Writers Guild President David Goodman Blasts Agencies for Lying

Writers Guild of America West President David Goodman has blasted Hollywood’s top talent agencies for allegedly lying about the fundamental issue of owning affiliate production companies.

“We’re in the middle of an historic and difficult campaign to change an entrenched system of agency conflict of interest,” said Goodman in his official election statement. “Thus, this has to dominate the discussion of my candidacy; this is not to minimize the other important work of the Guild.”

Goodman is seeking re-election against Phyllis Nagy as top officer of the union. She is heading the dissident 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 WGA’s 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) have agreed to follow the WGA’s Code of Conduct.

Goodman said the WGA’s relationship with agencies began to devolve in 2014, when the agencies were failing to defend writers from option and exclusivity clauses and were unwilling to address a “serious decline” in writer over-scale pay in both features and TV, and increases in free work.

“Our agencies did not take responsibility, nor even seem to care when we reached out to them to discuss the issues,” he said. “And we know why: their wellbeing is to a great degree no longer connected to ours. They can and have made more while we’ve made less. After everything that has happened in this campaign, you now know why they are making more, and you know why some agencies resist at all cost what we’re trying to fix.”

Goodman said that the WGA leadership has been unfairly castigated for holding firm on the issue of agencies being fundamentally conflicted. The issue was first reported early last year by Variety, which noted the growing unease with agencies owning affiliate production companies: WME and Endeavor Content;  CAA and Wiip; and UTA and Civic Center Media.

“The leadership has faced disingenuous criticism for being unwilling to negotiate; every action we’ve taken in this campaign has demonstrated the opposite, our willingness to negotiate and, as of this writing, the deals we’ve negotiated with the agencies show that we’re willing to compromise,” Goodman said. “We have compromised on film packaging, information sharing, arbitration and a host of other issues. And, in all these negotiations we have been able to compromise without giving up on our goal to realign agency interests with ours.”

Goodman explained why the negotiating committee determined that a deal couldn’t be reached through the Association of Talent Agencies, only with individual agencies.

“And here’s one of the reasons why: The ATA said their agency members had NOTHING TO DO with their affiliated production companies, that therefore they couldn’t negotiate anything having to do with them, but that they were willing to help us make an appointment, and would give us their phone numbers,” he said. “Just think about that. This lie wasn’t said just to Guild staff, it was said to a group of writers, feature writers and television writers, by a group of agents, from agencies that used to represent us. The ATA wouldn’t accept the issues we’ve raised as being legitimate, one of which is that agencies owning production companies is an unacceptable conflict of interest that they need to address.”

“If you accept the goals of this campaign, you cannot excuse this, you cannot blithely, naively believe that if we just got in a room with the ATA that we’d find a solution when they’re willing to lie about something that is so obviously untrue just to protect the status quo,” Goodman added. “And members know that agencies becoming producers is an existential threat to all writers, not just TV but film as well. It was John August who said to me ‘When your agent is your boss, you don’t have an agent.’”

Goodman said that the presence of Netflix and Amazon will be helpful to the WGA at the negotiations for a successor deal to the guild’s current master contract with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which expires May 1. The streamers are not AMPTP members and could sign separate deals with WGA should the guild go on strike.

“For these reasons, whatever leadership decides our agenda is, we will go into negotiations in a very strong position,” he said. “And as far as threatening our ‘alliance’ with agencies, I’ve been involved in four WGA MBA negotiations, and in all of them the agencies offered no help, in fact abandoned us and worked against our goals by describing us to their clients as intractable and unrealistic.”

Goodman also noted that he’s been on the WGA West board since 2006, and said that win or lose, this will be his final campaign.

“The accomplishment I take most pride in are the other members of the Board who I’ve encouraged to run. This is especially true for incumbents Nicole Yorkin, Meredith Stiehm, Luvh Rakhe and Angelina Burnett, and officer candidates Marjorie David and Michele Mulroney,” he said. “These are the people who work tirelessly, with intelligence and empathy, for all the writers in the Guild. They do this work without credit or fanfare; they know this job rarely gets you your picture in the NY Times, and can get you brutally insulted by strangers on social media.”

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