Tricky negotiations between the Writers Guild of America and the Association of Talent Agents have many writers considering their options. And at the WGA Awards in Los Angeles on Sunday, it emerged that many big-name writers are standing behind their union, and will even walk away from their agents if necessary.
“I love the WGA,” Adam McKay told Deadline at the awards show. “I voted for our leaders, I’ve supported the guild for years and years, so whatever they think needs to happen, I stand in solidarity with the WGA.”
The current agreement between the WGA and ATA, set to expire April 6, hasn’t been renegotiated in more than four decades. Now, the WGA is proposing the ban of packaging deals, and the end of agencies’ involvement in productions, because they are a “conflict of interest” and violate agents’ duty to their writer clients. The WGA has said it will encourage writers to “walk away” from their agents if an agreement can’t be reached.
McKay wouldn’t hesitate to walk away from his agent if the WGA asked, he said. “I’m always pro-union, I’m always with the WGA, the DGA, whatever union I’m a part of, I back them 100%.”
But he doesn’t believe it will come to that. “I also know my agents aren’t crazy people,” he said, “and I think at the end of the day they’re all going to reach an agreement. Ultimately I trust the WGA, they are my guild, they are my union, I pay them, I support them. I am pro-union.”
For the Farrelly brothers, the choice was also a no-brainer. They stand with their union every time. “I trust the Writers’ Guild,” Peter Farrelly said. “I’m a guild guy. They’ve been good to us. Look, everybody in the world wants to write movies. If we didn’t have the guild, we’d be writing them for $100. So I back my guild, whatever they recommend.” And if it came to a ‘walk away’ he said he’d do it “without question”.
“Whatever the Guild decides, we’ll follow,” Bobby Farrelly added.
Barry Jenkins said he believes both in the guild and in the good intentions of his agent. “I support the Guild 1000% in my career as a writer,” he said, “especially when I didn’t have an agent. There were a few jobs I got where the WGA, even without being represented, definitely protected me. I think that the guild is really diligent about doing what’s best for the writers. As someone with an agent I have a very close relationship with, I know that they also are trying to do what’s best for the writers as well.”
Sharp Objects writers Ariella Blejer and Dawn Kamoche were of the same union-or-bust mind, despite much love for their agent. “I think we love our agent but we also love our guild,” Kamoche said, “so we have divided loyalties, but we’re company women. We know what we have to do, we have to go with the WGA.”
“It’s a really difficult issue,” Blejer added. “We have an agent we really, really love who has gotten us so many jobs and treated us really well, and I hope they come to a solution before anyone has to walk away from anything because we love our agent. But we’re guild members, so if they pull the trigger, we have to do what the guild says. That’s where our health insurance comes from. Without the guild they would pay us nothing.”
Meanwhile, at the WGA Awards on the East Coast, Stephen Schiff, a writer and producer with FX’s The Americans who’s been involved with past guild negotiations, told Deadline the situation is still taking shape, so perhaps it’s not crunch time just yet and all this will yet prove a moot point.
“It’s a controversial issue,” he said. “It’s an important issue. A lot of thinking is going into it, a lot of back and forth. Like any negotiation, there are a lot of moves being made and a lots of thoughts, trying to think of how to come up with the right solution.”
Bruce Miller was philosophical on the subject, believing it will all be worked out eventually and won’t come to major blows. “I think there will be an agreement,” he said. “Business changes and we work these things out, that’s how it’s always worked. I feel like everybody’s approaching it with good faith and and we’ll come out the other end. There’s a lot of money to split up so I’m sure everybody will be able to get their piece.”
The Haunting of Hill House creator Mike Flanagan pointed out though that when a writer wears several different hats, the idea of walking away from an agent can feel especially “gut-wrenching” and that he likely wouldn’t feel able to walk away from his agent. “If it came down to it, I don’t think I would do that,” he said. “The reason for me is outside of my work writing, my agent and I work together with me as a director, a producer, as an editor, so it’s very very complicated. But I also wouldn’t be standing where I am without my agent. I wouldn’t be here without WME, so that isn’t something that feels like a realistic solution for me. Your own best interests are pitted against each other, and it’s a deeply uncomfortable place, especially if you’re spread out across multiple unions, which I am, so it’s always a really nerve-wracking and uncomfortable place to be.”
Writer and Sharp Objects EP Vince Calandra said this has become way too complex a situation for a straightforward fix now. “The agencies have become like another level of studio,” he said. “There are these layers and layers of production companies and producers and studios, so it’s almost Vegas-like.”
As for whether he believes it can actually go back to simpler times when agents took a 10% cut and played no part in packaging deals, Calandra said, “It’s not going to happen. You can’t put that genie back in the bottle.”