Writers Guild Leader Defends Colleague, Blasts "Histrionic" Press as Criticism Mounts

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Writers Guild of America West executive director David Young

But buried in David Young’s email is an admission that may heighten the charges of hypocrisy against Chris Keyser.

Writers Guild of America West executive director David Young criticized the "histrionic, biased trade press" in an email to members Thursday evening in an effort to defend key WGA negotiator Chris Keyser against charges of hypocrisy, calling media reports on the matter "invidious propaganda."

However, a note in Young's email could reinforce criticism of Keyser, who is facing a backlash for being in business with WME-affiliate Endeavor Content even as the guild has denounced such affiliate production entities as an unacceptable conflict of interest that turns agents into their clients’ employers.

"Endeavor Content … did show up on the deal memo, which was finished last July," Young writes, before moving on to other matters. His point is that the deal for Keyser’s project, called The State of Affairs, was therefore finalized prior to the termination in April of the 43-year-old agreement, called the AMBA, between the WGA and the Association of Talent Agents.

But that termination was actually triggered by a WGA letter to the ATA a year earlier, in April 2018, which started a 12-month termination countdown. One of the stated reasons for the termination was the rise of affiliate production entities. Yet three months later, Endeavor Content "did show up" on the deal memo for Keyser’s project.

"It’s a case of the WGA negotiating committee [which Keyser co-chairs] saying 'do what I say, not what I do,'" asserted a senior agency source.

In the last six weeks of its war on the major agencies, the WGA has forced over 7,000 of its members to fire their agents, the majority of whom were represented by the four largest agencies, and has sued those four agencies over another disputed practice, packaging fees. "There are basic principles that are not subject to compromise," WGA West president David Goodman said at a Feb. 13 membership meeting.

A prominent showrunner, who has supported the WGA’s battle against the major agencies, nonetheless echoed the agency source’s criticism.

“[Keyser] should resign as chair of the negotiating committee or divest himself financially of his project,” said the showrunner in an email to The Hollywood Reporter prior to Young’s email. “It’s a slap in the face of every mid-level writer. Also, here’s a thought for Chris: if it takes you five paragraphs to explain why it’s not hypocritical, it’s hypocritical.”

“The guild is trying to treat this like it’s no big deal,” added the showrunner. “But people are pissed.” Said another showrunner, “Wow ... this is indefensible.”

A guild activist expressed a different view, telling THR, "This is not news. That deal is over a year old." But that timing isn’t what Young expressed in his email.

Since the imposition of a code of conduct barring affiliate production and packaging fees, WGA Working Rule 23 has effectively meant that members can’t be represented by most significant agencies, including the four largest, WME, CAA, UTA and ICM Partners. While Keyser’s relationship with WME’s content arm is not the same as representation, WGA Working Rule 2 requires that members “shall comply with these rules in spirit as well as in letter.”

Keyser, who was previously a CAA client, defended his relationship with Endeavor Content earlier Thursday, despite having himself labeled such companies as "more pernicious" than packaging fees. Indeed, the formation of Endeavor Content in October 2017 was apparently one of the sparks that led the WGA to send its termination letter and begin a campaign that’s roiling the industry.

Young’s email is below.

OPTICS

The WGA is involved in a serious struggle to correct conflicts of interest on the part of agencies. With the implementation of WR23 on April 13th, after a 95% vote, writers were required to terminate agencies that are not franchised.

This is a difficult situation for writers, but not a strike; no writer is asked to leave their job, nor is any writer asked to undo a deal or a packaging agreement that was made prior to April 13th, 2019.

We are now being asked by a histrionic, biased trade press to question if a packaging deal that was in place months or years ago, or a writer deal with an agency-affiliated studio, in place before April 13th, is something that constitutes a violation of WR23, or at least bad “optics.”

This is invidious propaganda, fed in this case by information available only to WME, that attempts to frame WGA member leadership, in this case Chris Keyser.

If the inferences were true, the Guild would be asking every showrunner/creator with a packaging deal in place prior to April 13th to renege on that deal. There is no legal basis for doing that. Should we expect Chris Keyser to breach an existing contract because he has given thousands of volunteer hours to the WGA on behalf of writers?

In this particular case, Chris and another writer, both repped by CAA, started talking about the project nearly two years ago. Well over a year ago, they started talking to Chernin about the project. Chernin made a deal to acquire the book rights, and in July of 2018, negotiated an if/come deal to fully develop a series. Endeavor Content had no creative involvement at the time, but did show up on the deal memo, which was finished last July.

Likewise, there are currently many deals in place for projects at Wiip and Endeavor Content. Writers are either working on these shows, if there is a pickup, or pitching them to various studios in search of a pickup. Shall we allow the agencies to slowly name each of the showrunners involved, particularly if they are active in WGA service, and act as if they have done something immoral or in violation of WR23 or the spirit of our campaign? Shall we ask about optics, suggest every such writer recuse themselves from guild service? Earlier this week, Variety contacted another prominent member of the WGA Negotiation Committee, having been fed by UTA a story that it was hypocritical for this writer to be involved with an upcoming packaged show where the deal was made two years ago.

Believe me, if this is going to be our standard, I know a significant group of writers who are in the queue to be hoisted on the same ridiculous charge of being conflicted. These writers asked me over the last year, knowing the agency campaign was brewing, if they should alone, as individuals, attempt to refuse agency demands for packaging and have their show dropped by the agency, or refuse a deal being offered them at an affiliated studio like Wiip or Endeavor Content.

I always said no, this isn’t about one writer, and if we do take action it will be all together, on a date certain, after AMBA expiration. That’s the only way a union can act with power and fairness.

That’s what we’re doing now, and we’re succeeding. And we will succeed in overcoming this or any other ad hominem attack on our elected and appointed leadership. Maybe I’m next, but at least I get paid to have my morals and intelligence questioned.

I ask you as members to see through the lies and to reject the phony legitimacy of manipulated “optics.” Writers are willing to consider any criticism of the Guild, and that is a great characteristic.

But let’s make sure that we’re thinking with great moral clarity. I’ve never been around a group of folks in my life who are better at that than writers. Thank you-