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A memo from the owners of Abrams Artists Agency to staff, disclosed Wednesday, says the agency will share a portion of packaging fees with clients, striking a middle ground that neither the Writers Guild nor large agencies have adopted as the guild and the Association of Talent Agents remain locked in bitter combat over production and compensation practices driven by the largest agencies.
But Abrams also said it would not sign the WGA’s proposed “Code of Conduct,” banning package fees and affiliate production, which the guild plans to impose on April 7 if no deal is reached by then, assuming (as is likely) that members approve the move in balloting that began Wednesday and continues through Sunday.
“Since we are not involved in the WGA/ATA negotiations about packaging — regardless of what specifics they end up settling on — we will share part of our portion of the packaging fee with our clients,” says the memo. “We deserve compensation for the work that we do; but that is of less consequence than our clients being compensated for what they do.”
Few agencies, and none of the large ones, are expected to sign the guild’s code, in view of the practices it prohibits. That will make them off-limits to WGA members come April 7, as guild members are not allowed to sign with agencies that aren’t signed to an agreement with the WGA. The guild has said it will order its members to fire their agents en masse — and the Abrams memo seems to anticipate that the agency could benefit from that.
“Who knows if writers will fire their agents, but whatever happens, if some writers become available — we don’t care how big or small they are — if they are the kind of people who are congruent with what we stand for, then let’s find a home for them.”
But that hope appears misplaced, because mid-tier Abrams says it too will not be a signatory. “They will not be signing the code of conduct,” an Abrams publicist told The Hollywood Reporter in response to an inquiry.
That refusal comes notwithstanding the agency’s apparent discontent with the ATA.
“We are members of the ATA, and they do a good job of representing us on most topics and issues, but quite honestly, they haven’t consulted with us regarding the writers,” says the memo from the agency’s owners. “They have been informing us about their efforts, but they are really only concerned with the big four — especially since so much of the argument is over packaging, and those firms do the vast majority of it.”
Those comments reveal strains within the ATA. Because affiliate production is limited to the three biggest agencies, and most packaging is originated by the top four or five, the guild had hoped to get other agencies within the ATA to break ranks and sign the code.
Indeed, the ATA has multiple potential fracture points. Endeavor/WME and CAA are two heftiest agencies, and each is larger than third-ranked UTA. But the latter is nonetheless large and diversified, leading some to refer to the Big Three — a construction that irks the fourth largest agency, ICM, which says it’s not far behind UTA and thus insists that “the Big Four” is better nomenclature.
That in turn displeases both UTA, which would rather be in more rarefied company, and the fifth-largest agency, Paradigm, which says it’s not much smaller than ICM. Next comes APA. After those six, things get murkier, but Abrams is considered among the top 10 in size.
Numerous ATA-member agencies are smaller still, all the way down to one-person shops, and there are many small shops that are not ATA members, notably including the well-regarded Verve boutique; but who among them has signed the WGA’s code will only become apparent after the guild updates its list of franchised agencies after the current WGA-ATA agreement terminates April 6.
Mid-tier and smaller agencies are often seen as natural homes for new writers, many of whom are paid at the scale minimum rates set out in the WGA’s agreement with the studios and producers. The Abrams memo addresses an aspect of this.
“Initially, one of the demands from the WGA was that agencies would not charge commission on writers receiving only scale,” says the memo. “They dropped that. However, as an artists agency, it is important every year that we add a number of emerging clients to our roster … We want to be very clear that we will never put undue financial burdens on emerging clients who are just trying to pay their bills. Our agency is financially strong enough that we don’t need to make small commissions off of people who aren’t even making a living wage.”
Asked whether this meant that Abrams does not commission writers at scale compensation, the Abrams publicist said this is handled “on a case by case basis.”
The Abrams memo was signed by chairman Adam Bold, CEO Robert Attermann and president and COO Brian Cho, who collectively bought the 42-year old shop from founder Harry Abrams in September 2018.
For more on this subject, visit THR‘s labor page.
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