WGA Sets March Vote on Tough New Rules for Talent Agents

“We are making a power grab. A necessary, proper and fair power grab,” WGAW President David A. Goodman says

Last Updated: February 20, 2019 @ 9:35 PM

As negotiations on a new deal between the Writers Guild of America and the Association of Talent Agents continue, the WGA has scheduled a March 25 vote for members to decide whether to impose tough new rules on talent agents to curb what it says are systemic conflicts of interest.

WGAW President David A. Goodman announced the vote in remarks posted on the WGA’s website Wednesday. Calling it “a necessary, proper and fair power grab,” Goodman explained that the plan is to ensure that “agency income should be directly tied to writer income,” something he says is “not happening anymore.”

The ATA did not immediately respond to a request for comment from TheWrap.

The problem, Goodman said, is primarily that agencies make most of their money from packaging — when the agency start a film or TV project with talent it represents, and is paid directly by studios rather than through commissions.

“The big four agencies have developed a monopoly that takes the collective power of writers and uses it to enrich the agencies themselves,” Goodman said. “This has resulted in long-term stagnation of writer income and real downward pressure on writers’ quotes.”

Further, Goodman said, because the agency’s money is then dependent on how well shows do rather than on how well its clients do, “the big agencies’ interest is not with writers, it is with studio profits.” And the problem, he says, is as bad on television as it is for film screenwriters.

The guild wants to establish what Goodman called a “code of conduct” which he says would be similar to that required by major sports unions. The code would: Require agencies and agents to avoid what it says are conflicts of interest, which include practices like packaging, and producing; and require agencies to make available to the guild “all deal memos, all invoices for payment, and open access to the agencies’ books.”

The new code of conduct would ban the practice of packaging as of April, 2019, and allow WGA and its members to regularly audit deals agencies strike on their behalf.

The vote is scheduled two weeks before the current agreement with the ATA expires, and in his remarks, Goodman urged WGA members to stick together and, if necessary, be ready to endure some “hardship.”

“High-profile writers will be asked at a certain point to publicly state support for this campaign and their willingness to walk away from their agency as necessary,” Goodman said. “There may well be a struggle required and hardship for some of us.”

“But I believe that we must accept those risks in order to fix the problems,” Goodman said.

Read Goodman’s full remarks here.