UPDATED with more details, quotes and list of agencies that have signed the WGA’s Code of Conduct: The WGA and the Association of Talent Agents have failed to reach an agreement on a new franchise agreement, setting the stage for unprecedented upheaval in the film and TV industry. Thousands of writers now are ordered by the guild to fire their agents, and in the coming days, expect both sides to carry out their threats to sue each other.
The guild said this afternoon that “as of midnight tonight, every agency will be required to become a signatory” to its new Code of Conduct. Writers will have to fire any agency that refuses to sign it. (Read the letter from guild leaders to members below.) All of the major agencies have said they will not sign, so the unprecedented battle between writers and their agents soon will be on.
That includes the Big Four agencies — WME, CAA, UTA and ICM Partners — which do nearly all the packaging of TV shows and much of the financing and sales servicing of independent films. More than 100 of the industry’s other top agencies, including the Big Four, have refused to sign the WGA’s Code of Conduct.
But so far, nearly four dozen agencies have signed the Code — though only one, Pantheon, as Deadline previously reported — is an ATA member and has broken ranks. See the list of Code signatories below.
“On April 13, 2019, the Writers Guild of America implemented a new Code of Conduct for agencies that represent writers for work covered by a WGA collective bargaining agreement. WGA members may only be represented for WGA-covered work by agencies signed to the Code of Conduct.
“The Code of Conduct is a landmark agreement that realigns agency incentives with their writer-clients and eliminates the conflicts of interest inherent in agencies’ receipt of packaging fees and financial interest in production entities. Agencies signed to the Code may only represent writers for a 10% commission and may not receive packaging fees or be affiliated with a company producing or distributing motion pictures.”
To that end, the guild today released a batch of new instructions for guild members. In laying down the new law, the guild told its members:
“If you are represented by an agency that is not signed to the Code of Conduct, you must inform the agency that it may not represent you with respect to your WGA covered work until such time as it subscribes to the Code of Conduct.
“You may not permit a non-franchised agent to represent you with respect to any future WGA-covered work, including deals that were first discussed but not completed before the implementation of the Code of Conduct.
“You are not prohibited from consulting or communicating with a non-franchised agent regarding other matters, including:
(a) Non-WGA-covered employment or services;
(b) projects or agreements completed prior to the implementation of the Code of Conduct;
(c) personal matters; or
(d) discussions urging the agent to sign the Code of Conduct.”
It’s also telling members that if they don’t fire agents who refuse to sign the Code, they “shall be subject to discipline in accordance with Article X of the WGA West Constitution.”
A weeklong extension of the contract failed to produce a new agreement, the guild said, because the agencies have not made a “fair offer.” Among their “unacceptable proposals,” the guild said, “the agencies insist on continuing their major conflicts of interest. They insist on continuing to produce and be our employers. Their ‘offer’ on packaging is to share 1% of their packaging fee with writers.”
“So what happens now?” the guild asked rhetorically. “In a strike situation, we all know that we are to refrain from crossing the picket line or writing for a struck company, and we’re asked to show our solidarity by picketing, which is the public and moral face of our dispute.
“In this situation there are two actions required of all members: First, do not allow a non-franchised agent to represent you with respect to any future WGA-covered work. Second, notify your agency in a written form letter that they cannot represent you until they sign the Code of Conduct.
“We know that, together, we are about to enter uncharted waters. Life that deviates from the current system might be various degrees of disorienting. But it has become clear that a big change is necessary. We will not only stand together, we will stand up for each other, lean on each other. We can do this.”
It won’t be a writers strike per se. Writers and showrunners with deals in place will continue working, but going forward new agents will have to be found to procure jobs for writers, or they can be hired directly by showrunners — their fellow guild members — through a new Script Submission System. The WGA says it also will deputize writers’ personal managers and lawyers to take the place of their fired agents, but the ATA says it’s illegal under state laws, and has vowed to take the matter to court.
The WGA’s old franchise agreement with the ATA – known as the Artists’ Managers Basic Agreement – hadn’t been renegotiated in 43 years. It allowed packaging, but the guild was never happy about it, even when it signed the deal in 1976.
The guild began holding a series of membership meetings in March of last year to lay the groundwork for the renegotiation of the agreement, saying that there was a growing concern among its members about the “conflict of interest inherent in production and packaging.” In interviews with numerous writers leaving those early meetings, it was clear that membership support for the guild’s goals was strong and growing stronger. “We are united” was the common refrain.
The guild took the first big step down this path on April 2018, when it served the ATA with a 12-month notice of termination of their existing agreement, and then presented the ATA with its list of proposals, which it said were designed to “realign” the talent agency business.
Talks for a new deal didn’t begin until February 5, with both sides soon accusing one another of not negotiating in good faith. Serious bargaining only began this week after the April 6 deadline was extended to allow one last chance to avert what the ATA said would have been “chaos” for the industry. That “chaos,” or what the guild calls a “realignment,” is now here.
Here is the letter from guild leaders to members today, followed by the list of agencies that have signed the Code of Conduct:
April 12, 2019
Last Saturday, at the agencies’ request, the Guild gave them six days beyond AMBA expiration to provide us with a fair offer. They have not done so. Among other unacceptable proposals, the agencies insist on continuing their major conflicts of interest. They insist on continuing to produce and be our employers. Their “offer” on packaging is to share 1% of their packaging fee with writers. Here is the response David Goodman presented this afternoon at the bargaining table to the proposal the ATA made yesterday.
So there is no settlement. The membership voted by 95.3% to implement an Agency Code of Conduct if a negotiated settlement was not reached, and elected leadership set today as the deadline. As of midnight tonight, every agency will be required to become a signatory to the Code. And under WGA Working Rule 23, WGA Current members cannot be represented by agencies that have not signed the Code.
So what happens now? In a strike situation, we all know that we are to refrain from crossing the picket line or writing for a struck company, and we’re asked to show our solidarity by picketing, which is the public and moral face of our dispute.
In this situation there are two actions required of all members: First, do not allow a non-franchised agent to represent you with respect to any future WGA-covered work. Second, notify your agency in a written form letter that they cannot represent you until they sign the Code of Conduct.
Linked here is the form letter, in plain and respectful language, which accomplishes this task. Members who are represented by agencies not signed to the Code of Conduct must e-sign the letter. This letter also protects you legally in case of any future commission dispute. The Guild will forward all letters en masse to the appropriate agencies in a few days. Many of you will also want to inform your agents personally. We encourage you to do so and to ask them to sign the Code.
We know you may have questions about exactly how to deal with your agent. We have linked here to a set of rules of implementation and FAQs that clarify how to deal with agencies that are no longer franchised. It is important that you read both the rules and the FAQ carefully. If you have additional questions about your situation, you should contact the Guild at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
We know that, together, we are about to enter uncharted waters. Life that deviates from the current system might be various degrees of disorienting. But it has become clear that a big change is necessary.
We will not only stand together, we will stand up for each other, lean on each other. We can do this.
WGA-Agency Agreement Negotiating Committee
Chris Keyser, Co-Chair
David Shore, Co-Chair
Meredith Stiehm, Co-Chair
Deric A. Hughes
Tracey Scott Wilson
Patric M. Verrone
David A. Goodman, President WGAW, ex-officio
Marjorie David, Vice President WGAW, ex-officio
Aaron Mendelsohn, Secretary-Treasurer WGAW, ex-officio
Beau Willimon, President WGAE, ex-officio
Jeremy Pikser, Vice President WGAE, ex-officio
Bob Schneider, Secretary-Treasurer WGAE, ex-officio
Writers and showrunners, meet your new agents. Here is the list of agencies that have signed the Code of Conduct, per the WGA:
Above The Line Agency
American Media Artists
Annette Van Duren Agency
BiCoastal Talent & Literary Agency
Brant Rose Agency
Candace Lake Agency, Inc.
Career Artists International
Charlene Kay Agency
Claire Best & Associates
The Dravis Agency
Gregory David Mayo Representing the Performing Arts
Henry Morrison, Inc.
Hollywood View Agency
Irv Schechter Company
Justin Ptak Agency
Kissane Communications, Ltd.
Luedtke Agency, LLC
Maggie Roiphe Agency
McCormick, Bagwell & Assoc.
McHugo Artists Agency, Ltd.
Media Artists Group
Michael Lewis & Associates
MLH Literary and Talent Agency
MTA Talent Agency
National Talent LA
Natural Talent, Inc.
The Newton Agency
Otto Kozak Literary & Motion Picture
Richard Curtis Associates, Inc
The Sarnoff Company, Inc.
Silver Bitela Agency
The Solis Agency, Inc.
The Stein Agency
Suite A Management Talent & Literary Agency
Summit Talent & Literary Agency
The Susan Gurman Agency
Susan Schulman Literary Agency
Thunder Avenue Literary Agency
UGA Talent Agency
Victoria Sanders Literary Agency
William Kerwin Agency
Subscribe to Deadline Breaking News Alerts and keep your inbox happy.