The WGA is reaching out to managers and lawyers who represent writers as the guild prepares to order its members to leave their agents if a deal for a new franchise agreement isn’t reached with the Association of Talent Agents by April 6. The guild will be holding informational meetings with managers tomorrow and next Tuesday, and with talent lawyers – one or two per firm – at its offices on Friday. The guild has also offered to resume talks with the ATA either today or tomorrow, but there’s no word yet on that.
“The Writers Guild is in the process of establishing new regulations for agents who wish to represent guild members,” the WGA said in an invitation to meet with managers. “Our goal is to attain a new agreement that eliminates conflicts of interest in agency representation of writers. We invite you to attend an upcoming meeting for managers who represent guild members. At the meeting guild representatives will discuss the upcoming changes to agent representation of writers and how managers can support their writer clients during this period.”
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Managers, who unlike agents are not licensed by the state and not franchised by the guild, are allowed to produce projects to which their clients are attached, but by law, managers and lawyers can’t negotiate deals for writers without the involvement of a licensed talent agent. The California labor code, however, says that “It is not unlawful for a person or corporation which is not licensed… to act in conjunction with, and at the request of, a licensed talent agency in the negotiation of an employment contract.”
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If enough agents are willing to sign the guild’s proposed new Code of Conduct, managers and attorneys could be brought in to assist them in making deals for the flood of new writer-clients that could be coming their way if WGA members follow the guild’s orders en masse and bolt their agents that refuse to sign the code.
And since the major agencies are unlikely to sign the code, which bans agents from packaging and being involved in production deals, thousands of writers, showrunners and executive producers could soon be seeking new representation, which could be a boon for many of the smaller agencies that don’t do any packaging. But they’ll need an army of managers and lawyers to help them navigate the new landscape of deals that don’t involve packaging.
“If you have a manager or a lawyer, talk to them about what’s coming,” the guild told its members recently. “Try to close any pending deals before April 6. If you have a manager or lawyer, make sure to loop them in on all deals or projects in progress.”
The expiration of the WGA’s current agreement with the ATA, the guild told its members, “Does not prevent any deal that is in the process of being made from being completed. If your agency is no longer franchised, they cannot continue to work on the deal, but it can be handled by a lawyer, manager, or franchised agent.”
“Interruption in agency services will be challenging,” the guild added. “Our strategy to fill the gap has three parts – providing market information to writers, bridging the gap between writers seeking work and those hiring writers, and making the way clear for franchised agents, managers, lawyers and guild staff to be available for writers, even as some agencies make themselves unavailable.”
A deal between the WGA and the ATA is still possible, but the WGA has said there’s no room for compromise on its key demands – including a ban on packaging.
“There are negotiations where there is no middle ground, where there are basic principles that are not subject to compromise,” WGA West president David A. Goodman said at a February 13 membership meeting.
“It’s difficult to see where the give is,” said Dan Stone, an attorney at the entertainment law firm Greenberg Glusker. Formerly assistant general counsel at the Directors Guild, he specializes in guild agreements, including guild agreements with the ATA. “Packaging has been part of the entertainment industry for decades,” he told Deadline. “It’s difficult to imagine how the business would move forward without packaging. It would require an all new deal structure for many television shows.”
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