by David Robb
February 13, 2019 7:56pm
Hundreds of writers gathered tonight at the Universal Sheraton to get an update on the WGA’s negotiations with the Association of Talent Agents for a new agency franchise agreement.
Writers May ‘Walk Away’ From Their Agents If WGA and ATA Can’t Reach Deal
As Deadline previously reported, the negotiations got off to a rocky start last week, with the ATA releasing a lengthy statement that expressed “serious doubts about the sincerity of WGA leadership’s desire for a negotiated solution.” WGA West executive director David Young called the ATA’s statement “misleading and pathetic.”
Asked before the start of tonight’s meeting if writers will be urged to walk away from their agents if a deal isn’t reached, Young said, “It’s really walking to agents that want to play fair. It’s not really waking away. Hopefully, there won’t be any need for that.”
Tonight was the last of three general membership meetings since the talks with the ATA began on Feb. 5. After last Saturday’s meeting, a writer told Deadline that “Writers will walk away from the agencies” if a deal isn’t reached. “Maybe we’ll leave the agencies,” said another. “That would be huge.”
And last night, more than 100 WGA East members gathered at the guild’s offices in New York City to hear a report on the negotiations. “The members really understand that agents’ conflicts of interest are a major problem and they’re really fired up about it,” said a TV writer who attended the meeting.
“It’s concerning for us to learn the WGA leadership is recommending writers terminate their relationship with agents if a resolution isn’t achieved by April 6th, especially as writers head into staffing season,” the ATA told Deadline earlier today. “We encourage the WGA leadership to work in partnership with agencies to find solutions to the challenges writers face in today’s changing media landscape instead of dividing writers from their agents. We are committed to meeting with WGA leadership as much as needed over the next seven weeks – and beyond if necessary – to find the right set of such solutions.”
The WGA’s current agreement with the ATA, which expires April 6, hasn’t been renegotiated in more than four decades. WGA leaders say they want to put an end to what they say are inherent “conflicts of interest” that violate the agencies’ fiduciary duties to writers when agents are involved in packaging and production deals. The WGA’s proposals, if adopted, would effectively return agents to mere collectors of 10% commissions – a business model that hasn’t existed at the big agencies in decades.
TV showrunners, who would be the most impacted by any changes in the agency rules, have already met separately with guild leaders three times – the last time just hours before the start of the talks. “Showrunners will play a critical role in this effort and stand to benefit greatly,” Young and WGA West president David A. Goodman told them in Jan. 18 email.”
The WGA’s proposals for a new agreement, which were delivered to the ATA last April, would reshape the agency landscape. A proposal that “no agency shall accept any money or thing of value from the employer of a client” would effectively end all packaging deals, in which agents bring together the creative and financial elements of a project. The guild also proposed eliminating commissions on scale and putting the brakes on the agencies’ ventures into film and television production by not allowing agencies to have “an ownership or other financial interest in, or shall be owned by or affiliated with, any entity or individual engaged in the production or distribution of motion pictures.”
The ATA countered by saying, “What is most important, and what the agencies always will insist as the absolute top priority, is the protection of the artists we represent: to ensure their best interests are served and their careers can flourish at a time of unprecedented change and uncertainty in our industry. That is why we are so concerned, and emphatically disagree with what WGA leadership is telling their membership about the practices of packaging, production, and commission of scale – because WGA’s proposals are simply not in the best interest of writers. Rather than working in partnership with the agencies to find solutions to the challenges writers face in today’s dramatically evolving media landscape, WGA’s leadership is focused on undoing decades-old industry practices that benefit writers and the entire entertainment ecosystem.”
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