Writers Guild, Agencies Avoid Key Issues in First Talks After Extension

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The discussion focused on information sharing, a secondary topic.

Small delegations from the Writers Guild of America and the Association of Talents Agents met for several hours Monday in an attempt to move towards a deal before a midnight Friday deadline.

But the topic discussed Monday was not one of the two main issues — packaging fees and affiliate production — that have bitterly divided the two sides, a source close to the talks told The Hollywood Reporter. Further meetings are not yet scheduled, but one is likely Tuesday, said the source.

Key leaders were not in attendance Monday, a reflection of the subsidiary importance of the issue discussed, which was sharing of information between the agencies and guild. The WGA wants to routinely receive copies of large amounts of client-related data and documents, such as client contracts with studios, while the agencies, citing privacy concerns, are only willing to share such information with client consent.

The small group format, which the agencies requested, is seen as more conducive to dialogue than the 60-person sessions that have predominated to date and which have produced little movement. But whether a deal is achievable remains very much an open question, with the guild still vehemently opposed to packaging fees and affiliate production and the major agencies equally firm that they will not abandon these lucrative practices, the first of which is decades old while the second is seen as key to the future of the top two or three firms.

The push for an agreement now becomes a "beat the clock" scenario: the WGA last Saturday extended the deadline for imposing a new "Code of Conduct" on the talent agencies to 12:01 a.m. Saturday, April 13, which it warned was to be a “true deadline.” The code would prohibit packaging fees and affiliate production. With all large and most or all medium sized agencies opposed to the code — making those agencies potentially off-limits to guild members as non-signatories — an en masse discharge of agents is expected as early as Saturday if a deal remains out of reach.

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