Talent Agencies Offer to Share Packaging Fees With Writers in Significant Move Towards Deal

WGA vs ATA - H - 2019

The offer may mean a deal is in sight, but the WGA response is unknown.

In a dramatic move towards averting an en masse firing of agents, the Association of Talents Agents on Thursday proposed that it would share a portion of packaging fees with writers. It’s unknown whether the Writers Guild of America, which has blasted packaging fees as “illegal kickbacks,” will be receptive to the move.

A scant 27 hours remain before the WGA intends, in the absence of a deal, to impose a “Code of Conduct” that would effectively trigger thousands of writers firing their agents. The ATA proposal, disclosed in a letter to talent agencies from ATA executive director Karen Stuart, includes a variety of financial and non-financial proposals, but the letter does not specify the dollar amount or percentage of packaging fees that would be shared.

“At this critical juncture, we are committed to getting a deal across the finish line,” said Stuart. “We are intensely focused on ensuring that it’s a long-term solution — one that meets a dual-purpose of protecting the best interests of all writers while creating alignment between the goals of our two organizations.”

The proposal elements disclosed were:

Partnering With the Guild: At the guild’s request, agencies have agreed to provide the WGA with copies of writers’ executed contracts and financial information for writing services within the guild’s jurisdiction — with the writer’s ability to opt out of sharing his/her confidential information.

Package Fees: Agencies will provide “a percentage” (undisclosed) of their backend profits to television writers — 80 percent of which will be shared amongst a show’s writers not participating in the profits of the series, regardless of which agency represents them. The remaining 20 percent will be invested in industry initiatives and programs to foster and expand inclusion of historically underrepresented writers.

– Inclusion: Agencies will also advance $2 million per year for three years ($6 million total) to jump-start an industry-wide fund to foster and encourage inclusion.

Transparency in Film Financing: Agencies will be permitted to perform motion picture consulting, financing and sales services, and will fully disclose any fees and arrangements to the writer.

– Transparency in Affiliate Production: Agencies will provide “safeguards and transparency” to clients working with agency affiliates and will share anonymized data and summaries (e.g., aggregated financial terms, form contracts, initiatives) about deals made on behalf of agent-affiliated production entities that engage writers. The WGA and ATA will meet on a quarterly basis to evaluate “how the affiliate production companies are benefitting writers.” If, at any point after the first two (2) years of the initial term of this agreement, WGA determines that the affiliate production companies are not benefitting writers, the WGA may give 90 days’ notice of intent to reopen this agreement on this limited issue. 

– Commission: Maintain all of agents’ current rights with respect to commissions. (It was not clear what this refers to, but it may be a reference to a since-withdrawn WGA proposal that would have prohibited commissioning writers paid scale minimum compensation.)

The Hollywood Reporter has reached out to the WGA for comment.

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