UPDATED with David Young quote: A couple hundred members of the WGA West gathered at the Universal Sheraton for the second of three meetings to discuss the union’s efforts to update the guild’s decades-old agreement with talent agents.
Reporters weren’t allowed to attend, but an occasional burst of applause could be heard from inside the Grand Ballroom and union leaders made their points.
“Everybody’s supportive of the union,” said a writer leaving the meeting. “We want to renegotiate the agreement.”
“It was very positive,” said another. “It was very informative.”
WGA West executive director David Young summed up the meeting this way: “I told them that we have to make sure that the agencies properly aligned with writers,” he told Deadline afterward. “And we’re building momentum towards achieving that. You could see that tonight.”
WGA leaders haven’t yet reached out to the Association of Talent Agents to renegotiate the agreement, but say there’s growing concern among their members about the “conflict of interest inherent in production and packaging,” in which agencies put together shows in which their writer-clients are employed.
The agreement, known as the Artists’ Manager Basic Agreement (AMBA), “has not been renegotiated for 42 years and is completely out of date,” WGA leaders say.
AMBA has never prevented agencies from packaging or holding ownership stakes in productions that employ their clients. Rather, it doesn’t allow agents to take their 10% commissions on projects for which they are also receiving a packaging fee. Union leaders, however, believe that the big agencies are getting so fat off their packaging fees that representing writers is no longer their main concern.
To address that, they’ve said they’re looking to amend the AMBA to require that writers be paid at least WGA scale plus 10% before agents can charge a commission; that agencies must submit all contracts and invoices to the guild so it can carry out effective contract enforcement; to provide incentives to increase agent advocacy for writers on TV/digital staffs; to require agents to protect writers from free writing, one-step deals and sweepstakes pitching; and prohibit referrals to jobs where the underlying rights have not been secured.
“The issues are really simple and clear,” a showrunner said after leaving Saturday’s meeting. “If your employer is representing you, that’s not cool. I think every writer understands that.”
A third informational meeting will be held next Tuesday at the Beverly Hilton.