WGA Plans March 25 Member Vote on Talent Agency Rules

Leaders of the Writers Guild of America plan a March 25 vote for members to decide whether to implement tough new restrictions on how Hollywood talent agencies as operate as agents for writer clients. The vote comes as the guild is in the midst of pitched negotiations with the Association of Talent Agents to renew the WGA’s decades-old agency franchise agreement that allows signatory agencies to represent WGA members.

David Goodman, WGA West president, disclosed the plan for the vote in a message distributed to guild members on Wednesday. The WGA and ATA held a long face-to-face session on Tuesday and reportedly made progress on smaller issues. But the big hurdles remain the WGA’s desire to eliminate the practice of agencies taking packaging fees for helping to assemble series. The WGA also wants to curb the expansion of companies affiliated with talent agencies into the content production and distribution arena.

The March 25 vote will take place two weeks before the current franchise agreement expires on April 6. Goodman’s message to members made it clear the guild wants members to cut ties with their agents if a deal can’t be reached. If the franchise agreement is not revised, the guild aims to establish a Code of Conduct spelling out rules for agencies to abide by in order to represent WGA members.

During the past year, the WGA has been pressuring Hollywood’s agencies to revamp the rules for agents due to affiliates of Hollywood’s two largest agencies — WME and CAA — moving aggressively into production, creating the potential for conflicts of interest that arise when the same company represents the creative talent on one side of the table and is the employer on the other.

The 12,000 members of the Writers Guild of America were notified Wednesday about the March 25 vote through a message about  renegotiating the franchise agreement with the talent agencies.

“Our goal is to attain a new agreement that eliminates conflicts of interest,” the message said. “We will also require the agencies to provide writer contracts, invoices and other information, and to work with the Guild to enforce contracts and protect writers’ interests.”

The WGA and the ATA held negotiations on Feb. 5 and Feb. 19. WGA proposals would effectively end all packaging deals, in which agencies receive both upfront and backend fees, and bar agencies from any financial interest in any entity or individual “engaged in the production or distribution of motion pictures.”

Wednesday’s message included a link to the speech delivered by Goodman at the Feb. 13 member meeting in Los Angeles.

“The simplest way I can begin is by saying something fundamental is wrong in the agency business: writers are being hurt, and it is the right and the responsibility of the WGA to fix what has gone wrong,” Goodman said. “I repeat, it is the Guild’s responsibility to writers to ensure that every one of us will be properly represented by the agencies.

“I don’t take lightly the recommendations I make to you today,” Goodman added. “They amount to the Guild fully asserting its legal authority as a union to oversee how agencies represent writers. The biggest agencies, the so-called big 4, ICM, UTA, WME and CAA, will not be happy about that. And there may well be a struggle required and hardship for some of us. But I believe that we must accept those risks in order to fix the problems.”

Goodman concluded the speech by saying that agencies need to stop being producers.

“If they prefer to be studios, they can get out of the agency business,” he added. “We can demand the deal we deserve and the agents will still make plenty of money. I know we can win this. But, as everything we do in this union, it’s up to the union, it’s up to you.”

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