In a small sign for negotiations between the Writers Guild of America and the talent agencies, the guild has compromised on a subsidiary issue that’s nonetheless important for moviemakers and screenwriters: talent agency involvement with financing and sales of independent films.
But the new language does not appear to necessarily encompass packaging of such films, which may make the concession less meaningful than it appears. It’s generally impossible to finance a film without putting together a package that includes not just the script but such other “essential elements” as the director and lead cast.
“It is our hope that this significant move on our part will bring the parties closer to an overall agreement,” said the WGA in a letter to Association of Talent Agents executive director Karen Stuart. However, movement on this issue leaves aside the major roadblocks between the parties — television packaging and affiliate production.
The proposal in the letter permits agencies to receive a percentage of funds raised in film financing and sales, provided that the writer client is first informed of the fees and provides advance written consent. Giving the writer such an informed option echoes a theme the talent agencies have urged with their “Statement of Choice” issued March 12.
“Over the last five years, more than 1,000 independent films have been released with support from agencies — creating great opportunity for writers and the broader industry,” said the ATA previously in a FAQ.
The WGA proposal sets a $20 million budget threshold, but it is not clear from the language whether this figure is intended as a floor or a ceiling: “Such fees [i.e., compensation to the talent agency] shall only be permitted for films with intended budgets greater than $20 million with the consent of the Guild.” The WGA clarified for The Hollywood Reporter that this means that fees are permitted without need of guild consent at $20 million budget or below, but require consent above that threshold.
The WGA had previously moved on two other issues, withdrawing proposals that agents be prohibited from charging commission on scale compensation and that the guild could unilaterally change the agency rules on 60 days’ notice at any time. But there’s no indication that either side will move from their positions on television packaging and affiliate production: The guild wants to flatly prohibit these practices, while the agencies want to permit them with the client’s informed consent.
The guild letter also references a negotiation session to take place Thursday, but it was not possible to confirm this date with the ATA, which did not respond to a request for comment.
March 20, 4:48 p.m. Updated with WGA response regarding the $20 million threshold.