Verve May Break Agency Ranks and Sign Writers Guild "Code of Conduct"

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

It would be the first firm with major literary clients to agree to the guild's new regulations.

Verve, an agency primarily representing writers and directors, has held discussions with the Writers Guild of America regarding signing the guild’s Code of Conduct, The Hollywood Reporter has learned from multiple sources.

If the approximately 25-agent firm signs on, it would become the first widely recognized signatory to the code, which to date has garnered approval mostly from small shops not known for powerhouse writer clients. Verve’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.

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.

The code is controversial, because it gives the WGA unprecedented authority over signatories, such as requiring that the agency provide the guild with copies of all contracts regardless of whether the writer wants those documents shared with the union.

Notably, Verve is not a member of the Association of Talent Agents, an organization that represents most significant agencies and that is effectively controlled by the four largest firms, WME, CAA, UTA and ICM Partners. The ATA has taken a hard line in resisting the guild’s demands — and the WGA has taken an equally firm stance.

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, but the latter is presumably of less concern to Verve, which does not engage in affiliate production. Verve had no comment for this article, and the WGA did not respond to an inquiry.

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.

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