Ten months after thousands of Hollywood scribes fired their agents amid a failure to reach a new franchise agreement, the leader of the Writers Guild of America West claims the union has "had substantive discussions with all but one" of the major talent agencies.
WGA West president David A. Goodman on Friday offered an update to members after the guild signed several agencies to its code of conduct. "Those we have spoken to have said directly to me they would like to make a deal," he wrote. "We continue to place pressure on them, by pursuing the lawsuit, by negotiating with the smaller agencies, and by withholding their ability to represent writers."
In the last four months, Abrams Artists Agency, Rothman Brecher, The Gersh Agency and APA Agency have all made deals with the Writers Guild. However, none of the largest agencies — CAA, WME, UTA, ICM and Paradigm — have taken any public steps toward reconciliation with the guild.
When asked for comment, multiple agencies said they hadn't had "substantive" talks with the WGAW. “We would love to be able to say that we have been having substantive conversations with the WGA, but it’s disingenuous and simply not true," a WME rep said. "We wish there was a resolution to this dispute, but we need a willing negotiation partner to find one.” A UTA spokesman noted, "As it pertains to UTA, this is completely false."
Goodman, who was reelected with 77 percent of the membership vote in August, has kept up the guild's effort to reduce agencies' affiliate production and end packaging fees (wherein a studio directly pays agents for attaching talent to a writer's pitch).
Some 7,000 writers parted ways with their agents after talks ended without an agreement on April 12. Days later, the guild filed an ongoing lawsuit against WME, CAA and UTA. Agentless scribes then worked through TV staffing season by crowdsourcing for jobs.
In May, Verve became the first firm with major literary clients to break ranks with agencies and sign the guild's code of conduct targeting packaging fees. Others that have made a deal include Kaplan Stahler, Culture Creative Entertainment and Buchwald.
In his memo Friday, Goodman also claimed, "We know that some agents are harassing former clients to work with them in secret under the false premise that 'everyone else has come back.'"
Goodman's full note is below.
It has been a while since we’ve given you an update on the agency campaign. As you know, since the beginning of the year the remaining mid-level agencies have signed, which leaves us with five large agencies still without a franchise agreement. The WGA has had substantive discussions with all but one. Those we have spoken to have said directly to me they would like to make a deal. We continue to place pressure on them, by pursuing the lawsuit, by negotiating with the smaller agencies, and by withholding their ability to represent writers. The goal remains in sight: to realign all our representatives’ financial interests with their writer clients by ending packaging fees and curtailing agency ownership of production.
A number of the unsigned agencies, while professing to want a deal, continue to engage in misconduct. We know that some agents are harassing former clients to work with them in secret under the false premise that “everyone else has come back.” These same unfranchised agents are inserting themselves into potential deals by calling executives and acting as if they still represent writers who fired them. This is itself an indication that the pressure is mounting on them. We talked about this misconduct in a previous email, and there may be helpful information in it if you find yourself faced with this kind of pressure.
We’ve also heard the rumors that some writers have gone back to their unfranchised agents. When we receive specific information the allegations are investigated, starting with outreach by the Guild’s Working Rule 23 Committee. We have looked into a few reports that turned out to be without merit, which is why confidentiality is so important. But we continue to investigate other reports, and for any writers breaking the rules there must and will be accountability.
Despite the challenges of this new landscape, writers continue to pursue their careers working with the help of a manager, a franchised agent or on their own, often utilizing Guild-provided tools. The numbers speak for themselves: overall employment is up, compensation is higher, and writers are maintaining health benefits at higher levels than last year. The Guild will continue to provide and improve the tools we’ve set up to help writers find work. If you have questions or concerns as always you can contact: Agency@wga.org.
As we head into MBA negotiations, some in the industry have pushed the narrative that the agency campaign has weakened us. But it has had the opposite effect: we have taken on the status quo, challenged business practices that everyone hated but no one else would question, and, in doing so, changed the way the whole town does business. The companies have seen another powerful example of the Guild’s unity and sense of purpose in protecting the well-being of writers. There is no doubt it has made us stronger.
Invitations to the MBA member meetings will go out next week.
David A. Goodman
Feb. 15, 4:10 p.m. Updated with comments from WME and UTA.