Nearly three months into the WGA’s standoff with Hollywood’s talent agents, WGA West president David A. Goodman says he’s “surprised” that more midsize and smaller agencies haven’t broken ranks with the Association of Talent Agents and signed the WGA’s new Code of Conduct. From the beginning, the guild has said that it intended to “divide and conquer” the agencies, but so far it has seen only limited success.
“I’ve been surprised by things both positively and negatively,” he said Tuesday on a podcast hosted by writers Javier Grillo-Marxuach and Jose Molina. “The negative surprise … I’m surprised that the non-Big Four agencies – Gersh, Paradigm, APA, Kaplan Stahler, Rothman Brecher – that those agencies have not signed on. I thought that because they rely so much on what writers make, that even though they do get some money from packaging fees, their business model isn’t built around it; it’s more built around the traditional 10% model. I thought more of them would have signed on by now.”
Asked why he thinks they haven’t, Goodman said: “I think there’s lots of reasons. I think that some of these places do benefit from packaging fees. … Also, they’re hanging together with the Big Four because there is a possibility that the guild folds. And if the guild folds, then they get to keep the status quo. And that was the strategy of the agencies, and they’re all hanging together in that way.
“I don’t know how I expected it to lay out,” he added. “I think now that it’s laid out the way it has, it makes sense for the agencies to sort of hang together in the hope that we split; in the hope that we fold, and that they can keep the status quo. I think, though, that we have opened up some really important questions, and in some ways there’s no going back on certain issues about what packaging is – that a packaging fee shouldn’t be a given for an agency.”
Goodman continued: “I think that the smaller agencies – the mid-level and smaller agencies – have to sort of recognize that their business is working for writers and that at some point, as development season gets going, they’re not gonna want to miss that too. Their business models rely on that money. So that’s really more where I am, which is as long as it’s taken for those agencies to split off, I think at some point they have to just to maintain their businesses.”
On the positive side, Goodman said he was surprised how well staffing season was pulled off through members helping other members to find jobs. “Staffing season happened – most of the stories I’ve that heard from writers; I’ve heard a couple of negative stories – and again, it’s all anecdotal. Most of the stories I’ve heard were extremely positive. That both from people staffing the shows and showrunners, and studio execs and network execs, who all said, ‘Yeah, we all had to do a little more work, but our shows got staffed and we’re really happy about how they got staffed.’ And new writers feeling that they got more opportunity. … That was amazing to me.”
He said it was “a great moment in leadership” to see members “take up the leadership mantle – not waiting for permission, not waiting for marching orders. They recognized the need and they stepped in and took care of other writers. That was just so exciting to be because it shows us how meaningful being part of the union is to so many people.”
Asked if there is a compromise to be reached, the WGA West president said: “If the agencies came up with some kind of compromise that aligned their interests with ours, we’re absolutely open to it. The problem is that the agencies were not in a place where they really wanted to make a deal. Their strategy, up to this moment, and it’s still they’re strategy, is to try to get the guild membership to say to its leadership, ‘Stop this! Stop this fight! You’re hurting us. You’re never gonna win.’ And so that’s their strategy. And it’s a good strategy. You know, the guild, over the years, has had successes, and it’s also had a history of folding. Both of those things are true. So that was a smart strategy on their part. Our strategy, which I think is also working, is by reminding our members that agents are supposed to work for us. They should make more when we make more. And we’ve got to figure out a way to realign their interests with ours.
“So whatever that compromise is that you’re talking about – whatever that endgame is – there has to be a serious addressing of that problem.”
To date, Verve is the only midsize agency to sign the guild’s Code, but Verve is not an ATA member. Abrams Artists Agency, which is an ATA member, had expressed interest in signing a modified version of the Code but was unable to reach an agreement with the guild Tuesday. “We remain ready to discuss any specific concerns Abrams – or any other agency – has with our current proposal and continue to seek a negotiated solution with each agency,” the guild’s negotiating committee said today.