Writers Guild, Talent Agencies End Fourth Day of Talks, Will Meet Again Next Week

WGA and ATA held another marathon negotiation session over packaging fees on Thursday

Last Updated: March 14, 2019 @ 8:22 PM

The Writers Guild of America and the Association of Talent Agencies ended a fourth day of talks as the April 6 termination date of the two organizations draw nearer. And while a deal hasn’t been struck, both sides promise to return to the table.

The WGA and ATA met twice this week to discuss a series of counterproposals presented by the agencies to end the impasse between the two groups over packaging deals. The meetings came after weeks of tense exchanges — and two previous meetings in February that did not lead to any progress.

The ATA counterproposals promise to codify rules requiring agents to disclose to their writer clients when they are including their work in a package deal and receive their approval before receiving any sort of packaging fee. Agents must also disclose when the deal would involve a studio created or partly owned by the agency they represent, and remind writers that they can seek deals with a competing studio. The two largest agencies, WME and CAA, have separately managed but affiliated production studios that have been created in recent years, creating concerns over conflicts of interest.

But the ATA has not bent to the WGA’s demand to outright remove packaging fees, which the guild says is a conflict of interest that damages writers’ wages.

In a new statement released Thursday, WGA President David A. Goodman said that the ATA counteroffers did not address the conflicts of interests that remain at the core of the guild’s complaints. Goodman also compared the ATA’s emphasis on individual writers’ choice to “right to work” laws, claiming that they threaten to undermine the guild’s role in representing writers.

“Choice is only a real choice if an individual writer has the power to exercise it in the face of a powerful company or agency.  Very few do.  All of your proposals ask individual writers to do things that have already proven mostly impossible, like having a real choice in agency packaging and producing deals,” said Goodman.

“Even something as simple as our proposal that you provide the Guild with the necessary information to enforce the MBA is unacceptable to you without the burdensome and unnecessary requirement of individualized client consent. Let’s be clear: This is not an individual negotiation.  It is a negotiation about how the Guild will delegate its exclusive right to represent all writers as a whole.  This committee is empowered to represent all writers in a collective fashion, and we will not accept proposals that allow you to avoid providing all information and transparency to our Guild.”

In a separate statement, ATA executive director Karen Stuart said: “Unfortunately, it appears at this time that the WGA really doesn’t want to make a deal. While we appreciate their overtures in tone, they didn’t present any meaningful counter proposals today – instead presenting their original “code of conduct” with a different title.”

“Based on our conversations with hundreds of film and television writers, we’re hearing that they want to have choice and options. This is reflected in the counterproposals and the Statement of Choice the ATA presented this week, all of which are grounded in expanding transparency and enforcement,” the ATA statement continues. “The Guild is pushing a unilateral mandate that questions writers’ own decision-making ability and will destabilize the entire industry, affecting writers, directors and actors alike. The Guild’s proposals will only weaken our collective ability to continue advancing artists careers and confront the power imbalance created by the dramatic changes in the media landscape.”

“ATA member agencies remain committed to finding a pathway and will meet again next week with the WGA to try to come to an agreement.”

The WGA is scheduled to hold a membership vote on March 25 to authorize the guild to enforce a new Code of Conduct requiring agencies to remove all package fees from their deals in order to represent writers. If the vote is approved, the Code will be enforced on April 7, with the WGA calling on its members to leave any agency that refuses to comply.