Members of the WGA West gathered for their third and final meeting tonight to hear their leaders lay the groundwork for renegotiating the guild’s decades-old agreement with the Association of Talent Agents covering the packaging of TV series.
Leaders of the WGA East and West haven’t yet reached out to the ATA to renegotiate the pact, 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.
“It was very informational,” said a writer leaving the meeting, which was held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. “It was very level-headed, which is good.”
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known as the Artists’ Manager Basic Agreement (AMBA), “has not been renegotiated for 42 years and is completely out of date,” WGA leaders say.
“The ATA will respond to the WGA’s renegotiation proposals if and when they come to us with a request,” ATA executive director Karen Stuart told Deadline.
Information packets handed out to guild members at the meetings say that 87% of the more than 300 series produced during the 2016-17 TV season were packaged by the agencies, and that “packaging is dominated by WME and CAA,” which accounted for 79% of all the packaged series.
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 primary concern.
Packaging, however, isn’t the only problem the guild is having with the agencies. Under a section called “Agency as Employer,” the guild’s packet says the agencies – and WME and CAA in particular – are also involved in a “conflict of interest” with respect to producing content. “WME and CAA are becoming active in content production, financing and distribution,” with “projects set up at Netflix, Apple, Hulu, Amazon, and YouTube,” the guild told its members.
“Agencies are fiduciaries” under California and New York law, and in most other states as well, the guild says, “with full obligation to their clients, including the obligation to avoid any conflict of interest or to make any deals that benefit the agent at the client’s expense.”
The role of a fiduciary, the guild told its members, is “to represent the interest of a client, with a moral commitment to put the client first. A fiduciary is expected to refrain from acting for his private advantage or otherwise contrary to the interests of his client; the fiduciary should fully, without compromise, assert the complete and unmitigated interest of the client.”
After the meeting, WGA West president David A. Goodman told Deadline: “We’re taking the temperature of our members to see how they feel about their agents and their agencies, and to make a decision about what we want to do.”
“The whole point of this,” he said, “is that we feel that agents should make their living off of what writers earn. Whether we reopen negotiations with the ATA is still to be determined.”