Kaplan Stahler) agreed to follow the WGA’s Code of Conduct.
Wells contended in his message that packaging practices need reform. “We require a mechanism for full disclosure so members know when they’re being asked to participate in a package and what being a part of that package will mean for them financially,” he added. “But with the rapid changes that are occurring in the distribution of our work, packaging is disappearing, not accelerating.”
Wells asserted that the industry is heading towards a Netflix-style model of buying out all rights as part of the initial compensation package, therefore eliminating any profits. He also noted that the entire membership is being asked to support the allocation of staff time, legal fees and the associated costs in support of litigation and member mobilization to benefit “the most successful members.”
Wells contended that the WGA needs to focus on negotiating replacement for residuals income as distribution models change.
“This agency negotiation, however appropriate and well-considered at its inception, now threatens our unity at a time of great peril for the Guild,” he added. “The companies’ business models are changing, they will be looking to us to change our residuals with them and we have to be fully unified to meet these challenges. It’s time to return to the negotiating table with the ATA, pound out full disclosure and transparency for our members involved in packaging and demand the agencies fully divest themselves of their affiliated content companies. The candidates I’m supporting are committed to this approach. That’s why I’m supporting them. This isn’t caving, this is defining clear, and achievable goals in a negotiation.”
Wells concluded the missive by saying that he has great respect for the courage exhibited by members who stepped forward to bring past packaging abuses to light.
“They were right to do so and deserve our thanks and appreciation,” he said. “But it’s time to get back to the negotiating table.”
Besides Nagy, the dissident slate includes Nick Jones Jr. for treasurer, and board candidates Nick Kazan, Sarah Treem, Courtney Kemp, Rasheed Newson, Jason Fuchs, Ashley Miller, Marc Guggenheim and Ayelet Waldman.
Wells has been the showrunner on “ER,” “Shameless,” “The West Wing” and “Third Watch.” He served as WGA West president in 1999-2001 and 2009-2011.