broke down between
the Writers Guild of
America and The Association
of Talent Agencies
members began firing
Things just got real.
After talks between The Writers Guild East (WGAEast) and West(WGA) and Association of Talent Agencies (ATA) broke down at the Beverly Hilton on April 12, Guild leaders sent members form letters to inform their agencies that they could no longer represent them.
According to Variety, the sparks flew. UTA co-president Jay Sures and CAA’s Bryan Lourd reportedly had testy exchanges with WGA West Executive Director David Young during Friday’s meeting as WGA representatives rejected many of the proposals the ATA submitted late Wednesday in an effort to reach a deal.
The WGA has argued that the practice of “packaging fees” — in which agents are paid for bundling talent and bringing them as a package to a studio or network for film or TV projects — have pulled agencies away from their primary responsibility of representing writers in favor of arranging deals that provide the most lucrative packaging paydays for themselves.
Packaging, which is most prevalent and common among the big four agencies – WME, CAA, UTA, and ICM, usually involves just that – an agent will create an attractive package that features an A-list director or showrunner, actor and writers.
But lower-level writers who don’t have a showrunner credit to their name are often excluded. Staff writer salaries have also reportedly stagnated in an era that there are 500 scripted shows due to the streaming explosion.
Writers of color have also expressed anger and frustration that promises to promote diversity were being used as “bargaining chips” to protect packaging fees, a sentiment that was reflected in the WGA’s official statement rejecting the counter-proposal.
Here is the official statement from the negotiating committee that includes House of Cards Beau Willimon and WGA West President David Goodman that went out:
Last Saturday, at the agencies’ request, the Guild gave them six days beyond AMBA expiration to provide us with a fair offer. They have not done so. Among other unacceptable proposals, the agencies insist on continuing their major conflicts of interest. They insist on continuing to produce and be our employers. Their “offer” on packaging is to share 1% of their packaging fee with writers. Here is the response David Goodman presented this afternoon at the bargaining table to the proposal the ATA made yesterday.
So there is no settlement. The membership voted by 95.3% to implement an Agency Code of Conduct if a negotiated settlement was not reached, and elected leadership set today as the deadline. As of midnight tonight, every agency will be required to become a signatory to the Code. And under WGA Working Rule 23, WGA Current members cannot be represented by agencies that have not signed the Code.
So what happens now? In a strike situation, we all know that we are to refrain from crossing the picket line or writing for a struck company, and we’re asked to show our solidarity by picketing, which is the public and moral face of our dispute.
In this situation there are two actions required of all members: First, do not allow a non-franchised agent to represent you with respect to any future WGA-covered work. Second, notify your agency in a written form letter that they cannot represent you until they sign the Code of Conduct.
Linked here is the form letter, in plain and respectful language, which accomplishes this task. Members who are represented by agencies not signed to the Code of Conduct must e-sign the letter. This letter also protects you legally in case of any future commission dispute. The Guild will forward all letters en masse to the appropriate agencies in a few days. Many of you will also want to inform your agents personally. We encourage you to do so and to ask them to sign the Code.
We know you may have questions about exactly how to deal with your agent. We have linked here to a set of rules of implementation and FAQs that clarify how to deal with agencies that are no longer franchised. It is important that you read both the rules and the FAQ carefully. If you have additional questions about your situation, you should contact WGAE Director of Contract Enforcement & Credits Geoff Betts at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We know that, together, we are about to enter uncharted waters. Life that deviates from the current system might be various degrees of disorienting. But it has become clear that a big change is necessary.
We will not only stand together, we will stand up for each other, lean on each other. We can do this.
As the Code of Conduct was implemented, writers sent a resounding message of solidarity on social media, with the hashtag #IStandWithTheWGA trending Friday night.
Members including Stephen King, John August and Patton Oswalt, were among those to post their termination letters:
“This is never what I wanted,” Stephen King, who parted ways with Paradigm, wrote. “My rep has been honest and diligent for over 40 years. Not his fault, but we’re a union family. Come on, ATA. Come on, WGA. Solve this so we can go back to doing what we do.”
This is never what I wanted. My rep has been honest and diligent for over 40 years. Not his fault, but we're a union family. Come on, ATA. Come on, WGA. Solve this so we can go back to doing what we do. pic.twitter.com/IXYDx7qHeS
— Stephen King (@StephenKing) April 14, 2019
Oswalt, meanwhile, kept it simple, saying, “I have an amazing agency that represents me. But I have an even better guild which stands for me.”
— Patton Oswalt (@pattonoswalt) April 13, 2019
“My agent of 20+ years is a great friend and fighter for my career,” tweeted former UTA client and Big Fish scribe John August.
“I would give him a kidney tomorrow. But this isn’t about him or any single agent. Until agencies put clients over conflicts we can’t work together. Simple as that.”
I got so kidney-focused that I forgot to attach my screenshot. pic.twitter.com/CKfRMrMqhG
— John August (@johnaugust) April 13, 2019
Writers have also started another hashtag, #WGAStaffingBoost, encouraging showrunners to comb through it for staff writers looking for a show to join this spring.
The ATA sent a response to its members, calling this situation “Chaos” after the deadline according to The Hollywood Reporter.
“Agencies will not be a willing participant to any further chaos,” said the letter from ATA executive director Karen Stuart. “That’s the Guild’s plan. Their course of action has thrown the entire entertainment ecosystem into an abyss, affecting stakeholders across the spectrum. … We are going to do everything we can to mitigate the damage the Guild has imposed by implementing their strategy. We are prepared to continue fighting for a long-term solution that protects our clients and serves all ATA member agencies.”
Exactly how many of the WGA members will leave their agents remains to be seen. It’s a scary proposition as getting an agent is extremely difficult. That said, thousands of scribes are expected to do so. Two weeks ago, when the guild held an authorization vote on the Code of Conduct, more than half of the 15,000-plus membership took part with 95% — roughly 7,882 members — voting yes.