Screenwriter John August, a member of the WGAs negotiating committee, says hes hopeful that the guild and the talent agencies will resume discussions in the next few weeks to break their impasse over a new franchise agreement. Formal negotiations broke off Friday, after which the guild ordered all of its members to fire their agents who refuse to sign its new Code of Conduct.
“Whats gonna happen this next week – the next few weeks – is theres hopefully gonna be more discussions, hopefully building on some of the small things that were decided on in the room,” August said today on his Scriptnotes podcast.
But August, who also serves on the WGA Wests board of directors, noted: “Its uncharted territory. We passed the event horizon and so we sort of dont know what the future holds for our relationship with our agents.”
His comments come as the WGA plans to hold a news conference Wednesday to address the “next step” in its ongoing battle with talent agencies.
Before the talks broke off, the guild and the Association of Talent Agents each made some minor concessions but remain far apart on the key issues: packaging fees and agency ties to affiliated production entities – both of which the guild says are conflicts of interest.
So far, 48 smaller talent agencies have signed the guilds new Code. “Theyre not the big agencies that you would know, but they represent about 300 – or a little bit more – of our members,” he said. “So thats something.” To date, only one of them – the Pantheon Talent Agency – was an ATA member that broke ranks and signed the Code.
August, whose credits include Big Fish and 2000s Charlies Angels, told fellow podcaster Craig Mazin, a former WGA West board member: “Theres gonna be a lot of speculation about whether more agencies will break off from the ATA to make a deal. I think theres probably some betting pools about who that would be.”
Said Mazin: “The reasonable prediction would be that after a brief cooling-off period, everybody comes back to the bargaining table and starts talking again. There will be increasing pressure as time goes on. Time always delivers pressure. There are people whose job is to determine for the agencies how much money they are not making per month for every month this goes on.”
You can listen to their podcast here.
Mazin, whose credits include Chernobyl and The Hangover Part II, said the current walkout is different than the guilds strikes in the past. “This is a kind of interesting difference between the typical labor action, like the kind where we go on strike,” he said. “When we go on strike, we dont make money and they cant get new writing. In this case, we can keep getting hired. We can keep getting money. In fact, theres a real argument to be made that whatever pain there is, and whatever distribution of pain there is, it is wildly in favor of the writers and wildly in disfavor of the agencies.”
In the end, Mazin said, it might come down to which side can inflict the most pain on the other — and suffer the pain the longest.
“You are gonna have a lot of people, a lot of agents at these agencies, saying, Hey, youre kind of eliminating my career here,” he said. “And I have to say to that is that, there is some hope for this all, because when you run a business and you have employees – sure, some people are awful about it, and the larger the corporation, I suppose, the easier it is to be awful – but these are not massive corporations. They all work in a building. And I think seeing people in pain and seeing people scared and seeing people suffering is going to make a difference to the men and women who run these agencies. They dont want to see this go on forever. And people will get hurt. So the question is, wheres that sweet spot between what they can live with and what they cant? The truth is, the longer this goes on, the more danger theyre in.”
When talking to other writers, August said he stresses that “this is weird and uncomfortable, and thats probably good. It kind of needs to be weird and uncomfortable because if this felt normal, we wouldnt actually solve it. So you have to be comfortable with being uncomfortable for a bit while we sort through these situations.”
He also said that he knows several “big screenwriters” who havent had agents for years and are enjoying successful careers without them. “One of them hadnt had an agent for eight years, and he works all the time. So it seems like it would be weird not to have an agent, but there are folks for whom its fine.”
Said Mazin: “Well, theres the creeping danger for the agencies. So the longer this goes on, the greater chance that – not everybody, but a number of writers – will say, I dont notice the difference here. And thats absolutely an existential threat for the agencies and their relationships with writers.”
Mazin also raised the specter of SAG-AFTRA becoming involved. Pre-merger SAG failed to reach an agreement with the ATA back in 2002 and still doesnt have a franchise agreement to this day. After the WGAs members voted overwhelmingly to approve the guilds new Code of Conduct last month, SAG-AFTRA said: “We congratulate the Writers Guild of America on their successful membership vote and applaud the guild for taking steps in the best interests of their members, We stand with our sister union in the ongoing struggle to protect members in the entertainment industry.”
Mazin said: “The other issue is that the actors are waiting out there. So if SAG — which doesnt have a signed agreement with the ATA, and hasnt fRead More – Source