Verve Breaks Agency Ranks, Signs Writers Guild "Code of Conduct"

Verve Offices Google Maps Screengrab - H 2012
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Verve Offices Google Maps Screengrab - H 2012

It is the first firm with major literary clients to agree to the guild’s new regulations, a move which the Association of Talent Agents called "disappointing."

Verve, an agency primarily representing writers and directors, has signed the Writers Guild of America’s Code of Conduct, the agency announced Thursday. The approximately 30-agent firm is the first widely recognized signatory to the code, which to date has garnered approval mostly from small shops not known for powerhouse writer clients. The firm’s roster includes Colin Trevorrow; Brian K. Vaughan; Howard Deutch; Jac Schaeffer (Marvel’s upcoming Black Widow); Christopher L. Yost (Thor: Ragnarok); Jeff Chan and Andrew Rhymer (Plus One); and Leigh Janiak (Fear Street).

Verve’s move signals that the guild may be showing progress in its fight with agencies, most notably by ordering writers to discharge their agents if the agency has not signed the code. Unlike other agencies that also have major literary clients, Verve does not have other business units — such as music, sports and branding — to fall back on, although it did launch a book division last year.

Signing the new code means Verve will cease to engage in packaging. Nor can it engage in affiliate production, but that isn’t something it has done in any case. “Outside of packaging, business will remain relatively unchanged,” the agency said in an FAQ.

The Association of Talent Agents — of which Verve is not a member, unlike most other agencies with significant literary clients — issued a statement in response to Verve’s announcement.

“The WGA leadership has put writers and agents alike in an untenable position,” said the statement. “It is disappointing but not surprising that some of the most vulnerable agencies may reluctantly be forced to sign an onerous agreement. While Verve is not an ATA member agency, their decision to sign the WGA’s Code will ultimately harm their business and the artists they represent on many levels. With 30 days now passed since the agencies provided the Guild’s Negotiating Committee with numerous counter proposals, we’re still waiting for them to respond or return to the negotiating table.”

According to the guild, over 7,000 writers fired their agents as of April 22, out of 8,800 who previously were represented (and out of 14,500 active guild members). With both parties dug in, the conflict is turning into a test of whether agents are necessary at all in today’s ecosystem.

Verve said it will not accept new clients looking for only a temporary home while the larger firms remain off-limits to guild members. The Hollywood Reporter first reported discussions between Verve and the WGA.

There were some clarifying changes made to the code for Verve, and “requirements for sharing documents with WGA were adjusted to be in-line with our business practices.” The existing code required broad sharing regardless of what clients wanted. The agency said it surveyed its clients and found that “most of our clients want us to share their contracts with the Guild (something that the ATA speculated would be a major issue for writers).”

The ATA, an organization that represents most significant agencies and that is effectively controlled by the four largest firms — WME, CAA, UTA and ICM Partners — has taken a hard line in resisting the guild’s demands, and the WGA has taken an equally firm stance. Verve said that it “also agreed to a ‘Most Favored Nations’ clause — whatever the WGA-ATA ultimately agree upon, Verve will play by those rules.”

Two key provisions of the guild’s code prohibit packaging fees and affiliate production. Those prohibitions are a key reason that the Big Four have refused to sign.

The four largest agencies are a key target for the guild, which filed suit against them April 17, seeking an end to packaging fees and disgorgement of fees previously paid. The agencies have yet to file their response, but have publicly defended packaging fees as beneficial for writers. The WGA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

For more on this subject, visit THR‘s labor page.

May 16, 5:12 p.m. Updated to include the ATA's statement.