Hollywood writers fire agents, people call my people. Or not.
The Writers Guild of America rejected the last, best proposal by talent agencies so talks ended in a pool of recriminations and a new era in Hollywood has begun, one where writers are about to fire their agents in a mass email starting Saturday.
WGA president David Goodman said major agencies failed to address two areas of intractable conflict of interest — packaging fees that agencies collect from studios for assembling talent for shows; and talent agency affiliates that produce their own content, putting agencies in the dual role of employer and advocate. And he scoffed at the offer by the Associate of Talent Agents (ATA) for agencies to spend $6 million over three years to foster diversity and inclusion, saying if they cared they’d do it anyway.
“We granted the week’s extension as a sincere effort to try to find a solution. But it is clear to us that we are not appreciably closer. We are willing to continue meeting with you when you provide a proposal that truly addresses our expressed concerns, but our Friday deadline has arrived,” said Goodman in a statement.
ATA chief Karen Stuart said the failure of negotiations “was driven by the Guild’s predetermined course for chaos.”
“The WGA leadership today declared a pathway for compromise doesn’t exist,” she said. “Agencies have been committed to reaching an agreement with the WGA. We came to the negotiating table in good faith and put forth comprehensive proposals providing choice, disclosure, transparency, shared revenue and a significant investment in inclusion programs. Unfortunately, not to our surprise, the WGA did not accept our offer, did not provide counterproposals and refused to negotiate further. We’re prepared to continue to fight for the best interests of writers and all artists.”
She said agreeing to the WGA’s new Code of Conduct would “hurt all artists, delivering an especially painful blow to mid-level and emerging writers, while dictating how agencies of all sizes should function.”
The Guild will now require all its members to fire agents who do not sign the Code by midnight Friday. It posted a prepared a termination letter for writers to sign electronically and plans to deliver the letters to agencies en masse. It also posted a list of 50 smaller agencies that have agreed to sign the Code and a link to a new, electronic job board. The WGA insists that it is legally allowed to deputize managers and attorneys to step in for agents but the ATA says that would contradict California and New York State Law and threatened earlier today to sue anyone who tries it.
The ATA’s proposal offered writers an 0.8% piece of backend fees agencies receive from studios for packaged projects, Goodman said, calling that too little too late. It “in no way realigns your incentives with these writers. You are still receiving money from our employers for access to us, and keeping 99% of the profits of your backend. … It is not a serious proposal and we reject it.”
On production, agencies offered to be more transparent about deals and agreed to renegotiate again in two years. Also nixed.
Goodman said the two sides only came sort-of close on one issue, how to compensate writers of independent features.
WME, CAA, UTA and ICM Partners do nearly all the packaging of TV shows and much of the financing and sales servicing of independent films. These big four, along with more than 100 others agencies have refused to sign the Code of Conduct. Of the agencies that have signed, only one, Pantheon, is an ATA member that has broken ranks, according to Deadline Hollywood.
Goodman has acknowledged that a break will be disruptive but believes that it’s the only way to face down what he sees as growing inequities in the agent-writer relationship. WGA members voted nearly unanimously in late March to approve the changes in the new Code of Conduct and to support union leadership in negotiations, whatever the outcome.