UPDATED with more details: Negotiators for the WGA and the Association of Talent Agents met Friday in an attempt to end their eight-week standoff. In a message to the members, sent shortly after the meeting ended, the guild updated them on the proceedings.
“This morning the Negotiating Committee received proposals from the ATA,” the WGA said in the message. “Although there was cause for concern, including a revenue sharing proposal that instead of 1% is now 2%, the presentation was wide ranging and complex. We have asked for contract language on their proposals in order to formulate the appropriate response. As we’ve stated, whatever solution we find, it will have to address conflicts of interest and realign agency incentives with those of their writer clients.”
According to a senior agency leader who spoke before today’s meeting, ATA’s revenue sharing offer was actually 2.5 times their original one, presented at the last negotiation session before talks broke off. A substantial part of the money is intended to go to young and emerging writers on profitable shows – writers who have not historically able to share in profits.
According to the agency official, the ATA’s proposals for a new five-year deal also included greater transparency with regard to their affiliated production entities, including a guarantee that their clients’ scripts will be shopped competitively to determine their true value in the marketplace. Like packaging fees, agency affiliations with production companies through shared corporate parents has been a major sticking point in the negotiations.
The proposals also includes a $6 million inclusion fund that the agencies would establish to help bring more employment to historically underrepresented writers. The ATA’s proposals would also establish a reasonable, efficient and fair arbitration process – another bone of contention between the parties.
The meeting, which was held at the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills, started at 10:30 AM PT. ATA executive director Karen Stuart spoke briefly, and then Bryan Lourd, managing director and co-chair of CAA, read a statement, leading to the unveiling to the new proposal. (you can read it here). According to a source, WME also made a presentation about how the agency is a completely different company than Endeavor Content, and told the guild that “If a WME client works for Endeavor Content, WME would not be their boss.”
We hear 11 of the 26 members of the WGA negotiating committee attended the meeting, with one of them, Meredith Stiehm, leaving immediately after the proposal was read.
After a two-hour break, we hear the guild’s negotiators returned two hours later, at which time David Young, the WGA’s chief negotiator, told agents the guild would get back to them next week.
According to a senior agency source, the guild’s negotiators didn’t ask a single question about the ATA’s proposals except inquiring whether the ATA had a red-line agreement.
Agency sources saw hopeful signs in the tone of WGA’s message to members, which was released after the meeting today. “We are encouraged by part of their statement, but I’ll be really encouraged when we actually hear them speak,” one highly placed source said. “That’s when I’ll get encouraged.”
Today’s meeting was the first since talks broke off April 12, after which the guild ordered all of its members to fire their agents who refuse to sign its new Agency Code of Conduct. The resumption of talks was prompted by a May 22 overture from UTA co-president Jay Sures to WGA West president David A. Goodman, a former UTA client.
“If this dispute is truly about addressing packaging and affiliate production, then we are ready to get back to the table with you,” Sures told Goodman via email. “We are open to concepts of true revenue sharing and have already committed to requirements of explicit client consent and overall transparency and accountability.”
Goodman promptly accepted. “Thank you for your offer to meet, which I accept on behalf of the WGA,” he told Sures later that day. “I do want to make clear that we responded on April 12th to your most recent proposal. We continue to believe that there is a deal to be made that aligns agency interests with those of writers. We look forward to hearing what you have to say.”
Negotiations for a new deal began February 5, but the guild has said all along that there is no room for compromise on its key demands. “There are negotiations where there is no middle ground, where there are basic principles that are not subject to compromise,” Goodman said at a February 13 membership meeting.
The WGA filed suit against the Big 4 agencies – CAA, WME, UTA and ICM Partners – on April 17, accusing them of violating state and federal laws by taking packaging fees on TV shows they packaged. The longstanding practice, the guild’s suit claimed, “Constitute unlawful kickbacks from an employer” in violation of the Taft-Hartley Act, which makes it unlawful for employers “to pay, lend, or deliver, or agree to pay, lend, or deliver, any money or other thing of value … to any representative of any of his employees who are employed in an industry affecting commerce.”
“We don’t want to be in litigation,” a senior agency official told reporters this afternoon. “We want to make a deal. But if our hands are forced, we will do what we have to do to protect our businesses.”