by Larry Brody
The War Between TV and Film Writers and the Association of Talent Agents has been going on for about a year now, and on Valentine’s Day the Writers Guild of America West emailed its members the latest status report.
As far as I’m concerned, it’s a doozy. Because its unwritten premise is, “Hey, kids, we aren’t negotiating with the Association anymore because it’s no longer necessary. We’re dealing one on one with the various agencies, and we’re scaring the hell out of the big, obnoxious ones, the gangs that insist on doing the packaging fee thing.”
Here’s the precise text. How does the situation sound to you?
It has been a while since we’ve given you an update on the agency campaign. As you know, since the beginning of the year the remaining mid-level agencies have signed, which leaves us with five large agencies still without a franchise agreement. The WGA has had substantive discussions with all but one. Those we have spoken to have said directly to me they would like to make a deal. We continue to place pressure on them, by pursuing the lawsuit, by negotiating with the smaller agencies, and by withholding their ability to represent writers. The goal remains in sight: to realign all our representatives’ financial interests with their writer clients by ending packaging fees and curtailing agency ownership of production.
A number of the unsigned agencies, while professing to want a deal, continue to engage in misconduct. We know that some agents are harassing former clients to work with them in secret under the false premise that “everyone else has come back.” These same unfranchised agents are inserting themselves into potential deals by calling executives and acting as if they still represent writers who fired them. This is itself an indication that the pressure is mounting on them. We talked about this misconduct in a previous email, and there may be helpful information in it if you find yourself faced with this kind of pressure.
We’ve also heard the rumors that some writers have gone back to their unfranchised agents. When we receive specific information the allegations are investigated, starting with outreach by the Guild’s Working Rule 23 Committee. We have looked into a few reports that turned out to be without merit, which is why confidentiality is so important. But we continue to investigate other reports, and for any writers breaking the rules there must and will be accountability.
Despite the challenges of this new landscape, writers continue to pursue their careers working with the help of a manager, a franchised agent or on their own, often utilizing Guild-provided tools. The numbers speak for themselves: overall employment is up, compensation is higher, and writers are maintaining health benefits at higher levels than last year. The Guild will continue to provide and improve the tools we’ve set up to help writers find work. If you have questions or concerns as always you can contact: Agency@wga.org.
As we head into MBA negotiations, some in the industry have pushed the narrative that the agency campaign has weakened us. But it has had the opposite effect: we have taken on the status quo, challenged business practices that everyone hated but no one else would question, and, in doing so, changed the way the whole town does business. The companies have seen another powerful example of the Guild’s unity and sense of purpose in protecting the well-being of writers. There is no doubt it has made us stronger.
Invitations to the MBA member meetings will go out next week.
David A. Goodman