There have been “tense moments” during negotiations for a new WGA/ATA franchise agreement, and some of those moments have been among the agencies themselves, according to writer-producer Travon Free, a member of the guild’s negotiating committee.
“There’s been some tense moments,” he said on Larry Wilmore’s latest Black on the Air podcast. “There’s been some moments where they’ve not even really been in agreement with each other.” (Listen to full podcast below).
“The agents themselves – the agencies?” asked Wilmore, a former WGA West board member.
“Yeah,” Free said. “Right. So it’s been interesting to see how they take our proposals and amongst themselves, like come to an agreement. And the last meeting we had, literally nothing came out of it.”
That last meeting was held on March 27, and no progress was made on the two key issues: agency packaging fees and agency ties to corporately affiliated production entities – both of which the guild says are conflicts of interest. After that meeting, the ATA accused the WGA of threatening to throw “our industry into chaos,” while the guild said that “The agencies ignored everything we presented.”
The two sides are expected to meet again sometime this week, but no date has been set. Their current agreement expires on April 6, after which thousands of writers could be asked to fire their agents – all on the same day – until a new agreement is reached.
“Now this works for people who were going to fire their agents anyway,” Wilmore joked.
“Perfect way out,” Free laughed. “Perfect way out.”
The podcast was taped Sunday morning, just before it was announced that WGA members had voted overwhelmingly – 95.3% to 4.7% – to approve a new Code of Conduct that agents will have to sign if they want to represent WGA members if no deal is reached with the ATA. More than 100 ATA member agencies have said they won’t sign, including all of the major agencies.
Asked if he thinks there’s going to be an agreement, Free said that if the vote is high enough – and it couldn’t have been much higher – “It’ll move the agencies to come closer to making an agreement. I would love for us to not have people firing their agents, but if it comes to that, I honestly don’t know how long the agencies will hold out. I don’t know what their strategy would be.”
Writers, he said, will make it through this. The guild has taken steps to help showrunners connect with writers through a new Script Submission System, and has temporarily deputized writers’ managers and lawyers to fill in as agents – even though they’re not allowed under state law to procure employment. Many writers, Free noted, don’t even have agents, and like many who do, get their own jobs through friends and professional contacts.
“You think it’s possible for a future without talent agents?” Wilmore asked.
“I think it’s possible. I don’t think for everyone. I think it is a possibility,” Free said a bit skittishly. “It’s one of the options. I mean, it’s gonna be the thing that if we don’t have them, it does fall on us. And then if left to prove that we can be resilient in that way and gain employment with the help of friends, managers and lawyers, then that’s a risk they (agents) have to be willing to take. It would shift their entire business if literary clients, somehow on the whole, or to a certain percentage, found work without them.”
He’s still hopeful, however, that a deal can be reached. “Ideally, you don’t want – you would like to restructure the contract, the deal, and get it to the point where everybody’s happy and we can continue our relationships with our agents, because they do do good work for us. There’s definitely things we don’t deal with because they deal with it. We get our above-minimum salary because of how they negotiate. But for too long, I think it’s been not moving enough, not going in the right direction. And part of that is trying to resolve what looks like a conflict of interest in terms of how they negotiate our salaries, especially since packaging has morphed over the last 40 years.”
The current agreement, called the Artists’ Manager Basic Agreement, hasn’t been renegotiated since 1976.
Listen to the full podcast here: