Writers and Agents to Resume Talks After Guild Accepts UTA's Offer

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UTA co-president Jay Sures

The WGA West president David Goodman wrote, "We continue to believe that there is a deal to be made that aligns agency interests with those of writers."

In the first sign of a thaw between warring parties, the Writers Guild of America on Wednesday night agreed to a request by UTA co-president Jay Sures to reopen talks between the guild and the Association of Talent Agents, more than a month after negotiations between writers and agencies failed in an effort to reach a new franchise agreement.

The failed talks roiled the Hollywood industry landscape and led thousands of scribes to fire their agents on orders from the WGA and moved the guild to file suit against the four largest agencies.

But Wednesday night, WGA West president David Goodman, a former client of Sures’, wrote in a short email, “Thank you for your offer to meet, which I accept on behalf of the WGA. I do want to make clear that we responded on April 12th to your most recent proposal (see attached). We continue to believe that there is a deal to be made that aligns agency interests with those of writers. We look forward to hearing what you have to say.”

Earlier in the day, Sures had emailed a letter (whose subject was "Getting back in the room") to Goodman, looking to begin negotiations again. 

"What I have heard from many of your members is that they want us back at the negotiating table," Sures wrote. "They want a deal and they want one now. Many feel this fight has gone on too long with those that didn’t have existing jobs or overall deals feeling like they are at a disadvantage to those that did."

The fight between agencies and writers has centered on packaging fees — in which agents are paid directly by a studio for attaching talent and/or a director to a writer's pitch — and affiliate production, in which companies that own agencies, like Endeavor/WME, CAA and UTA, create their own film and TV content. 

As talks broke down, the WGA unilaterally imposed a "Code of Conduct" that agencies looking to represent its members needed to sign. "Agencies signed to the Code may only represent writers for a 10% commission and may not receive packaging fees or be affiliated with a company producing or distributing motion pictures," the guild's site noted.

No major agency represented by the Association of Talent Agents has yet to sign on to the agreement, although the 30-agent Verve Talent & Literary Agency — which reps many writers — signed on to a modified version of the guild's Code on May 16.

Since the talks failed on April 12, many writers have had to navigate television staffing season without their agents and instead have turned to social networking and the guild's Staffing Submission System to find work. 

On April 17, days after the deadline passed to reach a new agreement, the WGA sued WME, CAA, UTA and ICM alleging breach of fiduciary duties and claiming "[p]ackaging fees create numerous conflicts of interest between writers and the Agencies serving as their agents." Eight individual writers — Patti Carr, Ashley Gable, Barbara Hall, Deric Hughes, Chip Johannessen, Deirdre Mangan, David Simon and Meredith Stiehm — were named as plaintiffs in the case. 

UTA's Sures, in his letter to the guild's Goodman, claimed, "If this dispute is truly about addressing Packaging and Affiliate Production, then we are ready to get back to the table with you. We are open to concepts of true revenue sharing and have already committed to requirements of explicit client consent and overall transparency and accountability." 

But the WGA has previously rejected the idea of sharing packaging fees with the agencies and the concept of allowing affiliate production or packaging fees at all, even if subject to greater transparency and to writer choice.

Sures' full letter is below: 

Dear David-

As a longtime client (now former client) of UTA, and as someone I have spoken to along the way in the WGA/ATA dispute, I thought I would reach out once again in an attempt to figure out a path to a resolution to this mess. It has been over a month since we all sat across from one another at the negotiating table for what I thought was a sincere good faith negotiation.

What I have heard from many of your members is that they want us back at the negotiating table. They want a deal and they want one now. Many feel this fight has gone on too long with those that didn’t have existing jobs or overall deals feeling like they are at a disadvantage to those that did. Feature writers are being burdened unfairly. I know you have gotten many of those notes from members, because those very same notes have been forwarded to me and my agent colleagues with the passionate pleas to come to terms on a new agreement.

So we now find ourselves at a crossroads. The lawsuit that your guild filed a month ago and amended this week is a reality. By law, we must respond to it and we will. We will be forced to defend ourselves, our reputations, our hard work, and our integrity with everything we have. I know you would do the same if the roles were reversed.

We have acknowledged concerns in the areas of Packaging and Affiliated Production and put forth a comprehensive Agency Standards for Client Representation that focuses on client choice, transparency and universally accepted standards of dispute resolution through independent and unbiased arbitration. We never received a response to this comprehensive proposal. If this dispute is truly about addressing Packaging and Affiliate Production, then we are ready to get back to the table with you. We are open to concepts of true revenue sharing and have already committed to requirements of explicit client consent and overall transparency and accountability. To be clear, we have publicly stated that if a writer does not want his/her show packaged, we will honor that. Let’s put an end to this unnecessary and extremely costly litigation that is a great detriment to your membership and the agencies.

We should be by your sides fighting for the things writers need and deserve in your upcoming AMPTP negotiation. So, in that spirit, let's get in a smaller room next week and put ALL the issues on the table. Our group will be there. Please try to get yours. If possible let’s plan on next Wednesday at one of our previous meeting locations. Many people are depending on us to get everyone working again. I look forward to hearing from you.

Respectfully,

Jay

May 22, 8:40 p.m. Updated to reflect WGA response.