Thousands of writers are expected to begin leaving talent agencies
Despite a deadline extension and a extra week of negotiations, the Writers Guild of America and the Association of Talent Agents were unable to come to terms, and just after midnight, the 43 year-old agreement between the two groups expired without a new deal in place.
As a result, a tough new code of conduct for talent agents, intended to end the practice of packaging, has gone into effect. As a result of the impasse between the two sides, guild members such as John August and Patton Oswalt began posting WGA form letters informing their agencies that they can no longer represent them until they agree to the code of conduct.
“I have an amazing agency that represents me,” Oswalt tweeted. “But I have an even better guild which stands for me.”
Packaging — in which agents are paid for bundling talent and bringing them as a package to a studio or network for film or TV projects — was the main point of contention preventing WGA and ATA from hammering out a new agreement. WGA’s position is that packaging is a conflict of interest for agents that has caused a decline in writer earnings. The guild is demanding that agencies end packaging outright, and on March 31, WGA members overwhelmingly voted to approve the new code of conduct that requires any agency representing them to do just that.
ATA has steadfastly defended packaging, and the group contends that writers earn more money because of it; WGA disputes that assertion. In an attempt to resolve the dispute with the guild without losing the practice it says is essential to the agencies’ current business model, on Thursday the ATA proposed a revenue sharing deal, made public shortly after, in which agencies would share a portion of earnings from package deals with writers.
However, on Friday WGA rejected the offer, saying that it continued “a major conflict of interest,” in a letter to guild members. And in a separate statement, WGA West president David Goodman said the offer was so small it was “not a serious proposal,” and that it “does not change [agencies’] incentives at all.”
ATA’s proposal also displeased many WGA members, who said on social media that exact amounts of money writers would receive through a package fee split were not disclosed. Some also felt that by releasing the proposal publicly, the ATA was not serious about coming to an agreement.
“If you’re trying to get to the finish line, you keep it in the room til you have a deal,” tweeted “Adam Ruins Everything” creator Adam Conover.
Earlier Friday, ATA Director Karen Stuart reiterated the organization’s contention that WGA has not negotiated in good faith. “The WGA leadership today declared a pathway for compromise doesn’t exist,” she said in a response to the guild’s decision. “Agencies have been committed to reaching an agreement with the WGA but, despite our best efforts, today’s outcome was driven by the Guild’s predetermined course for chaos. The WGA is mandating a ‘Code of Conduct’ that will hurt all artists, delivering an especially painful blow to mid-level and emerging writers, while dictating how agencies of all sizes should function.
“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,” she continued. “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.”
WGA has devised a plan in which writers would be represented by managers and lawyers instead. Whether that will prove successful remains to be seen however; in a letter Friday, ATA told WGA leadership that this plan violates California and New York law.
With TV staffing season in full swing, the WGA has launched a database for showrunners to post position openings in their writer rooms and for potential staff writers to apply for work. The guild is calling on writers to support each other during this period, particularly lower-tier writers and newer guild members who will have to find a foothold in the industry without an agent.
Meanwhile, with negotiations having failed, the next time the WGA and ATA meet may be in court. The WGA has a draft lawsuit against the ATA and its member agencies that may be filed in the coming days, which would likely prompt a countersuit.