Candidates for the WGA West’s board of directors are almost evenly divided between those who want to stay the course and those who want a course correction in the guild’s ongoing fight with Hollywood’s talent agencies. All 17 candidates vying for eight open seats on the board make reasoned, and often elegant, arguments to support their positions. Mostly, they differ on tactics, not on goals, and all say they want what’s best for the union and its members.
With negotiations looming next year for a new film and TV contract, both sides of the debate are also concerned about the effects the agency campaign will have on those talks – whether it will leave the guild more united, or bitterly divided.
Here is a sampling of their views, as outlined in their official campaign statements. First we look at the running mates of WGA West president David A. Goodman, who has led the fight to reshape the agency business by eliminating packaging fees and agency affiliations with corporately related production companies. Then we look at the running mates of opposition leader Phyllis Nagy, who favor a return to the bargaining table with the Association of Talent Agents and an end to the nearly five-month standoff.
Election ballots, which went out last week, will be counted September 16.
Luvh Rakhe – Incumbent
“This campaign arose from the membership and it will be decided by the membership. Our end goal remains the alignment of our interests and those of the agencies. Agency conflict of interest isn’t some academic notion – it is about the deprivation of money that comes from self-dealing, amplified by monopoly. Left largely unchanged, these practices will cost writers enormous sums of money over the long term.
“This is a tough fight but we’ve made progress. The expiration of the Artists’ Manager Basic Agreement was itself a positive step; it opened the door for our lawsuit. We made a deal with Verve and Kaplan Stahler [and Buchwald], and I believe we will make more. We have been reasonable and have conceded things that matter to us. To be sure, we take the disruptions and anxieties experienced by the membership very seriously. We have continually reassessed and sought feedback. We identified communication as an issue and have been striving to improve. At the moment of this writing, we are poring over extensive member feedback from our survey.
“I continue to believe a resolution is possible. The longer agencies hold out, the more the industry will find ways around them. Network staff jobs were filled. Feature and TV development are still happening. In a variety of ways, this campaign has already improved on the status quo. It has created a shift in mindset, new tools, more transparency than we had before, and an explosion of grassroots support and solidarity.”
Meredith Stiehm – Incumbent
“I fully support the Guild’s effort to reform the contract we have with our agencies. Producing and packaging are conflicts of interest that hurt writers. I ran on this platform twice before, and now I and many others in Guild leadership have brought the issue to bear. An agency’s financial interests must be directly tied to its client’s — plain and simple. No more undisclosed side deals, no more unearned episodic fees. A 10% commission keeps everyone honest, and keeps all earnings transparent.
“I know this effort has been hard on writers. We are all feeling disrupted, and anxious in this unknown territory. But I also know that meaningful progress does not come without a struggle. We are pursuing a sea change here. There’s no way to accomplish that quickly, or without a difficult negotiation, like the one we are in presently. But we have the law, and our own solidarity, on our side. If we stay the course and remain united — we will prevail.”
Nicole Yorkin — Incumbent
“A few years ago, my partner and I had a series on Amazon. Our agency at the time took a package on it without asking us or telling us. That was bad enough. But then we found out months later, they had ALSO been taking ten percent commission from us the whole time. It’s an incredibly common story. It’s also morally reprehensible and even more important, financially terrible for writers.
“That’s one reason why I joined the AMBA Negotiating Committee, so that I could be on the front lines, fighting to create a better economic future for all writers. How? By aligning our agents’ financial interests with our own, eliminating the prospect of our reps being our employers and by pushing for full transparency with contracts and invoices. This last issue, an often underappreciated one, is one of the best ways to guarantee increasing writer pay across the board.
“From an economic standpoint, sharing contracts and invoices will help the Guild go after late pay and free work, of course, but it will also hand writers information they’ve never had before. Imagine if any time you wanted to make a deal, you could pull up anonymous information (privacy protected) on what others in your situation had made. Especially for women and POC, who have historically made cents on the dollar.
“Which is why, if I’m re-elected, I’ll push hard for access and then push even harder to use that information to empower writers and increase our diversity and inclusivity across the board. The ATA action has not always been perfect, of course, but I could not be prouder of our continued solidarity. That solidarity is why I ran for the board in the first place and why I believe we can achieve our goals and improve the prospects for our future.”
Angelina Burnett – Incumbent
“In the spring of 2018, we shifted our primary focus to the AMBA. In deciding to give notice of termination in April, we knew that if the membership voted to impose the code, we would likely be firing our agents in the run up to staffing season. Several of us advocated for more focus and resources to be directed towards this piece of the strategy, believing we could and should be doing more, and another subcommittee was born. From the start, we knew that a core priority would be ensuring that this disruption did not erase the employment gains made by men of color, women, and LGBTQ writers. We designed the staffing portal with input from showrunners who’ve proven themselves leaders on inclusion. I drove the implementation process for the tool, managing the collaboration between leadership and staff, and organizing outreach. I have continued this role as we expand into the Staffing and Development Platform.
“But we knew tech tools wouldn’t be enough to mitigate the disruption to staffing season, so I sought out writers who were already doing the work of organizing to serve their communities and looked for ways to support them with Guild resources. Two of them are running in this election, Zoe Marshall and Liz Alper. They have already proven themselves tireless advocates for writers and I hope you will support them. We need their energy, experience, and perspective on the board.”
“Let me be clear: I support our Guild’s Agency Campaign. Seeking to eliminate the most glaring conflicts of interest that result from packaging and asking our agents – people we hire to work on our behalf – to sign a Code of Conduct before returning to business is precisely the sort of thing a well-organized, strong union should be doing on our behalf, especially now. The reasons for the action were discussed openly and rigorously debated within the membership over the course of months of meetings and communications before 95% of us voted “YES” to the action.
“Did I have reservations that enforcing the Code of Conduct could destabilize our work lives – as well as the lives of our hardworking agents, many of which have been our personal partners to the creation of our individual careers – in ways hard to calculate? Of course I did, and do. But it’s an easy calculation to see what will happen if we don’t correct course, or even set a course, for how business between writers and agents will be done moving into the future. The Guild exists to protect the working lives and conditions of the membership; that’s more than just a question of intermittently fighting for better wages, it’s a question of seeing the future of the business and taking action to protect and sustain our careers over the longer term.
“Had I been in the 5% who fundamentally disagreed with the action, and our membership voted overwhelmingly to support it, I would still support our Guild. The strength of our union depends entirely on solidarity; when we vote to take collective action, we fight on behalf of each other, and on behalf of the majority.
“And this wasn’t a 52% margin of decision: it was 95%. I’m not at all opposed to us having internal disagreements, or even to serious-minded, educated skeptics joining the Board and the debate: we should have and do need a real diversity of viewpoints within the Board and the Negotiating Committee. But I am vehemently opposed to those who would weaken our current negotiation by venting to the press and working with the Agencies against the Guild.
“I’m not a master negotiator, but I’ve seen enough movies to know that you don’t flinch in a showdown. We committed to an action, and now we must see it through, together.”
“It’s easy to focus on the work the Guild does to negotiate on behalf of writers with outside entities. We’re fighting hard to resolve the conflict of interest with the ATA and the way agencies run their business. Every three years we negotiate with the AMPTP to raise minimums and define residuals and payment terms. But there are also issues we can solve within our membership. The diversity of the writing staff in every room is dictated by the Showrunner. Those are our members and we can hold them accountable. Ensuring women have opportunities at all levels within writers’ rooms is dictated by the Showrunner. We stand alongside those Guild members every day and we can hold them accountable. Staff Writers are asked to repeat the position over and over again, diverse writers are let go when diversity programs no longer pay for them, writers of color and women are paid less than their white male counterparts. The membership of this Guild has the ability to change things using power we already possess. We don’t need to ask permission. We don’t need to negotiate or fight or strike. We have the ability to make our own changes and improve the lives of writers ourselves.”
“Since April, I have dedicated time, energy, and resources toward boosting my fellow writers and helping them to navigate this strange new normal through grassroots efforts. I created two online spreadsheets intended to connect writers with showrunners and studios: the #WGASolidarityChallenge Grid and the Comprehensive 2019 Staffing Grid.
“Throughout the current agency standoff, screenwriters have not seen the boost in support and resources that TV writers have experienced. We are not the TV Writers Guild of America West, and our solidarity efforts must extend to them as well. Besides creating more online resources for screenwriters, we need more panels, salons, and networking events focusing on screenwriter needs.
“To support the Guild’s new Staffing & Development platform (an online resource that connects writers directly to executives and producers), I would advocate for creating a ‘Covering Department’ that will follow up on requests, track writer availability, and curate lists of writers for employers with specific needs. After the agency conflict is resolved, this department would continue supporting writers with supplemental job assistance.”
“Any number of us is one ill-timed dry spell away from our contingency plan (for me, it’s taking room notes again and putting my Jamba Juice smock back on—a fate I wouldn’t wish on anyone). And it’s because I know how fleeting writing jobs can be that I will l treat a place on the Board with the same diligence, urgency and integrity as my own career.
“It’s why I linked up with a friend in the heat of the ATA campaign and organized a series of five staffing and development mixers for over 750 writers, showrunners and executives. People staffed from these, got meetings, got read, connected with other writers who it may have otherwise taken them years to link up with. All because writers have a unique ability to empower and mobilize other writers.
“I don’t have all the answers, but I’ve got energy to spare, and want to help figure it out. I want to give voice to emerging writers in the conversations that impact our union and our careers.”
Mike Mariano – Independent Candidate
“I stand 100% behind leadership taking this action, based upon receiving a 95% member vote to proceed. For the record, I voted ‘Yes.’ I also agree with the tactic of not entertaining a profit share settlement because it would be impossible to enforce. I firmly believe the agencies will cook the books. Profit participants often have to sue studios for their backend. Do we really expect mid-level writers to pay lawyers to go after their share of a tiny fraction of a packaging fee that can’t be verified? Or do we expect the WGA membership to continually pay for lawsuits with our dues to litigate the packaging fee distribution of every single show? Or do we expect the agencies to be fair? My answer to those questions is, ‘No, no and hell no.’ In addition, a profit share settlement does nothing to realign the agencies’ interests with ours.”
“Why I believe in negotiation to resolve the agency crisis. The cause is a good worthy one, and abuses have occurred that need to be checked. I currently have a deal with an affiliate company, and while I like working with the players very much, I was surprised to find their involvement presented to me as a fait accompli when it came time to do my contract. That needs to be looked (at). The affiliate companies need to be examined. Packaging needs to be reformed. But I know there is a deal to be made and made swiftly with the ATA that will redistribute wealth to all the writers who help create a successful television show, ensure an agency no longer claims a package on a show if the creator is let go, support the survival of a robust health and pension fund and lock us into a very powerful partnership to face the monumental negotiation ahead of us, with our agents as advocates at our sides.”
Ashley Edward Miller
“We need to look at our negotiations with the agencies as a function of our relationship with the AMPTP and bottom-line earnings for all writers — not just writers in multi-million dollar overall deals with decades of profit participation. The agencies have opened the door to new revenue streams for working writers that we should examine fairly and engage intelligently. Problematic affiliate production entities could be turned into laboratories for business models that work to the advantage of all artists, not just writers.
“The absence of writers has not ended packaging. Packaging continues around us. Our task is to demand transparency and strengthen enforcement mechanisms from the previous AMBA — mechanisms we chose to ignore and have never discussed. If the ATA returns to the table with real proposals that profit everyone, we have a duty to consider them.
“The alternative is a world where writer influence in television wanes in favor of directors, actors and IP, forcing us into a position where we are hired last, packaged anyway and no longer the driving creative force. We must preserve our hard-won power and market value. Nothing will crater writer earnings like changing the fundamental assumptions of television development and production. Constructively engaging the ATA on packaging ensures our dominance, protects our bottom line and better positions us for negotiations with the AMPTP.
“Solidarity is important. Organizing is important. These qualities only become powerful when we use our leverage strategically, with a clear-eyed commitment to fact and reason.”
“To be clear: We must address the conflicts of interest inherent in packaging and affiliated production. But the belief that we can do so without negotiating with the ATA is naive at best. Equally naive is the notion that the two litigations which we are presently mired in will provide a way forward. I used to be a litigator and I saw firsthand the limitations of our legal system (and that’s before over two years of Trump appointments to the federal bench). Even in the rare instances when justice is done, it takes years to achieve. In the meantime, we are racking up legal fees that will rapidly number in the tens of millions of dollars with no end in sight.
“As I said, the issues we face require nuanced solutions. Simply branding our representatives as racketeers isn’t nuanced. Our solidarity brought the agencies to the bargaining table. We need to return there post-haste and hammer out a deal that aligns our interests with that of our representatives. I don’t believe for a moment we aren’t smart enough to work out the negotiated solution the majority of the membership wanted.
“At the same time, we have to re-enter these conversations with a focus on the future. The ill-fated negotiations focused almost exclusively on the sharing of backend profits — precisely at a time when backend profits are being eliminated. Don’t get me wrong, I am in favor of revenue sharing, but I’m also in favor of negotiating with an eye to the future so that we’re not just fighting yesterday’s battles.”
Courtney A. Kemp
“Over the last year, our Guild leadership has pursued a renegotiation of the AMBA with the ATA, a campaign that has been fruitless, costly, and threatens to be endless. The lack of transparency and accountability has been appalling. I was asked as many of you were, to vote YES so the Leadership would have leverage in negotiation. I did. Then they did not negotiate. I was told a lawsuit was a last resort. The decision to file was swift. I aired my concerns again and again, and again and again I was patted on the head and dismissed. It felt far too familiar. A new version of governance has swept the land, and this Leadership has conformed, using obfuscation and diversion to compel obedience from the membership.
“I believe that the campaign was, from the beginning, about jurisdiction over writers. But had that been stated openly and clearly, I think that would have been a worthwhile discussion. Instead, agents and agencies were vilified, used as a scapegoat for a bigger problem – our Guild has little to no role in the employment of writers. We should examine that and if elected, I commit to doing so.
“From the beginning, I was outspoken about the dangers of this campaign to women, people of color, and LGBTQIA writers, those that often need agents to advocate on their behalf just to get into the room. My pleas fell on deaf ears. I begged this leadership to reconsider, to present us with a plan that did not include firing our agents before staffing season. The leadership, many of whom were on overall deals (as I am), moved forward with the plan anyway. If the firings were necessary, we could have done it in June, right before development season, when the agencies would have lost out on potential new packages.
“Instead the membership – especially the younger membership, just breaking into the business – lost out on jobs. Showrunners asked me how to find writers of color or women because they “didn’t know anyone.” When these showrunners became frustrated, they hired their friends, maintaining the status quo. I have spoken to younger writers of color who are lost, not knowing where to send their scripts or how to make connections. They were told to hire managers. That’s not an answer. They were told this was being done for their futures. Potentially, if a great deal had been negotiated, that could have been so. But there has been little negotiation and there is currently no deal. Instead, time marches on, and the gains that our younger membership may have made under a deal remain potential. The next AMPTP deal is real, though. It is real, actual and direct to their pockets— and we cannot fail.”
“Packaging and affiliate production are serious issues that must be addressed. I believe, however, that rather than wait for the resolution of a years-long legal battle, we can and should negotiate with the ATA for the best possible deal. Very few writers ever see a meaningful back end. The lucky few who do would absolutely get more money in profit participation without agency packaging fees. There is no evidence, however, that getting rid of packaging would translate to higher salaries for the rest of us. Nor is it clear that more of us would end up getting jobs without packaging. If we succeed in ending the practice of agency packaging, the savings will go back to studios. Who wants to take bets on whether they will pass that money along to us?
“Accordingly, we must return to the table and negotiate a deal that maximizes transparency, choice, and getting all writers, not just those lucky few, a piece of the pie.”
“I have gradually become convinced that though this is unequivocally the right fight, it is being fought the wrong way.
“Let me be clear. The action current leadership has taken, much to their credit, has shown our unified determination to fix the problem of conflicted agency practices and given us extraordinary leverage to secure a deal that benefits not only membership at large, but especially the most vulnerable writers among us.
“I want to win this fight, but we cannot win a game we refuse to play. And make no mistake: this is not a contest we can afford to forfeit. We cannot afford to forfeit access to the largest talent agencies on earth, which provide writers the connective tissue between the worlds, characters and stories they create and the actors, directors and producers who can help bring those words to life. We cannot afford to forfeit the benefits provided by effective representation. We cannot afford to forfeit our hard won position in television and that is precisely what is about to happen. The agencies are already reshaping the packaging fee structure to revolve around movie stars, filmmakers and IP. Who among us wishes to see the television business, for writers, more closely resemble what the feature business has already become? Certainly not me.
“Perhaps most importantly, we cannot afford to forfeit our sense of unity and shared purpose in the run up to the even more critical AMPTP talks that lie before us. The longer this fight goes on without an endgame in sight, the weaker we will be come spring for the very real battle ahead.
“This is a moment of tremendous opportunity for our guild, but also one of great peril. We have an opportunity within our grasp to reform the relationship between us and our agencies once and for all, to fully and fundamentally align their interests with our own. We have an opportunity to consolidate those gains and work together to forge a new MBA that does for the next generation of writers in the streaming era what the 1960 MBA did when it secured our membership what was then unheard of – residuals in the then-nascent narrative medium of television.”
“I am now deeply concerned about the future – indeed the survival – of our union. Our current action is perilous. There are serious issues here – agency practices and abuses that must be dealt with and remedied. They must be. But we are in unexplored territory, and (inevitably) there are unintended consequences – consequences which fall on our members unequally. Therefore I have grave concerns about the way the Guild has proceeded and, most critically, about the effect of this situation on our solidarity.”
“The spirit of this negotiation has also been worrisome. The WGA has demonized all agents and ignored or denigrated the value agents now have (and have had) in the careers of many of us. Yes, agency practices need to be addressed and abuses rectified. But insisting that agents and agencies are ‘the enemy’ won’t do that. It’s largely untrue, needlessly insulting, and terrible strategy.”
“And this action could not have come at a worse time. We face serious contract issues with the AMPTP in 2020. Disney is threatening to come after the residuals we have; other studios may follow suit. Netflix is using de facto buyouts in place of residuals. We must face these issues head on, protect what we have and demand that residuals for streaming be improved. The money involved is massive (hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars) and these issues affect us all (TV and screen alike) and should unite us all. Right now we are undermining our unity and jeopardizing our ability to wage that fight. If we go into 2020 crippled by the fallout from our current action, the wound will be self-inflicted and the companies will feast on our remains.
“So. Two major issues:
1. Extricate ourselves from the present mess with the best deal available given the damage already done. We must gain clear improvements on previous practices.
2. Prepare for the 2020 negotiation with the AMPTP.
“Beside these, everything else pales.”
“For the past decade, I’ve spent a lot of time in television writers’ rooms and have heard fellow scribes discuss the challenges facing working writers — shorter TV seasons; onerous exclusivity clauses; a streaming model that is decimating residuals; and the gradual extinction of mid-level TV writers, etc. In all that time, I don’t recall packaging fees being on the list of top concerns. Yet, despite the threats on the horizon, our guild is looking to the past. We are waging the greatest labor disruption since the 2007-2008 strike over the terms of a 1976 contract. We are essentially engaged in a crusade that would have made perfect sense circa 1982.
“Why are we doing this? I believe it is because our current leadership doesn’t know what to do about the emerging business models that are threatening our collective financial future — so they’re sacrificing time and money and goodwill in a prolonged attack on an old business practice that writers and agents blithely engaged in for 40 plus years. Our guild is fighting the wrong war. And we aren’t even fighting it that well.-We need to resume talks with the ATA and negotiate a deal that maximizes packaging revenue sharing, transparency, choice, and protections for unpackaged writers.”
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