While WGA members have rallied around their union in a brass-knuckle battle to dismantle agency packaging and end agencies’ forays into producing through affiliated companies, not every writer is in step with their union’s take-it-or-leave-it stance. Here is a second writer, who like the last one Deadline featured questions the wisdom of forcing writers to make a Sophie’s Choice between union loyalty and their agents. It presents a different and thoughtful side of the issue, as voting continues through the weekend to strengthen the union’s position at the bargaining table with the Big Four agencies. The letter has been making the rounds among writers and seemed worthy of being added to the mix. We’re holding back the scribe’s name for obvious reasons.
Sending this because I know many of you are on the fence, and I believe our WGA leadership is going about this the wrong way.
Another writer I know said it best: we are going after the Lannisters when the White Walkers are coming.
The agencies have made up their minds to keep packaging fees and their affiliate arms. Hard line. Willing to negotiate within that sandbox, but not getting rid of it. But WGA leadership is also not budging. Our leadership has said to them in private that this is war and they’re ready to incur some “casualties” (WGA word not mine) for this fight. So, it’s gonna be a matter of how long the war lasts and who it will burden the most.
Let’s play this out:
Many upper level writers are already on shows, under overalls, some are directors or actors who will still be repped at Big Four, upper levels will be just fine. They have existing connections. Finding jobs will be much less difficult for them.
The burden will fall on middle and lower levels. And no one knows what this burden will look like but agencies are prepared to hunker down for a long time. The Big Four will continue business, and will continue to retain their usual director, actor, athlete, musician, digital clients, and will continue to do everything in their power to leverage against The Great Four (ATT/Warner, Disney/Fox, Comcast, prob soon to be CBS/Viacom), who btw are all consolidating to leverage against The Greatest Five (Netflix, Amazon, Apple, Google, Facebook).
Meanwhile, us writers, in the middle of a larger corporate nuclear arms race, will be leaving the few agencies with nukes, and will swarm en masse to smaller agencies and managers. It’s not like writing will stop. We’ll still be writing, but with the representation of smaller agencies with less leverage against the Great Four and the Greatest Five.
All of this will go down and likely last right up to our 2020 studio negotiations. These major studios in 2020 will see a WGA, either still in or coming out of a war with the agencies, and will have much more negotiating leverage knowing members of the guild are starting to feel the fallout from this agency war and will be hard-pressed to strike against them after a long 2019. Essentially, we are waging war with a powerful ally now right before facing the Axis of Evil.
Why do major talent flock to the Big Four? Cause they have the most leverage against the studios. They’ve built these billion dollar businesses to counterbalance the Great Four and the Greatest Five. They’ve done this partly by making ten percent off their productive clients, but also by constantly evolving as a business. Branching out into music and sports. Getting into live events. Having a premium for agency-packaged projects. Starting production arms. They’re not perfect by any means – the lack of transparency and lack of choice is appalling, but they’ve acknowledged that and are ready to change those aspects.
Instead of cutting off packaging completely, hampering our allies, we should be making packaging more equitable so we stand to gain more from it, while still allowing that piece to be an essential part of our allies’ growth.
I’d love to have a choice in the matter – if someone else hates packaging, great do whatever you want, but if I want to save 10% commission in the present or I like the potential benefits of packaging, let me be able to choose that.
Also, if you don’t like your agent or your agency, FIRE them. If you’re anti-packaging, go to a smaller agency, no one is stopping you. It took me firing SEVERAL agents before finding ones I truly love. Now you’re making me leave because other people don’t like where they are? Non-packaging agencies exist, go there, have at it, but I don’t agree that money saved by studios will come back to us, I’m not sure the deflation in wages is due to packaging, I like saving 10% commission in the present, so I should be allowed to stay with my agents.
Lastly, re: affiliate arms. No one is forcing anyone to finance anything via an affiliate arm. If you have an indie feature idea, by all means, try to find financing anywhere. But I personally have found it harder and harder to find financing for smaller budget indie passion projects, if there’s another potential well of money to draw from, I’m happy to take it. Of course, there are conflicts of interest we have to be wary of, but let’s fix them, not get rid of it completely.
Again, the White Walkers are coming… let’s try and find a way to work with our Lannisters, who of course are far from perfect. Look, I don’t particularly love the business side of our industry, in the same way I don’t love investment bankers or real estate agents or anyone dealing in the game of capitalism, so it’s very easy to turn agents into an enemy. But knowing that we share an even greater common enemy, maybe we can iron out our differences, which we can’t if we keep saying terminate packaging and affiliates.
Anyway, it sounds like we may be past the tipping point, but I’ve been having more and more private conversations with others who are also hesitant but can’t speak freely. Feel free to forward, but please remove my email address because a lot of our peers get very angry if you’re not on the “right side.”