EXCLUSIVE: The WGA’s negotiations with the Association of Talent Agents for a new franchise agreement have not gotten off to a good start, with the ATA saying Friday that its member agencies “have serious doubts about the sincerity of WGA leadership’s desire for a negotiated solution.”

The two side met last Tuesday for the first time, but the ATA is telling members that writers guild leaders don’t seem to be interested in reaching a deal. Their current agreement, which expires April 6, hasn’t been renegotiated in more than four decades. The guild’s proposals would reshape the agency business by banning packaging and prohibiting agencies from becoming involved in production – effectively returning agents to mere collectors of 10% commissions.

In a message sent to its members this evening, the ATA said it has tried repeatedly to engage with the guild prior to the commencement of formal negotiations, but to no avail.

“Last spring, WGA leadership – without warning – terminated the long-standing agreement that successfully has governed the relationship between agencies and the guild,” the ATA said. “Since then, ATA and agencies have asked WGA leadership to start the process of discussing a new agreement, and we informed WGA that we will consider all their proposals in good faith and that we want to reach a constructive resolution for writers before the April 6, 2019 termination date. For nearly half a year, those repeated efforts were rebuffed by WGA leadership, with the guild incorrectly suggesting that WGA leadership stood ready to meet and that the ATA would not do so.

“Recently, WGA finally agreed to a meeting that took place this past Tuesday, bringing together ATA, leaders of the talent agencies, and the guild leadership. The agencies arrived ready to listen to WGA’s explanations of their proposals as were requested to do. However, the executive director of the WGA and his staff merely read their proposals aloud and refused to provide any of the promised explanations or otherwise elaborate on their demands. Given WGA leadership’s approach to this meeting, ATA member agencies have serious doubts about the sincerity of WGA leadership’s desire for a negotiated solution. Nonetheless, the agencies stand ready to continue these discussions and have proposed a series of additional meetings prior to the agreement’s expiration.

“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.

“Unfortunately, many of WGA leadership’s proposals ironically would limit their own members’ economic and creative opportunities. The serious negative consequences that WGA leadership’s proposals would have on artists, include: –

• “Harming countless new and working writers: WGA leadership has proposed eliminating agents’ ability to commission writers earning scale compensation. As you know, agents invest countless hours often times over several years developing writer clients for their first job, during which time the agent earns nothing. The WGA proposal essentially would require agents to work for free even after they secure employment for writers. This is not possible. Without the ability to commission scale, agencies inevitably would be forced to shift resources away from investing in the development of new and emerging writers – including those with diverse new voices – and many other working writers, toward more established clients.

• “Eliminating the production of hundreds of films each year: WGA leadership wants to prohibit agencies from raising financing and seeking distribution for shows and films – or at least they do not want agencies to be compensated for their efforts in doing so. As traditional studios, networks and content distributors have consolidated, the resulting media conglomerates are no longer willing to finance and disseminate the same volume of shows and movies that they once were. To get clients’ shows and films made, agencies have had to take on a larger share of the responsibility for raising financing and seeking distribution, and have invested heavily in creating the infrastructure to provide such services. Under WGA’s proposal, more than 1,000 independent films would not have been released in the last five years.

• “Eliminating new and diverse project opportunities for writers. WGA’s proposals would reduce the number of project opportunities available to writers in the marketplace. In the midst of massive changes in the industry, all artists’ interests are best served when there are more buyers in the marketplace who can invest in producing even more content. Affiliates of agencies are generating new project opportunities through an artist-first lens that offer artists greater creative control and better financial terms. WGA leadership’s proposals would abolish this practice, leaving fewer project opportunities in the marketplace for all artists. Less opportunities and less competition do not translate into a benefit to writers.

• “Shifting commission payments back to the writers. WGA leadership wants to eliminate packaging – a standard industry practice that has existed – with WGA’s express consent – for decades. Packaging provides tremendous benefits to artists in all lines of work – including directors, producers, actors and writers who save their 10% commission. Packaging agencies help assemble a show’s creative elements before the show is pitched to potential buyers, and continue to service the show during its lifecycle. Packaging enables agencies to help develop, nurture and create environments where artists can maintain the most control of and leverage creative direction and financial value of their work. For projects that are not packaged, studios retain the fee and share of the profits that would otherwise go to the packaging agency, and artists pay their agents the standard 10% commission on their earnings.

“For more than 60 years,” the ATA concluded, “agents have remained constant and unrelenting advocates for all writers. Agents will continue to fight for all artists – from the writers breaking into the business to the showrunners who command some of the highest compensation in the industry. We want you to know that we will continue to engage in honest conversations, and we hope our aligned interests can result in a new agreement between WGA and ATA.”

The WGA, meanwhile, has been holding a series of meetings with its members to explain their bargaining strategy. The guild’s proposals are here.