The WGA East and West have notified the Association of Talent Agents that they want to renegotiate their decades-old agreement covering packaging of TV series. “After months of member outreach, the WGA West board and WGA East council have voted unanimously to reopen the Guilds’ 42-year-old agency agreement,” the WGA West said in a email to its members.
To set a deadline for the talks, the guilds say they have sent the ATA a 12-month notice to terminate the existing deal – known as the Artists’ Manager Basic Agreement. “We also made proposals that address the concerns members have discussed with us.” The guilds held several membership meetings in recent months to gauge the members’ interest in renegotiating the agreement.
ATA executive director Karen Stuart said in a statement that she has received the guilds’ “Notice of Election to Terminate” the deal but added: “It’s unfortunate that the WGA has taken this step without ever having reached out to ATA to discuss any of the issues it raises in its proposals. That said, the ATA will do what it’s always done: constructively engage in a dialogue with the Guild to address any legitimate concerns.”
The terms and conditions of the current agreement will remain in effect through April 6, 2019, but the guilds seem determined to address concerns that packaging has gotten out of hand and poses more potential conflicts of interest than ever before.
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, in which the agencies bring together many elements of the shows, including the writers, directors, cast and financing.
The 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 – they say that 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 WGA 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.”