Agencies, Writers Guild on Collision Course

Yesterday we talked about the Writers Guild’s unhappiness with the writer-agent relationship that has been screwing writers over for forty years. (Yeah, yeah, we know that’s a loaded sentence. We used it deliberately because – yeah, yeah – we’ve definitely got a horse in this race.)

Well, the agents have responded, and here’s a pretty fair analysis of what they’ve said. Bottom line: Could be time to take up battlestations, y’all.

image credit: Dale Edwin Murray

by Jonathan Handel

As Endeavor and CAA encroach on studio turf, the union is seeking to halt production activity and renegotiate the “outdated” franchise agreement, citing potential conflicts of interest for agents.

A state of wary confusion has drifted over Hollywood’s major talent agencies since the Writers Guild of America notified them on April 6 that it was terminating — and demanding changes to — the “franchise agreement” that governs relations between agencies, the guild and the town’s writers.

The key issues for the guild: packaging, a half-century old system in which agencies assemble the creative elements of a television series in exchange for receiving fees from the studio rather than commissions from the client; and production, a newer practice in which agencies or their affiliates actually finance or produce a series. The WGA calls both a conflict of interestBut Association of Talent Agents president Karen Stuart tells The Hollywood Reporter, “Many of the practices that the WGA presents as problematic create exactly the opportunities its members have been demanding from their agents.”

That termination doesn’t take effect for 12 months, a period required by the agreement and intended for negotiation of what would be the first-ever changes to the 42-year old document. But agencies feel the guild is starting off on the wrong foot. In a previously unreported April 11 email to UTA’s over 300 agents, CEO Jeremy Zimmer said, “The WGA, which shares our mission to protect the financial and creative rights of writers, should be working with us to address the impact of new technology [but] instead … is focusing on the agencies themselves [and] set[ting] their members against their representatives.”

The guild’s demands — contained in a letter to the ATA — fall under eight categories, including diversity, cooperation, transparency and the like. It’s a laundry list of 30 separate changes to what the guild calls an “outdated” agreement.

From Agent to Producer?

The planned renegotiation is happening as the major studios are weathering the onslaught of Netflix and other streamers, and the two largest agencies, Endeavor — parent of WME and Endeavor Content — and CAA, are seizing the opportunity to step into the void. But the guild says that when an agency has a financial interest in a production entity, or vice versa, there’s an inherent conflict of interest: The agency is, in effect, the writer’s employer and advocate concurrently. One agency source concedes potential difficulties, but that source and others echo one executive’s question: “Why would the guild want to reduce the number of buyers?” — particularly in “a consolidating market” notes another source, who referenced Disney’s pending $52.4 billion acquisition of Fox assets….

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