Agentless Writers? WGA Has an App for That

Writers Guild of America
A screengrab from the WGA's Staffing Submission System instructional video.

The new Staffing Submission System is supposed to help substitute for agents after writers fire them en masse as early as April 7, but an agency source is skeptical.

The Writers Guild of America has unveiled its promised Staffing Submission System, telling members in an email Monday that the system “lets writers submit their work directly to showrunners who are looking for writers for TV staffs.” The system is intended for writers who fire their agents, an action the guild is expected to order many to take as early as April 7, the day after the current agreement between the WGA and Association of Talent Agents terminates.

A new agreement before then is possible but seems unlikely, as both sides are locked into their positions on two disputed agency practices, packaging fees and affiliate production. The new submission system is part of a patchwork that the guild suggests will substitute for agents as broadcast staffing season gets underway.

“While no technological solution could fully replace the many functions of a good agent,” says the email, “we believe this system … can help provide our members with continuing access to job opportunities if we have to walk away from non-franchised agencies.” A video provides instructions.

There is at least one limitation, though: the system currently only allows writers to submit to at most three shows. A senior agency source expressed skepticism that the system would be effective.

“Agents bribe, cajole, bullshit, coerce, horse trade and beg to get people meetings,” said the source. “Websites don’t do nuance. Writers need to be submitted wide, with passion. Not to three places, without any enthusiasm. Staffing is a science.”

As for firing one’s agent, the guild is applying technology to that process as well, promising an electronic form that will allow writers to do with a click or two what would otherwise entail awkward phone calls and emails.

“Yes, this is a painful choice for many of us,” said WGA West president David Goodman in a March 27 speech that was posted Saturday. “Some of us wish that the Guild would shut up and not ask us to sacrifice.” But Sunday, as previously reported, the guild membership voted overwhelmingly in favor of the new “Code of Conduct” that large agencies and others are not expected to sign, making them off limits for guild members.

Later Sunday, SAG-AFTRA issued a statement of support. “We congratulate the Writers Guild of America on their successful membership vote and applaud the Guild for taking steps in the best interests of their members,” said the statement. “We stand with our sister union in the ongoing struggle to protect members in the entertainment industry.”

In a separate development Sunday, SAG-AFTRA — which has been negotiating a renewal of its approximately billion-dollar commercials contracts since Feb. 20 — announced that it had agreed with the Joint Policy Committee, representing the advertising industry, to extend the commercials contracts until 11:59 p.m. ET Tuesday, providing a couple more days after the contracts’ March 31 for the parties to continue bargaining. Those talks have been proceeding under a media blackout and have been largely eclipsed by the very public battle between the WGA and agencies.

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

4/1/2019 9:43 p.m. updated with reaction from a senior agency source.