Writers Guild and Talent Agencies Strike Last-Minute Extension of Current Deal

WGA and ATA have five extra days to hash out disagreement over packaging

Last Updated: April 6, 2019 @ 10:35 PM

The Writers Guild of America has agreed to extend the deadline for imposing its new code of conduct on Hollywood agencies, the guild said in an email to members late Saturday.

“We had a frank and open conversation and, for the first time, the agencies acknowledged the depth of the problem that their behavior has caused,” the guild said in the email. “In that meeting, they asked us to delay implementation of the Code until end of day Friday, April 12th, so that they could present us with proposals to address those problems and reach a settlement.”

On March 31, WGA members overwhelmingly voted to approve a new code of conduct that requires any agent or agency representing guild writers to put an end to packaging — in which agents collect fees for bundling talent they represent and bringing them as a package to a studio for film or TV projects.

The code was meant to go into effect late Sunday, the day after the current deal would have expired. That has now been extended to April 12. If the two sides are still unable to agree on new terms that satisfy both sides, Guild members are expected to fire any agent or agency that does not comply with the new code of conduct.

“Friday afternoon, [Association of Talent Agents] initiated an informal meeting with the WGA to discuss a pathway and process for moving forward in our negotiations,” ATA Executive Director Karen Stuart wrote in an email to members. “Today, a small group of representatives from ATA and WGA met for several hours on a wide range of issues important to both writers and agents.”

“Tonight, we mutually agreed to extend the termination of our existing agreement through Friday, April 12 and committed to meeting regularly this week in our continued effort to work towards a resolution that serves the best interests of your businesses and your clients,” she continued. “In the meantime, I continue to welcome your thoughts and look forward to seeing you at Wednesday’s membership meeting, where we will update you further.”

The WGA and ATA have been at odds publicly over the issue of packaging for months.

The WGA’s position is that package deals create a conflict of interest for agencies, shifting priority away from client representation and toward content production and ownership. WGA also attributes what it says is a decline in overall pay for members to packaging, and wants agencies to strictly adhere to the commission model of compensation. WGA also demands that Hollywood’s two largest agencies, WME and CAA, withdraw stakes in affiliated production studios.

ATA, meanwhile, says that packaging fees are necessary to the agencies’ business model. And United Talent Agency asserted in a recent report that average writer pay is higher for packaged projects than non-packaged ones. WGA disputes that report.

Read the WGA’s full email to members:

Dear WGA Members,

On March 31st – and by a vote of 95.3% – you authorized the WGAW Board and WGAE Council to impose an Agency Code of Conduct, if and when appropriate, after expiration of the AMBA at midnight on April 6th.  Empowered by your overwhelming support, the Negotiating Committee pledged that it would continue to seek a negotiated settlement.

This afternoon, a small group of agents met with members of your committee.  We had a frank and open conversation and, for the first time, the agencies acknowledged the depth of the problem that their behavior has caused. In that meeting, they asked us to delay implementation of the Code until end of day Friday, April 12th, so that they could present us with proposals to address those problems and reach a settlement.

In a sincere effort to find agreement, we have accepted that request.  In so doing, we are fulfilling our pledge to you – and the language of your authorization – that we use our best judgment as to the right time to move.  But Friday at midnight, which the agencies themselves proposed, is a true deadline.  Unless we have an agreed-upon deal, the WGAW Board and WGAE Council have voted that the Code of Conduct will go into effect at 12:01 am on Saturday, April 13th.  From that point on, diplomacy can continue alongside powerful collective action. 

All of this might have happened last week. Instead, real negotiations begin now, as they always do, with a ticking clock.  It is your power – membership power – and your willingness to use it – that has brought us this far.  Conflicted practices and misaligned financial incentives have plagued our relationships with our representatives for too long.  We sincerely hope that the agencies will now become our true partners in a joint effort to deal meaningfully with both.  

In Solidarity,

WGA-Agency Agreement Negotiating Committee