EXCLUSIVE: After a rocky start two weeks ago, today’s second round of talks between the WGA and the ATA for a new franchise agreement appears to have been more productive. “There was more dialogue and more substantive discussion than in the first meeting, so that was a step in the right direction,” said a source familiar with the negotiations. The source also noted that the two sides “agreed that many more substantive discussions need to happen.” No date, however, has been set for the next talks.
The WGA’s current franchise agreement with the Association of Talent Agents, which hasn’t been renegotiated in more than 40 years, is set to expire on April 6, after which the WGA could ask its members to abandon their agents if a deal isn’t reached.
The WGA’s main goals, as detailed in its proposals, would ban packaging deals and prohibit agencies from being involved in productions, saying it’s a “conflict of interest” that violates agents’ fiduciary duty to their writer-clients. That, however, would essentially return the big agencies to mere collectors of 10% commissions – a business model that hasn’t existed in decades.
After the first day of talks on Feb. 5, the ATA expressed “serious doubts about the sincerity of WGA leadership’s desire for a negotiated solution,” and released a lengthy statement outlining its positions on the WGA’s proposals.
WGA West executive director David Young has called the ATA’s statement “misleading and pathetic.” Asked last week if writers will be urged to walk away from their agents if a deal isn’t reached, he told Deadline: “It’s really walking to agents that want to play fair. It’s not really waking away. Hopefully, there won’t be any need for that.”
The ATA countered by saying, “What is most important, and what the agencies always will insist as the absolute top priority, is the protection of the artists we represent: to ensure their best interests are served and their careers can flourish at a time of unprecedented change and uncertainty in our industry. That is why we are so concerned, and emphatically disagree with what WGA leadership is telling their membership about the practices of packaging, production, and commission of scale – because WGA’s proposals are simply not in the best interest of writers. Rather than working in partnership with the agencies to find solutions to the challenges writers face in today’s dramatically evolving media landscape, WGA’s leadership is focused on undoing decades-old industry practices that benefit writers and the entire entertainment ecosystem.”