One of the unintended consequences of the WGA’s historic campaign to reshape the talent agency business has been the inability of many writers to find representation after more than 7,000 guild members, in a show of solidarity, fired their agents en masse during the early days of the nearly two-year legal battle. Many writers weren’t taken back by their agents after the fight was over, and during a recent candidates’ night forum, Michele Mulroney, who will be the WGA West’s next vice president, said “the fallout from the membership is that it’s a nightmare.”
The WGA’s agency campaign began in April 2019 and ended in February with the signing of WME, the last agency holdout, to the guild’s agency agreement, which will phase out packaging by June 2022 and limit a franchised agency and its owners to owning no more than a 20% stake in a production or distribution entity. Last month, the guild conducted a survey of its members to find out about the current status of their representation by agents and managers.
During the candidates’ night forum, Mulroney and Betsy Thomas, the guild’s future secretary-treasurer, fielded a question about what the guild can do to help its agentless members. Mulroney and Thomas are running unopposed, as is future president Meredith Stiehm, and will take office on Sept. 21. Eight seats on the guild’s board are up for election.
During the Q & A, an unidentified member asked: “Many emerging writers have been experiencing the phenomenon of not being asked back to their agencies since the resolution of the [Association of Talent Agents] battle. Agencies seem to be focusing on the big earners to make up the difference in incomes and to the detriment of the younger writers who are earlier in their careers. Any thoughts on correcting this unintended byproduct of winning that very important battle against packaging?”
Mulroney told the questioner: “You’re exactly right. It was an unintended byproduct. A lot of the agencies took this opportunity to cull their rosters. Some of it was just, honestly, retribution and spite. Some of it was because we were in the middle of a pandemic and they were being hit hard and they needed to sort of like corral their resources in different directions. There’s lots of factors. But the fallout from the membership is that it’s a nightmare. I remember very vividly being dropped by my agent – first time after five years – and it’s brutal.
“In terms of what the guild can do,” she continued, “we obviously cannot compel anyone to represent anyone. We don’t have that ability. But we do have things like lists of managers that the agency department carries that you can reach out to. I’ve been personally helping a whole handful of members in the last bunch of months trying to get new representation. So I think there are some personal efforts going on there. But to touch very briefly on the platform, trust us when we say we are working very, very hard to sort of get that platform revived and get work opportunities up there for members so that can help bridge that gap for those who are currently without representation. But we really feel you and we’re very truly sorry that that was an awful byproduct of an otherwise very worthy and serious campaign.”
The guild’s online staffing and development platform is designed to help members find jobs by directly connecting them with showrunners, producers and executives.
Thomas agreed with Mulroney. “Michele said it perfectly,” she said in response to the questioner. “I don’t really have anything to add other than, you know, I think the timing of the global pandemic and the contraction all the agencies had to do because they were losing so much money – I mean, a lot of people at the agencies lost their jobs, so there are fewer agents and I think a lot of the agents had to take on fewer people and there’s fewer support staff. So I think we can’t just lay it at the feet of the agency campaign. I think it is several factors, and that doesn’t change the fact that it is really unfortunate and it must be really difficult.”
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