Talent Agency Association Sends Urgent Notice to Members as Writers Guild Battle Escalates

Courtesy of WGA West

Accusations fly as both sides rally their members in an intensifying conflict.

Striving to maintain unity in the face of a Writers Guild of America “divide and conquer” attack, the Association of Talent Agents sent a memo flagged “High Priority” on Friday afternoon urging its members not to be misled by WGA “misinformation and myths” intended to cleave off the smaller agencies and leave the big four isolated as the guild moves to uproot their business models.

The Friday missive, from ATA executive director Karen Stuart and president Jim Gosnell of APA, came less than 24 hours after a similar one Stuart sent Thursday night charging that the WGA is “insisting on policies — and misleading their members into voting for mandates — that don’t reflect the current landscape or what you do day in and day out.”

Added Stuart, “The WGA’s proposed code of conduct would not only have negative unintended consequences for writers, but it would also … set a precedent that allows guilds and unions to impose unilateral restrictions on all aspects of our business.”

That Code of Conduct, to take effect April 7 if approved (as seems likely) by the WGA membership in a March 25 vote, would prohibit the agencies from lucrative packaging or production of series, movies and other product. That would destroy fundamental business models at the top four agencies — CAA, Endeavor/WME, UTA and ICM — which handle most packaging and/or production activities among the agency community.

The current WGA-ATA agreement expires April 6 and, after two meetings, no further negotiations are currently scheduled.

“The WGA is focused on only one thing: fixing problems that hurt writers," said WGA West president David Goodman in a responsive statement Friday night. "The necessary changes may come through either negotiations or a Code of Conduct. We’re open to both.”

But the battle has escalated to a meta-battle as well — that is, dueling complaints about process as well as substance. The ATA asked to meet with the guild last summer, without success. “We look forward to hearing back from the WGA,” said Stuart at the time.

Goodman painted a different picture in his statement. “As it is, we gave the ATA our opening proposals over 320 days ago and they still have not provided any formal responses, as is standard in negotiations. The agents aren’t treating our concerns with any urgency.”

“They attack us,” he added, “and it feels like they’ve forgotten that the Guild’s members and leadership are made up of their clients.” The ATA, meanwhile, has protested that the guild, in its view, has forgotten that agencies and the WGA are on the same side as they both work to protect writers.

That’s true as far as it goes, but it may not go far enough to bridge the current dispute. The Oscars will likely offer a brief respite, but Monday brings the start of writer meetings at WME. Other agencies are expected to set similar confabs with their scribe clients.

Meanwhile, the Thursday message from the ATA said a meeting notice for agencies would be coming soon as well. The WGA held member meetings earlier in the month, but there will likely be more, and a social media campaign, over the next six weeks as the clock ticks down.