The Latest WGA-ATA Weekly Report

by Larry Brody

It was been pretty damn quiet on both the Western and Eastern Fronts last week.

No new lawsuits. No authorized spokesmen spouting their side’s line.

But that doesn’t mean the Writers Guild and the Association of Talent Agents and their members, both individual and corporate, have made up. No, no, no, no.

No real movement there at all.

Here’s the most interesting news during that pretty much no-news week. At least to me.

Verve Seeking Package Fees For Unscripted Projects

Writers John August & Craig Mazin Debate WGA’s Rejection Of Agencies’ Offer To Share Revenue

William Schmidt Leads “Loyal Opposition” In Bid For WGA West Presidency; Two Guild Leaders Call For Him To Be Investigated For Not Firing His Agent

More to come, of course. Seeya next week.

In Solidarity,

LB

The Latest WGA-ATA Weekly Report

by Larry Brody

More lawsuits! More recriminations!

Looks like things are heating up in what seems to be turning into a fight to the finish between the Writers Guild of America and the Association of Talent Agents. (What does it say about the situation that I almost typed “Association of Travel Agents instead?)

Here’s the most recent communique from the Guild:

July 3, 2019
Dear Members,

Here’s a pre-holiday weekend update:

Last week’s announcement by the Guild that it would no longer negotiate with the ATA has resulted in conversations with some individual agencies this week. While we do not generally comment on individual confidential negotiations while they are in progress, we did respond publicly when the Abrams Agency head used the media to express frustration that the WGA was not willing to go backward and use the expired AMBA as a basis for a new agreement. Our email response is available here. We remain ready to discuss any specific concerns Abrams – or any other agency – has with our current proposal and continue to seek a negotiated solution with each agency.

Tuesday the WGA sent letters to potential investors of Endeavor’s IPO.

Yesterday packaging fee stories from PODs were posted on the Guild’s website at this link.

A survey reminder will go today to members who haven’t yet taken the survey. Search for it using the subject line: Reminder: Take the WGA Member Survey.

Here’s a link to a Daily Beast story about the campaign.

Guild members Javier Grillo-Marxuach and Jose Molina interviewed David Goodman about the agency campaign on their Children of Tendu podcast. You can listen here.

Los Angeles-area members are invited to come to next Wednesday’s Member Get-Together at the Guild office. Board and Negotiating Committee members will be available to informally answer questions, and you’ll have a chance to network with other members as well.

RSVP at this link to attend the WGA Member Get-Together
Wednesday, July 10, 7-9 p.m.

In Solidarity,

WGA-Agency Agreement Negotiating Committee

WGA Statement of Purpose: Why Agencies Must Change

Our agents work for us. Every dollar they make must be generated as a percentage of the money we make. That is what it means to be our representatives and our fiduciaries. Agency-based studios and packaging fees make a mockery of that and are in violation of the agencies’ ethical and legal obligations to writers. We have taken too long to demand that these practices end. But the persistence of a corrupt system does not make it right. And putting things right does not blow up the business. We do not owe our agents their wealth; they owe us their loyalty. That is what we pay for. In a complex, changing, yet immensely profitable time in our industry, writers need true allies, not deeply conflicted ones. It is for this idea—simple, old-fashioned and un-revolutionary—that we stand—and for which we come together as a Guild again today.

More links for you:

https://www.wga.org/members/membership-information/agency-agreement/pods-share-their-experiences-with-packaging

WGA: TV Producers Recount Packaging Horror Stories

WGA Doubles Down On Endeavor IPO Criticism With Letter To Investors

Verve Signs Showrunner & Top WGA Negotiator Meredith Stiehm

http://bang2write.com/2019/06/5-cool-things-about-john-augusts-highland-2-5-screenwriting-software.html

From where I sit, it’s appearing harder and harder to believe that even after this is over we’ll all be able to be friends.

In Solidarity,

LB

The Latest WGA-ATA Weekly Report

by Larry Brody

It’s been a hell of a week in the WGA-ATA War. Here are just some of the latest developments:

From the WGAW (of which I am a member, in case you’re wondering where my soul – not merely my “sympathies” – lies):

June 28, 2019

Dear Members,

For 15 months, the WGA consistently told the ATA and major agencies what writers must have: proper fiduciary representation. We remain ready to negotiate from this fundamental principle, and yesterday made another proposal. For 15 months the response, always through the ATA, was that the agencies will continue packaging fees and production arms, and will hide how much they make by these practices. They claim we don’t know what is good for us as writers, and that they know better than Guild leaders and 95.3% of members what kind of representation we deserve.

The Negotiating Committee and elected leadership finally had enough and informed each unfranchised agency we would no longer attempt to bargain a new agency agreement with the ATA since the process has proven unfruitful. Instead, we told them we would now bargain with each individual agency. In response, the agencies, clearly collaborating through the ATA, refused the offer and stated they would only negotiate through the ATA. The other response was to file two meritless antitrust lawsuits earlier this week.

Under labor and antitrust law the ATA’s right to negotiate with the Guild existed only because the Guild consented and, in doing so, extended legal protection to the ATA. But that accommodation is not the norm. Trade associations such as the ATA don’t typically have the right to bargain for their members as a group; such bargaining is usually an illegal restraint of trade. Because it’s now clear that the ATA is, in fact, the source of restraint of trade within the agency community, we will no longer facilitate that obstacle to a fair agreement.

For this reason, the ATA and the eight agencies that comprise its negotiating committee (CAA, UTA, WME, ICM, APA, Gersh, Paradigm, Kaplan Stahler), received a cease and desist letter today (linked here). It demonstrates from an antitrust perspective, the agencies and ATA are engaged in:

  • Price fixing “standard” 3-3-10 packaging fees
  • Collusively deciding how to split packaging fees
  • Unlawfully refusing to deal with the WGA except through the ATA

We remain available to bargain reasonable, fair terms. But we’re not going to sit back and allow agencies to accuse us in a court of law of the very things they are doing. Packaging fees are illegal, and in practice also an illegal form of price fixing. Any competent observer can corroborate these facts.

We continue to stand ready to negotiate with any agency.

In Solidarity,

WGA-Agency Agreement Negotiating Committee

WGA Statement of Purpose: Why Agencies Must Change


Our agents work for us. Every dollar they make must be generated as a percentage of the money we make. That is what it means to be our representatives and our fiduciaries. Agency-based studios and packaging fees make a mockery of that and are in violation of the agencies’ ethical and legal obligations to writers. We have taken too long to demand that these practices end. But the persistence of a corrupt system does not make it right. And putting things right does not blow up the business. We do not owe our agents their wealth; they owe us their loyalty. That is what we pay for. In a complex, changing, yet immensely profitable time in our industry, writers need true allies, not deeply conflicted ones. It is for this idea—simple, old-fashioned and un-revolutionary—that we stand—and for which we come together as a Guild again today.

Here’s just some of last week’s most interesting coverage:

WME Sues WGA Over Not Hiring Them

WME Sues WGA For “Unlawful Group Boycott” In Violation of Antitrust Laws; WGA Says Suit Has “No Merit” – Update

WGA Tells SEC That Endeavor IPO Filing Misrepresented Risk To Potential Investors; Endeavor Says Guild “Misrepresenting The Facts” – Update

In Solidarity,

LB

WGA-ATA Weekly Report

by Larry Brody

To me, the most interesting development in a week loaded with what I think of as Pseudo (or Non-) Developments is that we now have reached the stage where showbiz news sources are playing the “The writers haven’t won so they must be losing” card.

To put it another way, what I’m seeing is a lot of coverage of imaginary “thoughts behind what isn’t happening” presented as news and, still, a total refusal to accept the simple fact that the Writers Guild of America, as a labor union made up of real live women and men who make their livings writing TV and films, has every right to set up standards of business conduct for companies that want to be the business representatives of its members, and inherent in those standards is a belief that, “If you want to be our agents, you shouldn’t also be making yourselves our employers.”

ITPTTPS – It’s The Packaging That’s the Problem, Stupid.

Hmm, I like that acronym. It looks the way Bloom County’s character Bill the Cat Sounds.

Here’s an interesting overview of what the ruckus is all about:

https://nofilmschool.com/writers-agents-still-fighting

Here’s how David Goodman, President of WGAW, explained the situation June 19th:

https://www.wga.org/members/membership-information/agency-agreement/video-updates/agency-campaign-update-text

Here’s some of last week’s most interesting “news” coverage of said ruckus and theWGAW point of view. Interesting to me because it is in a great part biased against writers:

Will WGA Election Become Vote Of Confidence In Guild’s Leadership Over Agency Campaign Strategy?

Phyllis Nagy Responds To David Young’s Scribes’ Petition Reply, Suggests Membership Vote On WGA’s Course Of Action – 2nd Update

WGA Rejects ATA’s Latest Offer, Proposes Negotiations With Individual Agencies

WGA Suit Against Big 4 Talent Agencies Gets A New Venue And A New Judge — The Fourth In the “Complex” Case

WGA Suit Against Big 4 Talent Agencies Gets A New Venue And A New Judge — The Fourth In the “Complex” Case

ATA Says WGA “Is Not Interested In Making A Deal” As Standoff Continues

What a world!

In Solidarity,

LB

WGA-ATA at a Standstill?

by Larry Brody

It certainly seems that way, with the ATA complaining that, as Deadline.Com’s strangely skewed headline put it last Friday, “ATA’s New Proposals Have Gotten No Response From the WGA As Hopes For Quick Return To Bargaining Fizzle.”

Of course that’s not exactly the situation, but the fact that the agents’ spokespeople insist on trying to parse words with their former clients, who just happen to be a pretty find bunch of real writers suggest to me that the very people we entrusted with representing and elevating us and our value to employers (AKA studios, networks, producers, etc.) don’t in fact represent us at all.

In light of the negative reportage appearing last week, bear with me please while I present a few comments clarifying the points of view of my WGA brothers and sisters.

Why is the ATA acting like WGA has to meet them halfway. This is strictly a client-employee relationship. If a client says you have to stick to the terms of service to retain our business, the client does exactly that, not drag its feet and scream about how unfair everything is. The ATA can decide whether or not they want the WGA members’ business.

And…

…kinda funny in a way. The agents just act like they are some integral part of the industry, of writers’ world – When everyone I know, couldn’t reliably count on a call back from their agent. That’s writers at all but the highest levels, directors at all but the highest levels – the majority of the working folks in town. Yet now, they don’t seem to get that they were fired, essentially for mis-conduct, and that they just aren’t part of it any longer. There is a code of conduct. The guild really isn’t obligated to negotiate. There really is no negotiation in the normal sense. The guild is simply willing to consider their application to be re-hired. And yeah, there is a piss test.

I suppose the agencies are welcome to suggest another path that eliminated conflicts of interest, and then ask the guild to amend the code such that it fits, but that’s not what they’ve done either.

The agencies can keep trying to sell this as a negotiation, but factually, that’s not what this is, and the board of the WGA, and the writers as a whole seem to be the only ones who get that.

Once the books are truly open, and you can bet there will be no deal before that point, it’s going to be holy hell for the agents. No telling how much they were really skimming. It won’t get better with full disclosure, it will get worse. My guess is that the agents will protect he books like Trump protects his taxes – as in “cold dying hands” protects.

I think they are going to stay fired for quite a little while. Venture capital firms are going to be the ones who resolve this, and I can’t see it being fun for the bigger agencies leadership.

Bottom line, the guild holds all the cards. Unless the agents can convince all the buyers to reject signatory status, and then replace the talent that supports every single job in this town, I flat can’t see why they think they get a say in what the conditions of employment are to be.

Sorry folks, mostly thinking out loud – this whole thing is interesting if it’s nothing else.

And…

The WGA has memorialized their position that packaging is unlawful. Which it is, see MANERA V. STAMELMAN TAC 32-96, where a representative was found to violate CA Labor Code § 1700.39 for having a contract to receive a 2% profit participation in a deal memo with SONY. So as long as the ATA keeps the position that packaging is not going away, finding a deal is gonna be difficult.

And…

As a steadily working screenwriter, I was nervous about this fight when it started… but I haven’t missed my agent a bit, and now I’m looking forward to saving 10% on my next gig.

The WGA holds the cards here. Holding out IS our negotiation.

No need for us to compromise until the ATA acknowledges the true conflict of interest.

And…

We are just fine without agents, haven’t worked more or sold more in my life. They were a bottleneck and it has been cleared. They are dinosaurs – corrupt self-interested dinosaurs.

There’s more, but I’m hoping you already get the point. The above comments, btw, all appear on Deadline.Com beneath a particularly exasperating news article, and both they and article itself can be found HERE

In Solidarity,

LB