Literary and talent agency Verve became the most prominent Hollywood agency to sign the Writers Guild of America's new code of conduct on Thursday.
"In 2010, Verve established itself as an agency where clients' interests are the top priority. Today, we affirm that commitment by signing the WGA Code of Conduct," Verve management wrote in a memo to staff on Thursday. "As a result of our meaningful dialogue with our clients and their elected leadership, Verve has decided this course of action is in the best interest of our clients and our company.
"Although there will be modifications to our business practices that are necessitated by today's decision, one thing that will not change is our commitment to providing long-term, premium service to our clients," the letter continued.
Back in March the WGA and its members voted to implement a new code of conduct that called on Hollywood talent agencies to put an end to packaging fees. Verve maintained to staff that the agency is not anti-packaging.
However, in signing the modified code, Verve did agree to the guild's two most critical components -- no TV packaging and no affiliate- owned production.
The WGA has been at odds with agencies and their member organization, the Association of Talent Agents, over packaging fees -- those collected by an agency from a studio or network for bundling talent it represents and presenting that multi-pronged project to the studio or network. The practice has become a major source of income for top Hollywood agencies, effectively making them producers on a movie or TV show.
The WGA and ATA have been in a public, back-and-forth dispute for months over packaging and the guild's code.
Though Verve is not a member of the ATA and negotiated separately from the association, the ATA issued a statement in response to Verve signing the code: "The WGA leadership has put writers and agents alike in an untenable position. It is disappointing but not surprising that some of the most vulnerable agencies may reluctantly be forced to sign an onerous agreement," the ATA said. "While Verve is not an ATA member agency, their decision to sign the WGA's Code will ultimately harm their business and the artists they represent on many levels. With 30 days now passed since the agencies provided the Guild's Negotiating Committee with numerous counter proposals, we're still waiting for them to respond or return to the negotiating table."
Verve said it plans to continue working with other agencies whenever it is in the best interest of its clients.
In April writers began firing their agents who worked at agencies that refused to sign the WGA's code of conduct. Since then a host of Hollywood writers have been operating without agent representation, and in the midst of TV staffing season when writers would most need agents to negotiate contracts to sign on to a TV writers room.
Packaging, and the fees collected from it, has been a major boon for agencies in recent years, particularly the major four -- CAA, WME, UTA and ICM -- as they've taken steps to grow and diversify their business, which for some has included taking outside investment. Verve, however, said it does not own an affiliate production company and that it hasn't taken outside investment in the agency.
Verve also said there were modifications made to the guild's code to clarify the intentions of some of the language that was deemed either confusing or overly broad. As part of the agreement, requirements for sharing documents with the WGA were adjusted to be in-line with Verve's business practices, the agency said, and it also agreed to a "Most Favored Nations" clause, meaning whatever the WGA and ATA ultimately agree upon, Verve will play by those rules.
The agency's notable clients include Colin Trevorrow ("Jurassic World"), Michael Arndt ("Star Wars: Episode VII), Meg LeFauve ("Inside Out"), Jac Schaeffer ("The Hustle"), Brian K. Vaughan ("Y: The Last Man"), Anthony Maras ("Hotel Mumbai") and Kimberly Peirce ("Boys Don't Cry").
The agreement between Verve and the WGA signals that the guild, which to this point has remained steadfast in its fight, is willing to make some concessions as the stand-off continues.
Read the full memo to staff:
In 2010, Verve established itself as an agency where clients' interests are the top priority. Today, we affirm that commitment by signing the WGA Code of Conduct.
As a result of our meaningful dialogue with our clients and their elected leadership, Verve has decided this course of action is in the best interest of our clients and our company.
Although there will be modifications to our business practices that are necessitated by today's decision, one thing that will not change is our commitment to providing long-term, premium service to our clients.
Verve provides a customized experience for each client and we refuse to dilute our efforts. As a result, we will not take on writers who seek temporary representation and intend to return to their previous agency when a deal is made between the WGA and the ATA.
We are proud that our agency continues to forge its own path forward, but we are even more excited to see the spotlight returned to where it belongs - on our creators.
A note of gratitude to you, our teammates. You have shown resilience and compassion during these challenging times, and that gives us tremendous faith in our collective ability to shine in the future.
Adam, Bill, Bryan, Amy, Adam and David