Adam Bold, chairman of the Abrams Artists Agency, wasn’t able to make a deal last week with the Writers Guild of America, but he says he’s still willing to talk to the guild about a compromise that would address both sides’ concerns and put his agents and writer-clients back to work.
“I’m still brainstorming on solutions,” he told Deadline.
Bold previously agreed to the guild’s two main demands – a ban on packaging fees and agency affiliations with related production entities – but failed to come to terms with WGA executive director David Young on a host of secondary issues the guild has been demanding.
Bold wouldn’t sign the deal that the Verve agency signed with the WGA in May, that is now the guild’s standard offer to all the agencies. It replaces the old Artists’ Manager Basic Agreement with the Association of Talent Agents, which until this year hadn’t been renegotiated since 1976.
The Verge agreement includes:
• A ban on packaging fees and agency-affiliated production companies.
• Requires agency to provide writers’ contracts, invoices and deal memos to the WGA and allows auditing.
• Requires agency to enforce Guild contracts and advocate for writers’ best interests re: free work, late pay, abusive hiring practices, etc.
• Allows agency to accept fees for feature film financing and sales services, subject to disclosure and writer approval, for films with less than $20 million budget, and with Guild consent for films with budgets higher than $20 million.
• Contains a streamlined arbitration agreement.
• Requires agency to provide an annual report on its diversity and inclusion efforts.
• Contains a most favored nations’ clause if another agency reaches terms with the Guild more favorable than in this agreement.
Bold told Deadline he’s now willing to talk to Young about all of those issues. Asked if he’d be willing to provide writers’ contracts, invoices and deal memos to the WGA and allow auditing, he said: “Absolutely, unless it is in direct conflict with a client’s specific instructions.”
Asked if Abrams Artists would agree to enforce guild contracts and advocate for writers’ best interests re: free work, late pay and abusive hiring practices, he said: “We do that anyway.”
As for the guild’s demand for streamlined arbitrations, he said: “If that’s the last deal-breaker, I’m willing to talk to them about it.”
He also said that his agency is already committed to diversity and inclusion, and wouldn’t have any problem making an annual report to the guild on this issue either.
“Maybe I’ll wait a few days and maybe I’ll call him or he’ll call me,” Bold said. “I urge him to look at what I propose, and if they have small changes, I’ll look at that too. “I’m trying to find a tolerable work-around until the bigger issues are resolved.”
One thing he doesn’t want to do, he said, is hurt the ATA, and if Abrams Artists were to sign a modified agreement with the guild, it would be the first mid-tier ATA agency to do so. Verve is not an ATA member.
“The WGA has put us in the position that if we sign their Code of Conduct, we would not be part of the ATA,” he said. “But the ATA does a really good job for us and provides services for us and our clients. The ATA does a lot of good stuff. They settle disputes among the members; they help with contractual and labor issues, and they stay on top of state and federal regulations and are advocates for our industry. The purpose of a trade association is to do collectively what each of us might not be able to do individually.”
Bold reached out to Deadline after reading about WGA West president David A. Goodman’s comments on a recent podcast in which Goodman said he’s “surprised” that more agencies haven’t broken ranks with the ATA and signed the guild’s Code of Conduct.
“I’ve been surprised by things both positively and negatively,” Goodman said about the nearly three-month stalemate between the guild and the agencies. “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.”
Bold, however, said “I’m not surprised that other agencies haven’t broken ranks, because quite honestly, we’d have to give up our whole trade association over this. It’s like if your kid is at a really good school but you don’t like the lunch there, you have to go to a whole new school. We’d have to give up all the great things the ATA does for us.”
“I want them to consider the proposal that I made to them, and for the interim, to somehow make that work for them,” he said. “I would be willing to say this is a two-year deal, until a new industry-wide agreement can be reached. This would be a temporary work-around. “I’ll talk to them about any of this. But I can’t sign their contract because it has too many moving pieces.”
Bold and Young spoke on the phone last Tuesday for about 20 minutes, but couldn’t come to a deal. Afterwards, Bold said that he was “disappointed, sad and perplexed” that they couldn’t come to terms. “I thought that I had a reasonable and fair workaround for our clients and staff to earn a living until they work out those bigger issues,” he said after talking to Young. “We simply took the agreement that had been in place for 42 years and made an addendum removing the most contentious and egregious issues.”
Young, in an email to Bold later that evening, explained why the guild could not agree to his terms. “I appreciate your effort but I hope you understand that we cannot agree to what you are proposing,” Young wrote. “There are many reasons, but a fundamental one is that we’ve now negotiated a whole, new AMBA with many terms that are better than the old agreement. We opened the contract after 43 years because writers don’t like it. We cannot make an interim deal that takes us back where we were in 1976.
“Another thing I want you to know is that we’ve currently signed 73 agencies to the new agreement; there are 27 remaining AMBA signatories with whom we have not reached a new deal, including Abrams. Under the favored nations terms of our agreements with the 73, if I go backward and make a deal with you that has lesser terms than the deals we’ve made with the signed agencies, the WGA will have to give your deal to all 73! You can see that we’d never do that. We’re in a three month struggle to get a deal that supersedes the 1976 AMBA, not one that uses it as a benchmark. The agreement that I sent to you incorporates many changes from the original Code of Conduct of a few months ago, the result of negotiating discussions over the months with both the ATA and many individual agencies that have already signed. If you want to get on the phone to discuss this, let me know.”
“I have compassion and understanding about their concerns – especially packaging,” Bold told Deadline. “It’s not that packaging is bad, it’s just that there’s been little transparency; you don’t know who’ s in the package or how much everyone’s getting. An agency could make more than all the artists in the package. That creates an environment for a potential conflict of interest all the way to where it is a flat out conflict of interest.
“At the mid-tier agencies, we were almost in the same boats with those clients.
Ninety-seven percent of packaging is initiated by the Big 4 agencies, and if one of our clients was a packageable element of the big agency’s packages, maybe they would let us have a little piece. But because we didn’t know the details either, that situation gave me an understanding of the emotion that goes behind the WGA’s concern for their writers.”
“But I don’t think the WGA has a good understanding of what it’s like to be us – the mid-sized agencies,” he said.