Orson Scott Card's Ex-Manager Aims to Speed Up 'Ender's Game' Commission Dispute
Wendi Niad is looking to make an end-run around a quiet California labor office that hears disputes over talent agent licensing requirements.
California budget cuts have impacted education, police forces, prisons, health care programs and more. It's also got one Hollywood talent manager waiting in limbo.
More than two years ago, Wendi Niad's firm filed a lawsuit against sci-fi writer Orson Scott Card that demanded 10 percent of his income from the film adaptation of Ender's Game. In response, Card made a move that is typical of an individual fighting with a manager over commissions: The author filed a petition with California's Labor Commissioner that asserted that Niad had violated the Talent Agencies Act.
Personal managers in the entertainment business loathe the TAA. The law says that only licensed talent agents can procure employment for clients. The National Conference of Personal Managers has argued that the statute is unconstitutional, but have not been able to limit its enforcement. Because of that, Card was able to temporarily halt the lawsuit against him in July, 2011 by alleging that Niad had violated the TAA by "negotiating, or attempting to negotiate employment agreements" on his behalf.
In January, 2012, the Labor Commissioner conducted a full-day hearing and the following month, the parties filed written closing arguments. And then, nothing. Tired of waiting for a decision, Niad's attorney is now pressing a L.A. Superior Court judge to lift a stay because of the "unreasonable delay."
Ender's Game is set to be released in November. It has endured public controversy from Card's comments about homosexuality. The film will come out in theaters almost three decades after Card published his most famous work.
Through the years, there have been several attempts to turn it into a film.
In Niad's lawsuit, it is said that when Card signed up for representation in 2006, Warner Bros. was working on an adaptation. Card's contract with Niad specifically excludes commission on the Ender's Game project, but Niad argues that the provision only pertained to a potential Warners film, not one produced by Odd Lot Entertainment and Summit Entertainment. Card's attorney disagrees with this assessment.
But an interpretation of the contract is irrelevant if the contract is deemed a nullity thanks to a TAA violation. That's what Card is hoping to get from California's Labor Commissioner.
Niad, arguing that there was no TAA violation because the firm worked in conjunction with a licensed talent agent, is tired of waiting.
Two weeks ago, Robert Gookin, Niad's attorney, submitted a motion to lift a two-year-long stay in the lawsuit, citing no activity in the 18 months since the parties briefed the Labor Commissioner. The lawyer says he contacted the Labor Commissioner's office four times, looking for an estimate as to when to expect a ruling.
He says that when he called in May, he was informed "that due to budget cuts and staff reductions, they were unable to give me any meaningful estimate at that regard." He says he called in August, and an assistant took his name and phone number, and never got back to him.
And so the Ender's Game commissions dispute is in administrative Siberia, perhaps made worse by California budget austerity. It's not unusual for the Labor Commissioner to take its sweet time rendering a ruling -- a decision last year concerning Dog the Bounty Hunter came after five years -- but Gookin argues in seeking to speed up the lawsuit that that the administrative remedy "has been exhausted as a result of the Labor Commissioner's unreasonable delay" and that the Labor Commissioner's initial jurisdiction in the matter is "merely colorable."
Contacted for comment, a spokesperson for the Labor Commissioner's office says it is looking into the matter.