Agencies Keep Hoping Writers Will "Fold," Guild President Says

David A Goodman 2018 Writers Guild Awards - Getty - H 2019
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WGAW exec David Goodman said he believes the major agencies' strategy is to get guild members to tell leadership: "'Stop this fight, you're hurting us, you're never going to win.'"

As a months-long conflict with major talent agencies shows no signs of deescalating, Writers Guild of America West president David A. Goodman elaborated on the status of the fight during a podcast on Tuesday, framing the central part of the dispute as a redefinition of how business is done in Hollywood. 

The agencies' position is that "when they make more, we'll make more," Goodman said, referencing the practice of packaging fees, wherein a studio directly pays an agent for attaching talent to a writers' project. "The whole point of this fight is to get them back to a place that they'll make more when we make more."

"If the agencies came up with some kind of compromise that aligned their interest with ours, we're absolutely be open to it," Goodman later added. "But the problem is that the agencies were not in a place where they really wanted to make a deal. Their strategy, up to this moment, and it's still their strategy, is to try to get the guild membership to say to its leadership, 'Stop this. Stop this fight, you're hurting us, you're never going to win.' That's their strategy — and it's a good strategy." 

The executive's comments in the less formal forum — an interview with writers Javier Grillo-Marxuach and Jose Molina on their podcast  — updated scribes on where the fight stands after the guild failed to reach a new franchise agreement on April 12 and more than 7,000 writers parted ways with their agents. 

Goodman signaled that the guild was open to seeing what else the agencies could offer to make such a compromise. "At this moment, the only thing that works is taking 10 percent commission," he said. "Because their books are closed to us, because their businesses are closed to us, they may have more information to present and say, 'You know what, this version could work too.' And they're smart guys. But I don't think they want to make that move yet."

Goodman was asked whether he thought the dispute would escalate to the place where it ended up, with the WGA filing suit against the major agencies to end packaging fees and Endeavor, CAA and UTA filing their own antitrust litigation claiming the guild's moves violate federal law. 

"I've been surprised by things both positively and negatively," Goodman said. "I'm surprised that the non-big four agencies — Gersh, Paradigm, APA, Kaplan Stahler, Rothman Brecher — that those agencies have not signed on" to the guild's "code of conduct." 

"I thought that because they rely so much on what writers make — even though they do get some money from packaging fees, their business model isn't built around it, it's more built around the traditional 10 percent model — I thought more would've signed on by now," Goodman said of the smaller agencies. 

Even though most major or mid-tier agencies have yet to sign the guild's code (Verve, which mainly represents writers and directors, is an exception and did make a deal with the WGA on May 16), there have been indications that others are looking to make a compromise. Abrams Artists Agency recently offered to drop packaging fees but declined to sign the code, and the WGA rejected the proposal. 

"Some of these places do benefit from packaging fees if they have a client who sells a show, and that money is significant for them," Goodman told Grillo-Marxuach and Molina on the podcast. "I think also they're hanging together with the big four [agencies] because there is a possibility that the guild folds. And if the guild folds, then they get to keep the status quo. And that was the strategy of the agencies, and so they're all hanging together in that way."

The conversation delved into the feedback that the guild executive had received since the fight began. "Overwhelming, all the writers — even the ones who disagree with what we're doing — show respect," Goodman said, noting that the feedback he's been getting has been mostly positive from fellow writers. 

"The positive way I was surprised was staffing season happened," Goodman added. Throughout staffing season, writers turned to crowdsourcing (including the hashtag #WGAstaffingboost) as well as the guild's own tools like the staffing submission system to get hired in TV writers rooms without their agents.

"Most of the stories that I've heard from writers — I've heard a couple of negative stories, and, again, it's all anecdotal — but most of the stories that I heard were extremely positive," Goodman said. "From both people staffing on shows and showrunners and studio execs and network execs who all said, 'Yeah, we had to do a little bit more work, but our shows got staffed and we're really happy with how they got staffed.'"

The Association of Talent Agents' latest revenue-sharing offer to the guild, on June 7, was to up the percent of packaging fees shared to writers to 2 percent. The guild rejected the proposal and has made clear that its position is the elimination of such fees in their entirety as well as curtailing affiliate production — where companies that own agencies are producing their own film and TV content — over what it says is an inherent conflict of interest.  

"It makes sense for the agencies to sort of hang together to hope that we split, hope that we fold and that they can keep the status quo," Goodman told Grillo-Marxuach and Molina this week. "I think though we have opened up some really important questions and, in some ways, no going back on certain issues about what packaging is. That a packaging fee shouldn't be a given for an agency."

Goodman, who had been repped by UTA prior to the fight, also said on the podcast he hadn't spoken to his former agent since he parted ways months ago and added, "My guess is they're not taking me back."