Some of the biggest names in Hollywood soon will be scrambling to find new agents if the WGA doesn’t get what it wants at the bargaining table: an end to packaging deals. And if WGA members heed the WGA’s call to abandon their agents en masse on April 6, it wouldn’t just be a stampede of writers; thousands of TV showrunners and executive producers also would be without agents to represent them as writers, as would hundreds of Hollywood’s heavyweight hyphenates, including many top directors and some of the biggest stars.
A scramble also might be on soon to wrap up as many packaging deals as possible before the deadline — and for the studios, networks and producers to try and figure out some way to fill the looming gap left by the legion of agents who package nearly 90% of all scripted TV shows, according to the WGA. Many packaging agents believe that if the studios, networks and streaming services could do it better and cheaper themselves, they would have done so long ago.
Both sides are vowing to battle it out in court, but in the meantime, the entire landscape of making deals soon could be facing industrywide upheaval if the WGA succeeds at creating a brave new world of agenting – a world without the packaging that the guild says has given the big agencies a monopolistic lock on talent.
If hyphenates heed the WGA’s call for a walkout, writer-directors James Cameron and Aaron Sorkin would be allowed to stay with their CAA agents as directors, but they’d have to find new agents to get them writing deals. The likes of Martin Scorsese, Christopher Nolan, Robert Zemeckis, James L. Brooks and Guillermo Del Toro could keep their WME agents to represent them as directors, but they too would have to find new writer reps. Francis Ford Coppola and Judd Apatow would be in the same boat with respective agents at ICM Partners and UTA.
They’re all WGA members and clients of the Big Four agencies, which almost certainly will refuse to sign the guild’s proposed new Code of Conduct banning packaging, which would return the biggest agencies to a business model that hasn’t existed in decades.
Stars including Tom Hanks, Bradley Cooper, Angelina Jolie, Jim Carrey, Sean Penn, Robert Downey Jr, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck and Seth Rogen – to name but a few – also are WGA members and Big Four clients who the guild would ask to find new writing reps if a deal isn’t reached with the Association of Talent Agents, which seems more unlikely by the day. The WGA has called packaging “illegal blackmail” and insists that its key demands – including running the agencies out of the packaging business – “are not subject to compromise.”
If all these writers and writer-hyphenates walk and need new writing reps at the same time, they’ll be competing with a tidal wave of TV showrunners and exec producers for a limited pool of second- and third-tier agents who are willing to sign the WGA’s code – but who won’t be allowed to make packaging deals either.
So far, there’s been no rush for the doors, but a stampede is coming if the WGA doesn’t get its way and orders its members to walk away from their agents on April 6, when the guild’s current agreement with the ATA expires – a deal that hasn’t been renegotiated in 43 years.
Here are some other high-profile Big Four-represented writer-directors, all WGA members, whose agents won’t be allowed to represent them as writers if a deal isn’t reached:
Paul Thomas Anderson
Gus Van Sant
And here are some more Big Four actor-writers who will be without agents representing them as writers if their agents stay put.
Billy Bob Thornton
Tommy Lee Jones
David Alan Grier
Hundreds of writer-producers and showrunners will be in the same boat, including these, all of whom are members of the WGA and are represented by the Big Four:
Dick Wolf — Chicago Fire
Chuck Lorre – The Big Bang Theory
Shonda Rhimes – Grey’s Anatomy
David Benioff and D.B. Weiss – Game of Thrones
Scott Gimple – The Walking Dead
Steven Levitan and Christopher Lloyd – Modern Family
Bruce Miller – The Handmaid’s Tale
Amy Sherman-Palladino and Daniel Palladino – The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
Lisa Joy and Jonah Nolan – Westworld
Marta Kauffman – Grace and Frankie
John Wells – Shameless
David E. Kelly – Big Little Lies
Danny Strong – Empire
Carlton Cuse – Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan
David Shore – The Good Doctor
Michael Schur – Brooklyn Nine-Nine
Salim Akil and Mara Brock Akil – Black Lightning
Alan Yang – Forever
Kenya Barris – Black-ish
Jenji Kohan and Carly Mensch– Orange Is the New Black
Alec Berg and Mike Judge – Silicon Valley
Sam Esmail – Mr. Robot
Dan Fogelman – This Is Us
Adam F. Goldberg – The Goldbergs
Peter Gould – Better Call Saul
Noah Hawley – Fargo
Bruce Helford – The Conners
Marshall Herskovitz – Nashville
Courtney Kemp – Power
Aaron Korsh – Suits
Jennie Snyder Urman – Jane the Virgin
Lena Waithe – The Chi
There are some 500 scripted shows on television and new media, and each has at least two or three showrunners and executive producers, most of whom are WGA members who would have to find new agents if a deal isn’t reached – and fast, if they’ve got something new in the works.
The ATA says it is holding out hope that the WGA will bargain fairly for a deal that won’t set off a scramble for new agents and disrupt the entire industry. The WGA, however, thinks that disruption is just what’s needed, and that its members will weather the storm and come out better in the end if packaging is a thing of the past.
And if the networks and studios pick up the slack and start packaging their own shows – which they’d have to if the big agencies are forced out of the packaging game – the guild might be setting its sights on a piece of that added revenue in its upcoming negotiations with with them and management’s AMPTP for a new film and TV contract. That pact expires on May 1, 2020.
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