ICM Signs Deal With Writers Guild in Next Major Agency Breakthrough

Chris Silbermann - Big Brothers Big Sisters Of Greater Los Angeles Big Bash Gala - Getty -H 2019
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ICM Partners' CEO Chris Silbermann.

The move marks another step forward in scribes' standoff with major agencies over a new franchise agreement.

As the Writers Guild of America aims to make gains with new franchise agreements amid its yearlong standoff with the major agencies, ICM Partners has signed a deal, sources tell The Hollywood Reporter.

"We are looking forward to getting back to work for our writer clients," said ICM co-president Kevin Crotty. "The pandemic has caused tremendous hardship and every facet of our industry is greatly challenged because of it. It was time to bridge this gap and get back to helping our clients tell stories that entertain, enlighten, connect and comfort audiences everywhere."

Century City-based ICM, led by CEO Chris Silbermann, employs more than 500 staffers, having recently laid off 40 support staff, and has additional offices in New York, London and Washington, D.C. In December, the agency took on its first private equity investor in recent years, selling a minority stake to New York-based Crestview Partners.

ICM is the latest big agency to agree on terms with the guild. On July 15, UTA sent a letter to its clients confirming that it made a deal with the WGA, including on packaging fees, which has been central to the agencies' dispute with the guild.

In an email to members on Wednesday, the Writers Guild said ICM can now once again represent its writers and noted that the sunset period for packaging fees ends June 30, 2022. (Packaging is a long-standing practice in which agents are paid directly by a studio, generally for attaching actors and/or a director to a writer's pitch.)

The UTA move marked a breakthrough in a clash that ignited in April of last year when 7,000 writers fired their agents at the WGA's direction after the guild failed to reach a new deal with agencies. At the time, major agencies WME, CAA, UTA and ICM were sued by the WGA, with the guild arguing that packaging fees are a breach of fiduciary duty. 

WME, CAA and UTA then went on the attack and countersued the guild. The legal case is ongoing, although ICM is out of the current litigation and UTA and the WGA agreed in July to dismiss their claims against each other.

Meanwhile, the Writers Guild has been steadily making deals with small and midsized talent firms even as the majors have held out. Over the past year, Paradigm, APA, Gersh, Verve, A3 Artists Agency and other talent agencies have struck agreements to represent writers. (As film and TV production halted in mid-March due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, the agencies' representation business took a financial hit, which appears to have affected leverage in the negotiations with writers.)

In addition to packaging fees, the standoff centers on agencies' ownership of content production companies, which is seen by the guild as a conflict of interest. UTA, in its deal with the guild, says it will maintain involvement in its production entities, but will not exceed a negotiated 20 percent cap in ownership. (MRC, the parent company of THR, has a partnership with UTA through its Civic Center Media). 

ICM has been expanding in recent years, buying up boutique firms to bolster its representation business. Over the past three years, it has snapped up Headline Media Management to build its broadcast division, acquired speakers agency Royce Carlton, nabbed literary firm The Sagalyn Agency, formed a joint venture with esports firm Evolved, and bought music agency Primary Talent, among other deals. It has also waded into the live events market, leading a group to acquire the Just for Laughs festival in 2018. 

Jonathan Handel contributed reporting.

Aug. 5, 12:00 p.m. PT Updated to reflect that ICM has signed a deal with the Writers Guild.