Writers Guild Sets Member Meetings as Clock Ticks Towards Talent Agency Battle

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The WGA wants changes to its Agency Agreement, expiring April 6, that talent reps are unlikely to give.

The Writers Guild of America, in an email to members on Thursday, announced a series of member meetings for mid-February, less than two months before the guild’s agreement with the town’s talent agencies is set to terminate, which will potentially force writers to make an excruciating and almost unprecedented choice between their union and their agents in a high-stakes feud.

The email, from the WGA West’s two leaders — president David Goodman and executive director David Young — is blunt and to the point.

"Our agreement with the talent agencies … expires on April 6th," they wrote. "We want to get face-to-face with every member in the Guild — starting now."

Meetings of this sort are generally intended to build solidarity for a concerted, assertive action. And what the guild wants in this instance includes things the talent agencies are unlikely to give. "Our goal is to attain a new Agency Agreement that: eliminates practices that constitute a conflict of interest: agency packaging fees and agencies functioning as producers," it said.

Television packaging fees have been a key source of income for top agencies for decades — much more so than the traditional 10 percent commission — and producer-like activities such as project finance, although generally much newer, are seen by several of the top agencies as key to surviving and thriving in a world of mega media conglomerates.

The WGA, in contrast, views those activities, and even packaging fees, as a conflict of interest. The Association of Talent Agents asked to meet informally with the WGA last summer, but no meetings are known to have taken place, and no negotiations appear set. That’s broadly consistent with the WGA’s approach to negotiating its contract with the studios: the guild believes that brinksmanship brings it better leverage.

The WGA email also, less controversially, says the guild seeks changes to the agency agreement that will “require the agencies to provide writer contracts, invoices and other information and work with the Guild to enforce contracts and protect writers’ interests.”

Those and other proposed changes to the agreement, also known as the franchise agreement or Artists’ Manager Basic Agreement of 1976 (AMBA), were contained in a letter the WGA West and East sent to the ATA on April 6. That letter began a one-year countdown to termination. At least one of the other proposed changes, that scale compensation not be commissionable, is also problematic for agencies.

The meetings are set for Feb. 9 and Feb. 13 in the Los Angeles area and Feb. 12 in New York at the WGA East  headquarters. "This impacts us all," add Goodman and Young. "We want to lay out the plan for you and get your feedback. Please RSVP and make every effort to attend one of the meetings."