Agents, Writers Guild May Restart Talks Next Week

Getty/WGA/ATA

The parties might meet June 7. Then again, they might not.

A week after the Writers Guild of America accepted a proposal to resume stalled talks with the Association of Talent Agents, the parties can’t seem to agree on a date for what would be their first new meeting in six weeks.

On Wednesday, the WGA sent this brief email to its members: “Just to keep you up to date, yesterday afternoon the agencies cancelled the meeting that was scheduled for today. They’ve asked to reschedule for June 7th.”

There was no indication of whether the WGA would agree to the June 7 date, or why there had been a cancellation, or even any confirmation that there had been a meeting set for Wednesday at all. The resumption proposal, from UTA co-president Jay Sures, had suggested a Wednesday meeting, but a source close to the situation, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that the ATA never heard back from the WGA regarding that date, and so formally proposed June 7 instead, to which the WGA has not responded, said the source. A second source, also speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed this account.

The ATA had no comment.

Optimism had sparked May 22 when WGA West president David Goodman accepted the proposal from Sures, his former agent, that the parties meet and attempt to restart talks that failed April 12. But the day after that exchange, WME parent Endeavor announced plans to go public, a move the WGA had previously blasted as “leveraging [writers] into assets for investors.”

And that isn’t the only factor that will make talks difficult, if and when they occur. In his letter to Goodman, UTA's Sures said, “If this dispute is truly about addressing Packaging and Affiliate Production, then we are ready to get back to the table with you. We are open to concepts of true revenue sharing and have already committed to requirements of explicit client consent and overall transparency and accountability.”

The difficulty with that formulation is that the WGA has previously rejected the idea of sharing packaging fees with the agencies and the concept of allowing affiliate production or packaging fees at all, even if subject to greater transparency and to writer choice.

Meanwhile, over 7,000 WGA members have fired their agents on orders from the guild, and the WGA’s packaging fee lawsuit against WME, CAA, UTA and ICM Partners slowly makes its way through the legal system, with agency responses to the WGA’s amended complaint expected in about three weeks. Writers have been using online resources, personal networking and managers and lawyers as a substitute for agents during broadcast staffing season, now underway, and that seems likely to be the mode for the June-August development season as well.

One agency with significant writer clients, 30-agent Verve, has signed the WGA’s new code of conduct that, among other things, prohibits packaging fees and affiliate production, but the four largest agencies have refused, and three mid-tier shops — Paradigm, APA and Gersh — have said they will not do so either.

On May 22, the ATA released a memo from its attorneys arguing that the code, albeit somewhat revised from an earlier iteration, “continues to include a number of concerning provisions, separate and apart from packaging and affiliates,” criticisms which the WGA rejects.