Agencies Sign Joint Letter as Writers Guild Labels System "Corrupt"

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There may not be much common ground.

The Association of Talent Agencies on Wednesday fired back at the Writers Guild of America in a letter declaring that the ATA, on behalf of the agencies, was “ready, willing, and able to meet with WGA leadership and members at any time” and disagreeing with WGA contentions that the parties were at an “impasse” and that the ATA is “withdrawing from negotiations” over a new agreement between the two sides.

But the letter contained a caveat: “All we require is the WGA’s commitment that we are working toward the same goal: … a new agreement” between the parties governing the conduct of agents and agencies.

It’s not clear that there’s enough common ground for that. The WGA asserts that it has the right to unilaterally impose new rules and says it intends to do so April 7, the day after the existing agreement expires.

And in a statement on its website, the WGA is calling certain agency practices part of a “corrupt system” that has been tolerated for too long. One of those practices — packaging fees — has been key to agency business models for decades. The likelihood that agencies will agree to abandon it seems quite low. And the other practice — agency-affiliated production entities — although more recently established, is seen by several top agencies as key to their futures.

After this article was posted, the WGA sent The Hollywood Reporter a copy of an email responding to the ATA, which said in part "We are of course willing to meet.  We hope to reach a new agreement. Please confirm that the next step is for the ATA to 'engage with a full set of responses and counterproposals.'  As you know, this is important to the WGA." The email added that the guild intended to bargain in good faith.

The WGA has set a member vote for March 25 on its proposed new code of conduct, which would prohibit packaging fees and affiliate production. (Also of concern to the agencies: The guild could revise the code at any time, unilaterally, on 60 days’ notice.) The guild is likely to obtain member support and seems unlikely to agree to further talks of any substance until after that vote.

Here’s the WGA statement:

WGA Statement of Purpose: Why Agencies Must Change

Our agents work for us. Every dollar they make must be generated as a percentage of the money we make. That is what it means to be our representatives and our fiduciaries. Agency-based studios and packaging fees make a mockery of that and are in violation of the agencies’ ethical and legal obligations to writers. We have taken too long to demand that these practices end. But the persistence of a corrupt system does not make it right. And putting things right does not blow up the business. We do not owe our agents their wealth; they owe us their loyalty. That is what we pay for. In a complex, changing, yet immensely profitable time in our industry, writers need true allies, not deeply conflicted ones. It is for this idea — simple, old-fashioned and un-revolutionary — that we stand — and for which we come together as a Guild again today.

And here is the ATA letter:

3/7/2019 11:05 p.m. updated with WGA response to ATA