Fight for Writers’ Affections Continues With UTA Letter

“We are tough businessmen and businesswomen who happen to love artists,” writes agency CEO Jeremy Zimmer.

As the clock ticks down to what may be an April 7 showdown between the talent agencies and the Writers Guild of America, the fight for scribes’ loyalties continued Monday afternoon with an email from United Talent Agency CEO Jeremy Zimmer to the firm’s writer clients. Ranging from the personal to the business-like, the email covered a lot of ground, but its basic thrust was an acknowledgement that agencies haven’t communicated well with clients.

“I began my career representing writers,” writes Zimmer near the top of the missive. “I’ve represented authors, screenwriters, playwrights and showrunners. My mom is a writer and my grandfather was a writer.”

Zimmer goes on to dispute the claim that writers have been poorly served by large agencies, adding “we got bigger because the capabilities were attractive to artists looking for diversified careers, clout, and strategy.”

Part of what large agencies do is television packaging — generally, putting together a showrunner with one or more star actors and perhaps another writer. In return, the agency receives a fee from the studio and waives its commission. This saves the clients money but, says the WGA, creates divided loyalties for the agency.

Zimmer’s email defends packaging, and says that the agency would sometimes make more money if it commissioned instead: “Agencies have made a lot of money when shows are successful, and in some cases they have lost money when shows haven’t worked. … Big hits make up for a lot of losses. [WGA West president] David Goodman’s video will tell you that the per episode packaging fee more than covers our waived commission on the shows we package. That simply isn’t true.”

Zimmer also addresses affiliate production, saying that agencies will need to explain the benefits and issues regarding these new entities — agency sister companies that finance and produce content.

The email goes on to criticize guild leadership for taking “a simple black and white, good or bad, approach to all of this” and not allowing writers and other talent a choice. It also responds to the WGA charge that the talent agencies are refusing to negotiate,  saying that the guild is the one that says there will be “no negotiation or even discussion of their proposals regarding packaging or affiliate companies.”

“Who is refusing to negotiate?” asks Zimmer rhetorically. “An agent not wanting to negotiate is like fish not wanting to swim ... it’s simply unnatural. … We aren’t saints. We are tough businessmen and businesswomen who happen to love artists.”

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