Writers Guild Rejects Abrams Artists Agency Offer to Drop Packaging Fees

Abrams Artists Agency

The move would have made Abrams the first mid-tier agency to reopen for writing business.

The Writers Guild of America on Tuesday rejected an offer by Abrams Artists Agency to abide by key WGA terms, rebuffing the mid-tier agency’s attempt to break the stalemate that has paralyzed the representation business for almost three months and forced Abrams and its peers to stand by as the union battles the top agencies.

The response comes after the offer garnered preliminary praise by individual writers on social media for Abrams’ move and increases the likelihood that mid-tier agencies will be forced to a Hobson’s choice: Sign the guild’s Code of Conduct despite provisions that reduce agency autonomy and potentially conflict with state law, or abandon their literary departments while the larger fight plays out over an indeterminate period in federal and state court.

“Honestly, I’m disappointed, sad and perplexed by this decision,” said Abrams chairman Adam Bold. “I expected that we would have a common goal, which was to put people back to work in the interim while the litigation is going on, but instead it seems that the WGA has other priorities. I don’t have the desire nor the resources or energy to spend trying to engage in negotiations on the sort of agreement that a union makes with the trade association. I’m not a labor negotiator.  I’m not pretending to try and solve the bigger issue. Instead, I thought that I had a reasonable and fair workaround for our clients and staff to earn a living until they work out those bigger issues. We simply took the agreement that had been in place for 42 years and made an addendum removing the most contentious and egregious issues.”

In essence, what Bold proposed was a one-page plain-English addendum to the existing agency agreement, called the AMBA, while the WGA countered with 16 pages that replace the old AMBA altogether. Among the WGA’s provisions: arbitration in front of guild-selected arbitrators with the power to withdraw an agency’s permission to represent writers; possible termination on 90 days’ notice; and a requirement that the agency share client confidential documents with the guild even absent the client’s consent.

“We cannot agree to what you are proposing,” said WGA executive director David Young to Bold in an email obtained by The Hollywood Reporter. “We've now negotiated a whole, new AMBA with many terms that are better than the old agreement. We opened the contract after 43 years because writers don’t like it. We cannot make an interim deal that takes us back where we were in 1976. … We’re in a three month struggle to get a deal that supersedes the 1976 AMBA, not one that uses it as a benchmark.”

The move would have made Abrams the first mid-tier agency to reopen for writing business, and only the second agency of note to reopen its doors to writers, after the 30-agent Verve signed the WGA’s new Code of Conduct. Even in just making its offer, Abrams became the first firm of significance to break ranks with the Association of Talent Agents, as Verve is not an ATA member.

The bitter three-month-old dispute over packaging fees, affiliate production and agency power has seen over 7,000 writers fire their agents under orders from the guild, against a backdrop of fruitless negotiations, four separate lawsuits and the threat of further litigation.

The four largest talent agencies — WME, CAA, UTA and ICM Partners — have been steadfast in their refusal to abandon packaging fees and (in the case of the first three) affiliate production. Other mid-tier firms such as Paradigm, APA, Innovative, Gersh and Kaplan-Stahler have likewise not agreed to the WGA's demands. The ATA has offered to share packaging fees with writers, a position the WGA has declined. And on Friday, the guild told the ATA that any further negotiations would be with individual agencies, not with the ATA, and warned that any collective behavior by the ATA risked antitrust liability.

Read Young’s email and the two proposals below:

Adam-

I appreciate your effort but I hope you understand that we cannot agree to what you are proposing.

There are many reasons, but a fundamental one is that we've now negotiated a whole, new AMBA with many terms that are better than the old agreement. We opened the contract after 43 years because writers don’t like it. We cannot make an interim deal that takes us back where we were in 1976. 

Another thing I want you to know is that we've currently signed 73 agencies to the new agreement; there are 27 remaining AMBA signatories with whom we have not reached a new deal, including Abrams. Under the favored nations terms of our agreements with the 73, if I go backward and make a deal with you that has lesser terms than the deals we’ve made with the signed agencies, the WGA will have to give your deal to all 73! You can see that we’d never do that. 

We’re in a three month struggle to get a deal that supersedes the 1976 AMBA, not one that uses it as a benchmark. The agreement that I sent to you incorporates many changes from the original Code of Conduct of a few months ago, the result of negotiating discussions over the months with both the ATA and many individual agencies that have already signed.   

If you want to get on the phone to discuss this, let me know.  Best-

David