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Mid-tier talent firm Rothman Brecher Ehrich Livingston Agency has signed a franchise agreement with the Writers Guild of America, the guild announced Monday, joining such agencies as Kaplan Stahler, Buchwald and Abrams in breaking ranks with the Association of Talent Agencies. Two other agencies firmly in the writer business, Verve and Culture Creative Entertainment, are also signatories but not ATA members. Most of the other 70 or so signatories do not represent significant numbers of writers.
The variously denominated franchise agreement or code of conduct generally prohibits packaging fees and affiliate production, but those are concerns primarily to the four largest agencies, WME, CAA, UTA and ICM Partners, and to a lesser extent Paradigm and APA.
“Rothman Brecher Ehrich Livingston is pleased to announce that it has signed a new Franchise Agreement with the WGA,” the firm said in a statement.
“Today the WGA signed a negotiated franchise agreement with the Rothman Brecher Ehrich Livingston Agency,” the guild said in an email to members Monday evening. “This comes on the heels of last week’s agreement with Abrams Artists Agency, which means both agencies can now represent WGA members again for covered writing services. … Our goal remains to move the negotiation process forward with the remaining unsigned agencies. We will keep you updated as progress is made.”
The negotiated agreement, which the WGA said any agency could adopt, allows packaging fees during a sunset period ending Jan. 22, 2021, a date subject to extension if the guild has not reached agreements with, or otherwise prohibited the receipt of packaging fees by, at least two of the four largest agencies, in order “to ensure that [Rothman Brecher] is not placed at a competitive disadvantage with such competitor agencies.”
According to sources, at least some if not all of the major agencies have continued to package projects, but without writers; the packages have been based on such intellectual property as books, podcasts or other preexisting materials, coupled with a star and/or director. One source described the book-to-film/TV business as “frothy.”
Writers are then brought on after the project is sold, which sources claim can result in scribes seeing less compensation and creative control than if they had been part of the package initially. But as always, such anecdotal reports are difficult to verify or generalize from.
Another concern for the WGA is affiliate production, a matter also addressed in the Rothman Brecher agreement. According to the guild, the document modifies the most recent franchise agreement by allowing the agency to have up to a five percent ownership interest in an entity engaged in production or distribution. “This limitation protects writers from the egregious conflicts of agency-owned production companies outlined in our recent video,” said the WGA, “while allowing a minimal ownership share.”
Agencies have concerns around client confidentiality, since the franchise agreement requires data sharing with the WGA. However, the Rothman Brecher agreement (read it here) permits writers to block such sharing by filing an objection with the agency.
More than 7,000 writers fired their agents in April, and the guild is locked in litigation with the three largest agencies, CAA, WME and UTA.
“Writers who agree with the WGA leadership are of course free to join the agencies that have signed with the WGA, and writers who care most about other issues should be free to join agencies that offer services that meet their needs,” the ATA said in a statement issued on Tuesday. “There is no reason fro WGA to continue to restrict the freedom of writers. Writers should be able to decide which issues are most important to them and then freely decide which agent to hire.”
Nov. 19, 2:53 p.m. Added statement from ATA.
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