As the war of words between the Writers Guild of America and the Association of Talent Agents becomes increasingly harsher, the uber-agencies are trying to paint a bigger picture with their scribe clients.
Led by people who know how to tell a compelling story, the WGA has largely won the PR battle so far. The Guild has been getting their message out with emphasis on first-person accounts by writers about instances when agency packaging and producing shows have hurt them.
With the stepping up of their efforts, the agencies are now trying to change the narrative by explaining their side of the story. Part of that tale is touting the realities and perceived benefits of both packaging and producing by the big agencies to the men and women that they take commissions from.
UTA over the past month has been reaching out to its writer and showrunner clients to explain the options of packaging and producing. That outreach is intended to spotlight the choices scribes have to participate in such strategy or not. There have been approximately 60 such meetings, we hear, with more planned by the Civic Center Drive-based agency.
WME recently began inviting their writer clients to a series of open houses in their offices this week to get discussions on thorny matters out in the open. The first meeting was held last night with additional gatherings tonight and Wednesday morning and evening. The caucus were described to Deadline “not as negotiating but listening sessions” as agents focus on their clients’ concerns over various issues, including of course those hot-button topics of packaging and producing.
In a similar vein but more intimate format, CAA has been holding one-on-one meetings with showrunner clients in person and over the phone in the past few weeks. There are comparable initiatives at the other big agencies. For instance, ICM Partners is planning a succession of meetings in small groups with its writer clients beginning next week.
On another front, both the big agencies and the guild are talking extensively to the Hollywood legal community as well. As the Big 4 conduct sit-downs with Century City skyscraper-based firms and others with big talent clients, the WGA is planned a series of info sessions with attorneys at its Fairfax and Third Street HQ later this week.
This is all occurring as the WTA and the ATA had been locked in contentious negotiations as the April 6 expiration of their agreement draws closer and closer.
The WGA has demanded that agencies end their lucrative practice of taking packaging fees on every project and venturing into producing. The guild has threatened to sue the agencies and compel their members walk out on their agents – a nightmare scenario by any measure – if a new code of conduct isn’t agreed too.
In a letter sent to ATA executive director Karen Stuart today, the WGA has said it is willing to continue talks with the ATA tomorrow and Thursday.