Studio-based production companies are sharing horror stories about packaging deals, according to the WGA’s latest communique to its members. “These stories provide even more evidence of how packaging fees hurt writers and drive decision-making in a way that places the agencies’ interests above their clients,” the guild writes.
“I have had countless deals held up and almost fall apart because agencies couldn’t figure out their package with each other,” said one POD, according to the the guild’s website. “In one case, we sat helplessly by as the agency that represented the actor and the agency that represented the showrunner fought between themselves about percentages. The worst thing was that their clients had no idea what was holding things up—they didn’t tell them! They blamed it on studio paperwork or something.”
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“One of the big four agencies pursued a meeting for their writer-performer client with us, a production company they did not represent,” said another. “We had a great meeting with the client who spoke of a pitch they’d been developing and soon wanted to bring to us. For months after the meeting, we’d periodically follow up asking when that writer would be ready to come back in. Well, we never heard that pitch, and eventually had to read about that project selling with another production company, repped by their same agency, in Deadline. It felt like we never even had a shot because we weren’t represented by that same agency. And who’s to say we wouldn’t have been better for and worked harder for their client?”
Packaging fees along with agency affiliated production companies are the guild’s two chief concerns in what is now an 11-week standoff between the WGA and the Association of Talent Agents. The guild says both represent conflicts of interest for agencies who rep their members.
“There have been a number of times where our POD—repped by a Big Four—has been looking for a writer to adapt a well-known piece of intellectual property – we’re talking great IP that will definitely sell,” another POD producer wrote on the WGA site today. “We’ll reach out to other agencies to get writer ideas and almost never get a submission that includes their ‘top’ writers because they don’t want to split the package with our agency on those particular clients. They won’t openly admit this, but it’s implied. These writers at the rival agencies will have had no idea that their potential dream project was available because their own agents never exposed it to them. And later on, in many cases, we’ll see the writers socially and reference the IP and they’ll be shocked that they didn’t hear about the project, let alone get a chance to pitch on it.”
“At a studio, I have had writers come with an idea,” said another. “We pair them with one of our overalls, sell it to the network, we cast it and find the director—yet the agency still gets an episodic fee and more backend points than the writer they represent.”
Another said: “I had an agent say directly to me: ‘Sure, your offer is better but ______ will give us a package, so they are getting it.’ We pointed out that their client had wanted the project to be with us, that we were the first choice. That did not seem to matter.”
“As a producer I was working with a writer who had multiple projects in the works,” said another. “We were set to produce her passion project, which she had told us she wanted in first position. There was another project she cared less about, and her agent had put her together with another POD that they represented, and also some intellectual property they represented, so they had a full package on that project, as opposed to a split (package) on our thing, and they insisted that one was put in first position. It was a blatant disregard for their own client’s wishes. I don’t know how they bullied her into it.”
Still another POD recounted this story: “We produced a successful show that got picked up for another season—the 5th or 6th, I don’t remember—that was going to push it over the 100-episode mark. We were all celebrating—literally on a call with the show creator and EPs—when the line producer brought up the fact that the agency’s episodic fees basically tripled in that season. They had buried it in the original deal that their episodic fee tripled if the show got a pickup for that season. We had to call and beg them to take less. What kind of f***ed-up world are we in when we have to literally beg an agency (who literally had nothing to do with the production of the show) not to triple their already insane episodic fees, just to be able to make the show? We asked the studio to intervene and they told us it wasn’t their problem—they stayed out of it entirely. In the end the agency reduced a little—not all the way back to where they were, but some—and we had to slash the budget even more to make up for their higher fees. The worst thing was, some of their agents came to the 100th episode cake-cutting and slapped us on the back. One of them actually said, ‘We did it!'”
“Packaging fees are evil,” said another. “They f**k everything up. The backend points are bad enough, but the episodic fees rob shows of money they can actually use right away to make the shows better. Please get rid of them.”
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