UPDATED with WGA and ATA responses: Verve has signed the WGA’s new Code of Conduct, the biggest win yet in the guild’s campaign to “divide and conquer” the agency business. Verve is not a member of the Association of Talent Agents, but its signing makes it the biggest lit agency to sign the code so far.
It also allows hundreds of Verve’s clients who fired their agents last month to return to the agency; at last count, more than 7,000 writers have fired their agents who have refused to sign. The signing announced Thursdsay also opens the door to other mid-level agencies to follow suit. Sources say several other mid-sized agencies have been in talks with the guild, including at least one that is a member of the ATA.
The WGA said tonight that it is “pleased” with the Verve signing, although it must be ecstatic. “We were pleased to sign an agreement today with Verve,” it said in a statement. “Verve has agreed to put their clients first and to abide by their fiduciary duty and follow the law. This is a good agreement for both writers and their agents. We look forward to reaching agreement with other agencies as soon as possible.”
Verve’s signing makes it the 70th agency to sign the code, only one of which, Pantheon, is an ATA member. Even so, that just a fraction of the 234 agencies that had been franchised by the guild before it implemented its new code. So far, the ATA’s other 112 member agencies – including the Big 4 packaging agencies – have refused to sign.
“The WGA leadership has put writers and agents alike in an untenable position,” the ATA said in a statement after the Verve news broke. “It is disappointing but not surprising that some of the most vulnerable agencies may reluctantly be forced to sign an onerous agreement. While Verve is not an ATA member agency, their decision to sign the WGA’s Code will ultimately harm their business and the artists they represent on many levels. With 30 days now passed since the agencies provided the Guild’s Negotiating Committee with numerous counter proposals, we’re still waiting for them to respond or return to the negotiating table.”
In signing the code, Verve’s partners told staff Thursday that they will not be signing any new clients “who seek temporary representation and intend to return to their previous agency when a deal is made between the WGA and the ATA.”
In a communique to staff, Verve’s partners said that “In 2010, Verve established itself as an agency where clients’ interests are the top priority. Today, we affirm that commitment by signing the WGA Code of Conduct. As a result of our meaningful dialogue with our clients and their elected leadership, Verve has decided this course of action is in the best interest of our clients and our company.
“Although there will be modifications to our business practices that are necessitated by today’s decision, one thing that will not change is our commitment to providing long-term, premium service to our clients.
“Verve provides a customized experience for each client and we refuse to dilute our efforts. As a result, we will not take on writers who seek temporary representation and intend to return to their previous agency when a deal is made between the WGA and the ATA.
“We are proud that our agency continues to forge its own path forward, but we are even more excited to see the spotlight returned to where it belongs – on our creators.
“A note of gratitude to you, our teammates. You have shown resilience and compassion during these challenging times, and that gives us tremendous faith in our collective ability to shine in the future.”
The statement was signed by partners Bill Weinstein, Adam Levine, Bryan Besser, Amy Retzinger, Adam Weinstein and David Boxerbaum.
The partners also told staff that “Outside of packaging, business will remain relatively unchanged” by signing the code.
“We do not own an affiliate production company and we’ve never taken outside investment in our agency. The Code requires our agency to share more documentation with the WGA than in the past. Much of the Code is focused on a push for transparency. We already pride ourselves on transparency in our communication with colleagues, clients and the community.”
In signing the code, they also said that they agreed “to the two most critical components – no tv packaging and no affiliate owned production. There were modifications made to clarify the intentions of some of the language that was either confusing or overly broad. Requirements for sharing documents with WGA were adjusted to be in-line with our business practices. We also agreed to a ‘Most Favored Nations’ clause – whatever the WGA-ATA ultimately agree upon, Verve will play by those rules.”
Meanwhile, David Gersh, co-president of The Gersh Agency, denied rumors his company might be next to sign. “The agency has not engaged in any conversations with the WGA and continues to be represented by the ATA,” he told Deadline. Sources there said the agency will not sign the code as currently constituted.