Films

WGA & ATA Fail To Reach New Deal; Mass Firing Of Agents And Lawsuits Loom

UPDATED with more details, quotes and list of agencies that have signed the WGAs Code of Conduct: The WGA and the Association of Talent Agents have failed to reach an agreement on a new franchise agreement, setting the stage for unprecedented upheaval in the film and TV industry. Thousands of writers now are ordered by the guild to fire their agents, and in the coming days, expect both sides to carry out their threats to sue each other.

The guild said this afternoon that “as of midnight tonight, every agency will be required to become a signatory” to its new Code of Conduct. Writers will have to fire any agency that refuses to sign it. (Read the letter from guild leaders to members below.) All of the major agencies have said they will not sign, so the unprecedented battle between writers and their agents soon will be on.

That includes the Big Four agencies — WME, CAA, UTA and ICM Partners — which do nearly all the packaging of TV shows and much of the financing and sales servicing of independent films. More than 100 of the industrys other top agencies, including the Big Four, have refused to sign the WGAs Code of Conduct.

But so far, nearly four dozen agencies have signed the Code — though only one, Pantheon, as Deadline previously reported — is an ATA member and has broken ranks. See the list of Code signatories below.

“On April 13, 2019, the Writers Guild of America implemented a new Code of Conduct for agencies that represent writers for work covered by a WGA collective bargaining agreement. WGA members may only be represented for WGA-covered work by agencies signed to the Code of Conduct.

WGA West & ATA Brass Issue Statements As Sides Fail To Reach New Franchise Deal

“The Code of Conduct is a landmark agreement that realigns agency incentives with their writer-clients and eliminates the conflicts of interest inherent in agencies receipt of packaging fees and financial interest in production entities. Agencies signed to the Code may only represent writers for a 10% commission and may not receive packaging fees or be affiliated with a company producing or distributing motion pictures.”

To that end, the guild today released a batch of new instructions for guild members. In laying down the new law, the guild told its members:

“If you are represented by an agency that is not signed to the Code of Conduct, you must inform the agency that it may not represent you with respect to your WGA covered work until such time as it subscribes to the Code of Conduct.

“You may not permit a non-franchised agent to represent you with respect to any future WGA-covered work, including deals that were first discussed but not completed before the implementation of the Code of Conduct.

“You are not prohibited from consulting or communicating with a non-franchised agent regarding other matters, including:

(a) Non-WGA-covered employment or services;
(b) projects or agreements completed prior to the implementation of the Code of Conduct;
(c) personal matters; or
(d) discussions urging the agent to sign the Code of Conduct.”

Its also telling members that if they dont fire agents who refuse to sign the Code, they “shall be subject to discipline in accordance with Article X of the WGA West Constitution.”

A weeklong extension of the contract failed to produce a new agreement, the guild said, because the agencies have not made a “fair offer.” Among their “unacceptable proposals,” the guild said, “the agencies insist on continuing their major conflicts of interest. They insist on continuing to produce and be our employers. Their offer on packaging is to share 1% of their packaging fee with writers.”

“So what happens now?” the guild asked rhetorically. “In a strike situation, we all know that we are to refrain from crossing the picket line or writing for a struck company, and were asked to show our solidarity by picketing, which is the public and moral face of our dispute.

“In this situation there are two actions required of all members: First, do not allow a non-franchised agent to represent you with respect to any future WGA-covered work. Second, notify your agency in a written form letter that they cannot represent you until they sign the Code of Conduct.

“We know that, together, we are about to enter uncharted waters. Life that deviates from the current system might be various degrees of disorienting. But it has become clear that a big change is necessary. We will not only stand together, we will stand up for each other, lean on each other. We can do this.”

It wont be a writers strike per se. Writers and showrunners with deals in place will continue working, but going forward new agents will have to be found to procure jobs for writers, or they can be hired directly by showrunners — their fellow guild members — through a new Script Submission System. The WGA says it also will deputize writers personal managers and lawyers to take the place of their fired agents, but the ATA says its illegal under state laws, and has vowed to take the matter to court.

The WGAs old franchise agreement with the ATA – known as the Artists Managers Basic Agreement – hadnt been renegotiated in 43 years. It allowed packaging, but the guild was never happy about it, even when it signed the deal in 1976.

The guild began holding a series of membership meetings in March of last year to lay the groundwork for the renegotiation of the agreement, saying that there was a growing concern among its members about the “conflict of interest inherent in production and packaging.” In interviews with numerous writers leaving those early meetings, it was clear that membership support for the guilds goals was strong and growing stronger. “We are united” was the common refrain.

The guild took the first big step down this path on April 2018, when it served the ATA with a 12-month notice of termination of their existing agreement, and then presented the ATA with its list of proposals, which it said were designed to “realign” the talent agency business.

Talks for a new deal didnt begin until February 5, with both sides soon accusing one another of not negotiating in good faith. Serious bargaining only began this week after the April 6 deadline was extended to allow one last chance to avert what the ATA said would have been “chaos” for the industry. That “chaos,” or what the guild calls a “realignment,” is now here.

Here is the letter from guild leaders to members today, followed by the list of agencies that have signed the Code of Conduct:

April 12, 2019

Fellow Members,

Last Saturday, at the agencies request, the Guild gave them six days beyond AMBA expiration to provide us with a fair offer. They have not done so. Among other unacceptable proposals, the agencies insist on continuing their major conflicts of interest. They insist on continuing to produce and be our employers. Their “offer” on packaging is to share 1% of their packaging fee with writers. Here is the response David Goodman presented this afternoon at the bargaining table to the proposal the ATA made yesterday.

So there is no settlement. The membership voted by 95.3% to implement an Agency Code of Conduct if a negotiated settlement was not reached, and elected leadership set today as the deadline. As of midnight tonight, every agency will be required to become a signatory to the Code. And under WGA Working Rule 23, WGA Current members cannot be represented by agencies that have not signed the Code.

So what happens now? In a strike situation, we all know that we are to refrain from crossing the picket line or writing for a struck company, and were asked to show our solidarity by picketing, which is the public and moral face of our dispute.

In this situation there are two actions required of all members: First, do not allow a non-franchised agent to represent you with respect to any future WGA-covered work. Second, notify your agency in a written form letter that they cannot represent you until they sign the Code of Conduct.

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