WGA Makes “Significant Move” For Deal With ATA – But Not On Key Issues Of Packaging And Producing

The WGA says it has made a “significant move” toward reaching a deal with the Association of Talent Agents for a new franchise agreement. The move comes ahead of the two sides returning to the bargaining table Thursday.

“It is our hope that this significant move on our part will bring the parties closer to an overall agreement and that we can have further discussion of this proposal at our negotiation session tomorrow,” WGA executive director David Young said in a letter sent today to ATA executive director Karen Stuart.

The move, however, does not address the two key sticking points in the negotiations: the WGA’s demand that agencies give up packaging fees and their ties to related production entities. Instead, the latest move has to do with the circumvention of limits on agents’ commissions paid by writers of independent films. The guild had originally proposed that “Agent shall not circumvent limits on commissions under this Code by charging fees for other services.”

The WGA now is proposing that, under its proposed Code of Conduct, “Agent shall not circumvent limits on commissions under this Agreement by charging fees for other services, except that agency shall be permitted to receive compensation for feature film financing and sales services on behalf of writer clients, so long as: 1) the agency fully describes the fees for such services to the writer client in advance of contracting to perform them; and, 2) the writer client has consented in writing to proceed with the agency’s performance of such services. Such compensation shall be only in the form of a percentage of funds raised from the financing and sales services. Such services include but are not limited to raising equity and debt, representing the film to domestic and international distributors, arranging co-productions, and advising the filmmakers on incentives and rebates. Such fees shall only be permitted for films with intended budgets greater than $20 million with the consent of the Guild.”

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The WGA’s move is in response to the ATA’s claim that the guild’s original proposal would decimate financing for independent feature films. “Agencies helped secure financing and distribution of more than 1,000 independent films over the past five years,” Stuart told the guild last month. “The agencies’ work in financing and distributing these films didn’t hurt them – it made those films a reality.”

Stuart added: “Our agencies have departments with dozens of people working to make these projects happen. Assisting in film financing generally is not a highly profitable area for agencies – rather, it is more often a loss leader service we provide for our clients. We do it because our clients value these projects, because independent producers generally do not do this type of work, and because studios largely have abandoned producing these types of film and are not willing to invest in these kinds of passion projects.”

This is the second time the guild has made concessions to the ATA, including the withdrawal of a proposal that would have banned agents from commissioning writers’ scale – the guild’s minimums. “This was a difficult decision,” the guild said last month. “Protecting the full minimum for writers at scale remains a valid goal. Yet many smaller agencies argued persuasively that, without the ability to charge commission on scale, they could not afford to invest time and effort nurturing the careers of entry-level writers. And we heard from a significant number of anxious members concerned they and other newer or lower-level writers would simply be dropped by their agencies.”

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WGA West president David A. Goodman, meanwhile, responded to a UTA report that found that the agency’s TV writers “earn more money, on average on shows that UTA packages than on shows that the agency does not package.”

“The agencies say that stagnation for lower and mid-level writers is not the result of packaging, that the data proves that writers working on agency-packaged shows are not disadvantaged,” Goodman said. “This is a false premise. There is no way to compare what writers would make in a world with agency packaging and without agency packaging. Agency packaging is so dominant that it controls the whole market for writers in television. Besides the Disney Channel, virtually all shows are packaged.”

WGA members will be voting later this month on a new Code of Conduct that would ban packaging and agency affiliation with related production entities. If no deal is reached by April 6, the guild could ask its members to fire their agents en masse.

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