Inside the Final WGA-ATA Meeting Before Breakdown As Balance Of Power Shifts To Rank-And-File Writers


For those who were hoping for a miracle bargaining session between the WGA and ATA this afternoon that would break the stalemate between the two sides over the new Agency Code of Conduct before the midnight deadline, there was no miracle, and there was not much of a bargaining session either.

I hear that, right off the bat, the leaders of the WGA negotiating committee told the agency representatives that they were rejecting ATA’s latest proposal, introduced yesterday, which included the agencies sharing a percentage of their packaging fees with the writers. (In the WGA’s lengthy statement after negotiations broke down today, the guild said that the proposal  was for just .8% of agencies’ backend”.) The WGA did not offer a counter proposal.

The sit-down was well attended on both sides by the top negotiators as well WGA and ATA’s legal teams. I hear that included WGA West President David A. Goodman, Executive Director David Young, David Shore, Michelle Mulroney, Mike Schur, Travon Free, Marjorie David and Deric A. Hughes on the guild side, and ATA executive director Karen Stuart, WME’s Rick Rosen and Ari Greenberg, CAA’s Bryan Lourd, UTA’s Jay Sures, ICM Partners’ Chris Silbermann, Kaplan-Stahler’s Elliot Stahler and APA’s Jim Gosnell, who serves as ATA President, on the agencies’ side.

The agents reportedly suggested staying in the room to try and negotiate a compromise until the clock ran out but the writers responded that the two sides were so far apart, bridging the gap in a few hours after little progress over the past few months was not feasible. In Young’s statement after the end of the meeting, he detailed where both sides are currently on all main issues, noting that indie features was the only area where they made progress in their talks.

Said Stuart in ATA’s statement after the meeting, “the WGA leadership today declared a pathway for compromise doesn’t exist.”

I hear only five people spoke at the meeting, three on the ATA side and two for the WGA. There were contentious exchanges triggered by some rhetoric on the part of the guild, mostly Young, who repeated some accusations of agency collusion from guild statements made earlier in the negotiations, along with evoking again the RICO Act and referring to agencies as “the Mafia”.

Immediately after the brief, hour-and-a-half-hour meeting was adjourned, the WGA informed its members that there had been no settlement and, since the membership had approved a new Agency Code of Conduct banning agency packaging and involvement in producing, the guild called upon its members to fire agencies that would not sign it. That is the vast majority of Hollywood talent agencies, including all of the majors.

Thus the tug of war between the WGA and ATA once again shifts to WGA members after their overwhelming vote for the new Code of Conduct gave the guild leverage in the negotiations last month. This time, the number of WGA’s 13,000 members who dismiss their agent would determine who has the upper hand. The WGA need the majority of its troops to sever ties with their agents to be able to continue its campaign against the agencies on packaging and producing from a position of strength.

If a significant number of writers do not follow through and stay with their agents, that would shift the balance of power to the agencies.

Privately, most writers have said that they would support the guild and would fire their agents even if they like them though a few had indicated they may not proceed with that.

The talks between WGA and ATA broke off in late afternoon when WGA members received the order to server ties with their agency if it had not signed the new Code of Conduct. By end of work day Friday, I hear there were a small number of terminations, about a couple of dozen or so, at each of the major agencies. That number if expected to grow significantly; the question is how much.

In a expression of solidarity, writers have been tweeting all evening their signed form letters, provided by the WGA, with which they let go of their agents. (The guild said today that it would forward the emails en masse to the appropriate agencies “in a few days”.) There have been some well known names among then, including top showrunners Steven DeKnight, Tim Doyle, Alexi Hawley, Danny Zucker and Chrissy Pietrosh as well as actor/writers Patton Oswalt and Jon Cryer.

By 11 PM PT, #IStandWithTheWGA was a Top 10 trending toping worldwide on Twitter.

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