With its stunning Jerusalem setting, Keshet’s Innovative TV Conference (INTV) makes it a welcome respite for executives, producers and agents/managers who leave the stress of Hollywood behind for a few days in the Holy City. Not this year.
There were a number of highlights from some of the top sessions – Netflix’s Cindy Holland revealing her passion for cycling — and a glimpse at the company’s algorithm for world dominance – or uber producer Greg Berlanti sharing his deeply moving “origin story.”
But, because of INTV’s timing this year at the height of the standoff between the Writers Guild of America and the Association of Talent Agents, for the Americans at the festival, the attention was split between the proceedings in Jerusalem’s historic YMCA building, where INTV takes place, and what was happening back home.
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On stage, the hot-button topic was only addressed once, at the CBS Studios/CBS Access panel moderated by Deadline. But privately, every conversation among Hollywood visitors started with the same question. “What do you think happens on April 6?”
Because the US speakers and attendees at the sixth INTV conference represented a good cross-section of Hollywood, with a mix of agents, mangers, producers and executives, there were also very different perspectives on the conflict. They included stories about passion projects that had fallen apart because an agency was not interested in an auspice from another agency to protect its full package, anecdotes about the major agencies instilling into agents from the time they are trainees that their main objective is packaging and they should strive to have their shows on the first page of their agency’s development report reserved for full packages. (One major agency even reportedly uses emojis on their reports, with the smiley face marking full packages.)
Along with the slew of anecdotes that mirror some of the testimonial by writers issued by the WGA that highlight alleged abuse of the packaging practice that has harmed projects and writers, including agencies being “kissed” into a show without lifting a finger or an agency’s packaging fee eclipsing that of the client and being paid first, there were also stories about agents spending weeks and months putting a package together, taking a risk because they are not paid unless the project lands a deal.
There are also arguments that many packages these days are split between anyways, that packages are far less lucrative than they used to be in the current environment of streamers like Netflix that pay upfront on a cost plus basis and that, as prices for big-name talent are escalating, with an A-list piece of talent, an agency may be better off commissioning a show rather than packaging it.
Overall, there was a lot of gloom and doom in the conversations, with many predicting chaos if no deal is not reached by the deadline and the writers are asked to leave their agents.
But there were a few voices that remained cautiously optimistic.
“I think that we, as a studio and a company, greatly value our relationships with writers and with agencies, and for us right now, it’s business as usual,” CBS’ President of Business Operations Deborah Barak said on the Monday panel. “Our assumption is that this will be resolved in a way that is suitable for all parties. It’s not our battle.”
Just as the conference wrapped end of Tuesday Israeli time, WGA and ATA headed to their first bargaining session in almost a month. The two sides reconvene Thursday afternoon.
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