WGA Election: Shawn Ryan Questions Phyllis Nagy & Her Slate’s Goals & Strategies; Nagy & Craig Mazin Respond

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UPDATED with Nagy’s response and Ryan’s update: The WGA election debate has kicked off with a fiery exchange among a trio of prominent writers — top showrunner and former WGA Negotiating Committee member Shawn Ryan, Chernobyl creator and former Negotiating Committee member Craig Mazin and Carol screenwriter Phyllis Nagy.

Nagy and Mazin are running for WGA West President and Vice President, respectively, on a platform calling for a strategy shift in the guild’s negotiation with the Association of Talent Agents. Their position was endorsed on Friday by more than 300 prominent film and TV writers, including a slew of A-list showrunners.

Ryan, known for his vocal support of the current WGA strategy toward agencies and his efforts to help up-and-coming scribes find jobs without agents, was not among those who signed the open letter in support of Nagy, Mazin and secretary-treasurer candidate Nick Jones Jr. Instead, over the weekend he sent out an email to a number of fellow WGA members raising questions “about what Ms. Nagy and her allies’ stated goals and strategies seem to be” based on their official “Why I’m Running” statements. (Ryan has subsequently updated his letter)

Ryan called their mind-set “dangerously naïve in terms of actual negotiations.” If elected, Nagy “will enter a negotiating room with the ATA and she will be nice, respectful and polite,” Ryan wrote, arguing that the ATA would not give an inch of ground away, forcing “Ms. Nagy to agree to a deal on their terms rather than on the WGA’s.”

And if Nagy and her team are not naive, “I can’t be sure, but I fear that she and her slatemates are laying the groundwork for going back to the agents quickly, regardless of what needs to be conceded in order to do so,” Ryan wrote.

To avoid ambiguity, speculation and wrong conclusions, Ryan urged Nagy and her slatemates to immediately and clearly answer three main questions:

“1) Are packaging fees and affiliate production the issues that you describe as “agency abuse” and must a deal with the agencies eliminate or greatly curtail them or are you willing to strike a deal on behalf of the WGA that leaves both these practices largely intact?

2) If your promised “measured, calm, respected, reasonable — and yes — negotiated — path” doesn’t lead to quick, meaningful gains with the ATA are you willing to change your tactics or will you just strike the only deal available to you at that time in order to have writers return to their agents.

3) A large part of your rationale for running was that current leadership wasn’t negotiating and that the most vulnerable members of the Guild were suffering as a result of the ATA action. Considering that the Guild in the past week just made deals with two ATA signatories, Kaplan-Stahler and Buchwald, as well as a new agency comprised of departing Abrams agents, along with a new Guild report that shows that absent agents, television shows were fully staffed and hiring of women and diverse writers increased (albeit marginally) from last year to this year… does this change your calculus for running or does current leadership deserve any praise for these developments?”

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In a lengthy and equally passionate and at times charged response posted Monday along with Ryan’s letter, Mazin addressed those questions and more, while Nagy posted a separate response.

“I have no intention to be nicer to the agencies,” Mazin wrote. “I have no intention to remove the threat of lawsuits or stand down on the legal actions we have taken, and I would not support doing so in any way, shape or form. Those must stay in place until such time as we do bring an acceptable resolution to the membership. If we cannot achieve that, then those legal actions should remain until their inevitable conclusion in a court of law.” (The same position was stated Saturday by WGAW board member Marc Guggenheim, running on the same platform.)

Mazin later added that “our current strategy is the default strategy. If we can’t get a good solution via compromise, then we stay the course.”

He is somewhat flexible on packaging fees. “Either we bend packaging fees to serve ‘you make more when we make more’ on behalf of our rank-and-file, or we stay away until the courts render a verdict,” Mazin wrote.

But there is also zero flexibility on agency-affiliated production. “In terms of affiliate production, I want to destroy it,” he wrote.

In that context, Mazin was critical of the WGA’s current strategy to empower managers to take over dealmaking from agents, drawing parallels between management companies’ producing activities and agency-affiliated production.

“I do not think they are the solution… and it legitimately shocked me that our Guild suggested to membership that this was a good alternative for career management during this union action,” he wrote. “After all, managers don’t just advertise that they can and will produce our work… they do it without even the fig leaf of a fictitious legal wall between their representation and production sides. If we are disgusted by agents being our producers with minimal restrictions, what possible logic justifies celebrating managers for openly doing the very same thing without any restriction at all?”

As for the WGA’s recent franchise agreements with mid-sized agencies like Kaplan-Stahler, Buchwald and Verve as a possible sign the guild’s current strategy is working, I believe severing permanently from the Big Four will come with collective costs to writers,” Mazin said. “They will continue packaging on behalf of their directors, actors and NWPs. This will pose a threat to our hegemony in television. I’ve already heard horror stories of showrunners being placed under the thumbs of NWPs and directors.”

He also questioned the recently published WGA report touting a 1% increase in hires of female/diversity writers on shows as incomplete, based on 60% reporting and wondered whether the rise wouldn’t have been bigger if agents were involved.

In her response, Nagy referenced indirectly Ryan’s “naive” comment.

“In refusing to negotiate with the ATA, current leadership has effectively refused to negotiate with the Big 4. Stalemate. That benefits no one,” she wrote. “It’s naive to think otherwise.”

Nagy focused on addressing Ryan’s “broad assumptions and speculation you make about my character and approach to negotiation.”

“I have nowhere said that I would seek to drop lawsuits or be ‘nice’ to agencies,” she wrote. “You mistake civility for weakness, and a desire to find a solution to the stalemate we’re in for a lack of fire in the belly or a desire to fight. You use words like ‘respectful,’ ‘polite,’ and ‘nice’ as if they’re the Ebola virus. And that scares the hell out of me.”

“But like I said, you don’t know me. If you did, you’d know that I am the fighter you seem to seek. I’m honest. I’m tough. I’m aggressive. I don’t give up. Yeah, I’m civil. I don’t have a loud voice and I don’t scream my way through debates — and none of that should strike you as a disadvantage or cause you to be fearful on behalf of our fellow Guild members. There’s always more than one way to win a fight.”

She also answered Ryan’s three questions. Here are two excerpts:

“Leadership that’s inflexible on tactics loses. Every single time. You win this by being nimble enough to change course when necessary.Period.”

“A few agreements with non-packaging and non-affiliate production-owning agencies in nearly four months are not significant progress.”

Following a chance encounter with Mazin, which the Chernobyl writer also is referring to in his response, Ryan added an UPDATE to his open letter on his FB page, which, among other things, states, “To be clear I’m not impugning the intelligence of either Craig or Phyllis, but questioning the wisdom of the approach Phyllis appears to espouse in her comments in the trades.”

Here are the three letters and Ryan’s update. All are an eloquent and engaging read, which is not surprising given Ryan, Mazin and Nagy’s writing pedigree.

Ryan’s email:

Dear Friends and Fellow Writers: Other than answering occasional direct questions from other writers about the ongoing WGA-ATA struggle, I have remained publicly silent on the issue until now. After serving on four consecutive WGA Negotiating Committees, starting in 2007, I enjoyed the bliss of being out of the day-to-day fray of this one. Every previous Negotiating Committee I served on would be the recipient of some writer criticism of our tactics or goals. This is the inevitable result of serving an educated, opinionated membership and while I often disagreed with the criticism I was never offended or bothered by it.

This is one of the many reasons I’m thrilled that multiple people with differing viewpoints have chosen to run for officer and board positions in the WGA this year. It has always disturbed me when we have had elections with officer candidates running unopposed. I welcome respectful dissent and clear choices for membership to vote on.

Additionally, I know that every WGA member’s opinion matters, but I often value the opinions more of those who are actually willing to donate their time to the Guild by being on a committee, running for office or acting as a Captain. These people have volunteered their time and worked to educate themselves on the issues in more than just a surface way. So, I want to begin by thanking our newest candidates, Phyllis Nagy and her slatemates for running. They are putting their money where their mouths are and that’s to be commended.

With all that said, and in light of recent statements by Ms. Nagy and her allies, as well as the letter of support made public yesterday and signed by 300 some members (including some friends of mine who are receiving this email), I do feel compelled to share some thoughts and raise some questions about what Ms. Nagy and her allies’ stated goals and strategies seem to be.

I want to preface this by saying that I am not privy to the entirety of the statements that Ms. Nagy has made on the discord group, of which I am not a member. I am going only by the quotes released in the trades and Deadline about what she would do if elected President.

As best I can sum up it goes something like this: She thinks the previous regime has identified serious problems with agencies (presumably in the areas of packaging fees, affiliate production and transparency) but have gone about it the wrong way to make a deal. She’s going to be nicer to the agencies (including removing the threat of a lawsuit and the discovery that goes with it), immediately negotiate with them and arrive at a result that addresses those issues and will be beneficial to all writers. I say this now as someone who has been part of four Negotiating Committees encompassing months of high level negotiations with the best lawyers in town — I truly wish we lived in a world where that was possible. But this mindset strikes me as dangerously naïve in terms of actual negotiations.

Here is what I promise you will happen in Mid-September should Ms. Nagy be elected. She will enter a negotiating room with the ATA and she will be nice, respectful and polite and she will say “Now that the radicals are out of the room let’s get a deal done and do something about packaging fees, affiliate production and transparency.” And Karen Stuart will smile right back at her and say “We very much look forward to ending this unpleasantness, but as it relates to packaging fees, affiliate production and transparency, we hold to our positions.” And, without increased pressure bearing down on them, they will continue to hold to their positions for the weeks or months necessary for Ms. Nagy to agree to a deal on their terms rather than on the WGA’s.

My experience makes this result obvious to me, which then made me wonder what the consequences would be of electing someone so dangerously naïve about negotiations to be our Guild’s leader heading into the 2020 AMPTP Negotiations. The idea scared the hell out of me.

But then I had a second thought. I questioned myself. Could people as smart as Phyllis Nagy and Craig Mazin really be so naïve about negotiation strategies and reality? And I decided then they probably couldn’t be. So what then explains Ms. Nagy’s statements and beliefs? I can’t be sure, but I fear that she and her slatemates are laying the groundwork for going back to the agents quickly, regardless of what needs to be conceded in order to do so. I can’t find any other rational argument besides this one.

If that is their intention, that they just don’t want this fight and they just want a do-over and desire to return to their agents whatever it takes, then they should say so plainly and let the membership vote on that. But to appeal to membership with a plan that is doomed to fail (if they even believe in the plan) seems disingenuous to me (or as I said previously, dangerously naïve).

Ms. Nagy should provide the transparency that she demands from others. These are questions that she should make her answers clear on shortly:

1) Are packaging fees and affiliate production the issues that you describe as “agency abuse” and must a deal with the agencies eliminate or greatly curtail them or are you willing to strike a deal on behalf of the WGA that leaves both these practices largely intact?

2) If your promised “measured, calm, respected, reasonable — and yes — negotiated — path” doesn’t lead to quick, meaningful gains with the ATA are you willing to change your tactics or will you just strike the only deal available to you at that time in order to have writers return to their agents.

3) A large part of your rationale for running was that current leadership wasn’t negotiating and that the most vulnerable members of the Guild were suffering as a result of the ATA action. Considering that the Guild in the past week just made deals with two ATA signatories, Kaplan-Stahler and Buchwald, as well as a new agency comprised of departing Abrams agents, along with a new Guild report that shows that absent agents, television shows were fully staffed and hiring of women and diverse writers increased (albeit marginally) from last year to this year… does this change your calculus for running or does current leadership deserve any praise for these developments?

I adore personally and respect professionally a number of writers who signed the statement of support for Ms. Nagy and her allies. But I can’t get there without hearing a lot more from the candidates about the issues I’ve outlined, and I encourage all of you to withhold support from them until more is known. Without learning more about their goals and tactics, I’m just not ready yet to abandon the approach that earned us jurisdiction of the internet, robust health and pension funds, span protections and much more over the last eleven years.

I’ll close with an anecdote. In 2003, after the second season of The Shield ended and my deal was up, I engaged in a negotiation to return to the show. I badly wanted to go back but I also wanted to be compensated fairly for the success of the show. Negotiations dragged and things got rough. I met with rival studios while my studio and network openly leaked that they were considering other showrunners to replace me. Ultimately, a deal was arrived at. Just before closing it I shared a concern with my lawyer. I was worried, I told him, about whether the folks at the studio and network were going to hate me when I went back to work, considering how rough and tumble the negotiations had gotten. He laughed and told me it was counterintuitive, but he said he’d seen it a hundred times… The harder you negotiated and the better a deal you got, the more they ended up respecting you. He turned out to be right then and it’s the right advice now. As writers we want to be respected. Let’s earn that respect.

I look forward to hearing more from all the officer and board candidates in the coming weeks and exchanging thoughts and ideas with all of you so that we can arrive at a place that truly does benefit writers and the Guild.

Shawn Ryan

Mazin’s response:

Dear Shawn:

It was great seeing you last night, and I’m glad I had a chance to address this with you face to face. As promised, here’s some of the answers you seek. I hope this leads you to reconsider some of what you’ve suggested in your email, which I think mischaracterizes my positions and intentions.

First, thank you for all of your service… and I completely agree that the mere fact of volunteering for my guild shouldn’t shield me from criticism. We’re supposed to challenge our leaders (or potential leaders) and stress-test their ideas through debate and discussion. I won’t lie… it hurts to be called a “scab” or a “traitor” for the crime of answering the Guild’s enthusiastic call for candidates for office. Then again, I know it comes with the territory, and I know you’ve been there too. You and I discussed that it’s frustrating when you’re doing your best to help writers and some of them are dead set on kicking you in the shins for it. I hope that maybe this exchange demonstrates that for most of us, disagreement is something we can still relay in the spirit of mutual respect. You’re one of our best and brightest, I think the world of you, and any disagreement we have about Guild politics isn’t going to ever change that.

I hold the old-fashioned Pollyanna view that everyone who runs and serves the union does so because they want the best for writers. I’ve worked and served on the Board or committees with John Wells, Patric Verrone, David Goodman, Dan Petrie, Elias Davis…. (a lot of white guys there, something this white guy would like to see us keep pushing beyond, btw) and while they were often in total opposition to each other in terms of strategy, I never questioned for even a second that their purpose was pure: to improve the lives and working conditions of the rank-and-file membership of our union.

So let’s get into your questions, concerns and suspicions. First, you mentioned the Discord group. I can’t really respond to that, because I’m not on it, and I’ve never been part of it. I’m not part of the Facebook stuff either. And I plan on taking a nice long Twitter vacation as well.

You wrote of Phyllis: “She’s going to be nicer to the agencies (including removing the threat of a lawsuit and the discovery that goes with it)…

You’ve absolutely gotten that wrong. That is not her intention or plan. I’m sure she will have her own response, so for now I will speak for myself. I have no intention to be nicer to the agencies. I have no intention to remove the threat of lawsuits or stand down on the legal actions we have taken, and I would not support doing so in any way, shape or form. Those must stay in place until such time as we do bring an acceptable resolution to the membership. If we cannot achieve that, then those legal actions should remain until their inevitable conclusion in a court of law.

You and I have both served on a Negotiating Committee (well, you’ve served on a LOT of them). You and I both know how they generally work in regards to the AMPTP. We have a big room with a big committee. They have a big room with a big committee.

But that isn’t where the deals are made. At some point, David Young and our NegCom chairs and our President and maybe one or two key members go into a side room with some similarly small group from their side. That room is an informal one, where the real shit goes down. Eventually, both sides return back to their big rooms and say, “Okay, this is what we have agreed on in there… do you guys support it or not?”

If you want to know what I want… and how I would proceed differently than our current leadership… well, that’s a big part of it. I want us to get to that side room. We’re not going to get anywhere solely negotiating in a big formal room with the ATA representative speaking for their side. We’ve never negotiated a single agreement with the AMPTP that way, and we won’t possibly negotiate one that way with the Big Four agencies. We have yet to get into that side room. I believe the way the big room has proceeded has essentially foreclosed that possibility unless we add some new faces.

People ask me, “If elected, what would you concede to get them into the room where the sausage gets made?” Nothing. I would concede nothing. I think they’ll do it because I’m saying I would go into that room in good faith. A moment of good faith is all they deserve. If I don’t get it back, I’ll turn around and walk out.

People ask me, “But what specifically would you do in that room to get us some different conclusion? Tell us exactly! Right now! On Twitter.” Well, there’s a limit to what anyone can or should spell out in public. I’m sure when people asked that of you and Chris Keyser and Billy Ray during past negotiations with the AMPTP, your answer was some version of “Look, we can’t publicly air the kind of moves we want to make in there, but here’s what we’re aiming for, so let’s see if we can get it.”

I know that’s what Chris and Billy told me when I asked! And I understood that was prudent. But they told me what they were aiming for.

So here’s what I’m aiming for.

To me, the fundamental sin of packaging fees is, and has always been, the manner in which it disconnects agency income from writer income. Packaging fees in and of themselves are just money. The crime is the way that money disincentivizes agents from negotiating as aggressively as they can for their clients. For us.

If there is a way to reform the packaging fee structure so that agents were able to capture more of it based on how well they negotiated up front money for us — and in this case, I’d use the least-paid member of any project as the benchmark — then we would be foolish not to consider it. In short, if we can reform the system so that the more we get paid, the more they get paid, it would be a restoration of the principle that I personally find essential. Without that being restored, I do not see a way forward to supporting any compromise solution. Similarly, I cannot support a compromise solution that primarily benefits our wealthiest. Showrunners don’t need any more money. Our rank-and-file needs to see their base pay pushed upwards from minimums.

Now, if I had a magic wand, would I prefer they sign our Code as it currently exists? Absolutely. I am on record with this. Chris Keyser, John August and I discussed this on the podcast at the beginning of this action, and I don’t think we disagreed on any single thing about these evils. Furthermore, I have been a 10% guy my entire career. Until Chernobyl (which was packaged without my consent, so I assure you… CAA has felt my rage directly on this matter), I had never had a single dime of commission refunded. My relationship with my feature agent has always been pure. The more I make, the more he makes. He got zero dollars from my employers. That fundamental arrangement is why the relationship has felt mutually beneficial and fair.

Would I love to see that apply to everyone across the board? ABSOLUTELY. Do I think the Big Four are going to do that? No. I think they make SO much money off this odious practice, it will make more sense for them to preserve that system via directors and actors and earn nothing from us, vs. bringing us back at 10%… because directors and actors would likely want that in turn, and the beloved packaging money would disappear entirely. It sure would explain a lot… like why they’ve absorbed nearly a half a year of losses we have inflicted upon them, why they haven’t seen major agent defections to create new agencies, and why even the majority of smaller ATA agencies haven’t broken away.

If that’s true, it means we could hold our breath forever, and they won’t go back to 10% across the board. Of course, we have the legal action. We could win that. It would be expensive, but it would be worth it. The problem there, as you know, is that being right isn’t the same as winning. We’ve lost major legal actions before. We filed suits and challenged the companies on free rewrites, and we lost. We legally challenged the companies on their interpretation of the 2008 contract and whether or not new internet rates applied to the library, and we lost. I wish it weren’t so, but there’s a risk-reward analysis you have to do. If we can get a victory without subjecting our existence to the whim of a judge, we should.

So that’s the lens through which I see things.

Can I guarantee that merely by being elected and getting into a side room, I or anyone else can deliver what I’m aiming for? Absolutely not. Anyone who makes that kind of promise is a liar or an idiot. Here’s what I can guarantee: I will try my damnedest. If I fail, well… we’re right back to where we are now. That strategy doesn’t go away.

People might wonder why it’s worth trying at all. We have signed some of the smaller agencies to our Code. That is commendable, but I do have a different perspective on the reality of our situation. The majority of our membership was represented by the Big Four agencies. There are literally not enough small agencies to absorb that many writers effectively, and most writers who were with those agencies have not signed with one of the new agencies. Have you? I ask that honestly. I don’t know. But even if writers do want to sign with one of the new Code signatories, well… I already heard from one writer who said he was about to sign with Verve before the union severed us from the agents… and then after Verve signed the Code, he was told that they didn’t have room for him anymore, because bigger writers had come in as clients.

And then there are the managers.

I do not think they are the solution… and it legitimately shocked me that our Guild suggested to membership that this was a good alternative for career management during this union action. After all, managers don’t just advertise that they can and will produce our work… they do it without even the fig leaf of a fictitious legal wall between their representation and production sides. If we are disgusted by agents being our producers with minimal restrictions, what possible logic justifies celebrating managers for openly doing the very same thing without any restriction at all?

Which brings me to affiliate production. I hate the idea of writers working for representatives. Hate it. Haaaate it. I’ve never done anything with them. I’ve never even had a conversation with them. Nor will I ever. My goal on that front is basically to eliminate them. I have to tell you… on this issue, I don’t think there’s much daylight between myself and you or David Goodman or Marjorie David. There may be people that endorse me or whom I endorse who might disagree with that. So be it. Unlike packaging fees, which theoretically could be bent to serve us rather than hurt us, I don’t see how working for our own representatives can be made clean.

Now, my (least) favorite part of your email was when you said, “Here is what I promise you will happen in Mid-September should Ms. Nagy be elected. She will enter a negotiating room with the ATA and she will be nice, respectful and polite and she will say “Now that the radicals are out of the room let’s get a deal done and do something about packaging fees, affiliate production and transparency.” And Karen Stuart will smile right back at her and say “We very much look forward to ending this unpleasantness, but as it relates to packaging fees, affiliate production and transparency, we hold to our positions.” And, without increased pressure bearing down on them, they will continue to hold to their positions for the weeks or months necessary for Ms. Nagy to agree to a deal on their terms rather than on the WGA’s.

Which brand of CBD are you rubbing into your eyeballs to get this amazing new power of clairvoyance

Look man, you can’t promise people that, because you can’t promise people that. You literally invented a scenario, and now you’re holding other people accountable to it as if it’s real. You didn’t call Phyllis. You didn’t email Phyllis. You googled for a bit, then started astral projecting into fiction.

I don’t intend to be nice or respectful or polite. I intend to be aggressive as hell, because I’m as pissed off as you or anyone. Again… listen to the podcast I did with Chris and John. Or read the transcript! It’s here if you want: https://johnaugust.com/2019/the-future-of-the-industry.

If Karen Stuart or Bryan Lourd or Jay Sures or Ari Greenburg or whoever wants to say “we hold to our positions,” and I can’t break through that, then guess what?

I come back to all of you and say, “Well, I tried. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, and all that. But they’re holding to their positions for absolutely fuckin’ sure, so we’re holding to ours for absolutely fuckin’ sure.” That’s it.

You wondered, “Could people as smart as Phyllis Nagy and Craig Mazin really be so naïve about negotiation strategies and reality?

The answer is NO. People as smart as you think we are would not engage in the kind of absurd fever-dream of weakness you just imagined on our behalf.

You continued, “I can’t be sure, but I fear that she and her slatemates are laying the groundwork for going back to the agents quickly, regardless of what needs to be conceded in order to do so. If that is their intention, that they just don’t want this fight and they just want a do-over and desire to return to their agents whatever it takes, then they should say so plainly and let the membership vote on that.”

Well, I can be sure. That is unequivocally, 100% not true. In no way, shape or form can we go back to our agents. Withholding our client-hood from them is essential to our leverage. Can we now bury this elaborate straw man into the ground and speak of it no more?

You asked some additional specific questions. I’ll try and answer them as best I can.

Q: “Are packaging fees and affiliate production the issues that you describe as “agency abuse” and must a deal with the agencies eliminate or greatly curtail them or are you willing to strike a deal on behalf of the WGA that leaves both these practices largely intact?

A: Either we bend packaging fees to serve “you make more when we make more” on behalf of our rank-and-file, or we stay away until the courts render a verdict. In terms of affiliate production, I want to destroy it.

Q: “If your promised “measured, calm, respected, reasonable — and yes — negotiated — path” doesn’t lead to quick, meaningful gains with the ATA are you willing to change your tactics or will you just strike the only deal available to you at that time in order to have writers return to their agents.”

A: My position is that our current strategy is the default strategy. If we can’t get a good solution via compromise, then we stay the course.

Q: “A large part of your rationale for running was that current leadership wasn’t negotiating and that the most vulnerable members of the Guild were suffering as a result of the ATA action. Considering that the Guild in the past week just made deals with two ATA signatories, Kaplan-Stahler and Buchwald, as well as a new agency comprised of departing Abrams agents, along with a new Guild report that shows that absent agents, television shows were fully staffed and hiring of women and diverse writers increased (albeit marginally) from last year to this year… does this change your calculus for running or does current leadership deserve any praise for these developments?”

A: I believe severing permanently from the Big Four will come with collective costs to writers. They will continue packaging on behalf of their directors, actors and NWPs. This will pose a threat to our hegemony in television. I’ve already heard horror stories of showrunners being placed under the thumbs of NWPs and directors.

I suspect many of my sisters and brothers in TV cannot imagine such a reality coming to pass. Well, I’m from features. It’s not a paranoid campfire tale. It is the only reality I have known for 25 years. They want to take our power from us. Why wouldn’t they? Having the Big Four solely on their side will make that much, much easier for them to accomplish. Even a moderate erosion of writer primacy in television would be disastrous for us.

In terms of diversity, while I appreciate the desire to spread good news, the fine print on that report literally says “These numbers will change.” It’s based on 60% of reporting. Moreover, it’s not the right comparison anyway. The industry is trying hard to improve diversity numbers, and I’m proud that we, as writers, are at the forefront of that as we put together writing rooms. In theory, each year should be better than the one before. The question isn’t “how much better is it this year than last year?” but rather “how much better (or worse) *would* it have been this year with agents, vs. without?” If we’re up in diversity by 1% without agents, but would have been up by 5% with them, then this isn’t much of a success.

I have listened to a number of diverse writers who have told me how they have been hurt by this. Their stories are real, and we need to account for this as we proceed. I don’t want to be so casually dismissive of claims that it is hurting our most vulnerable… and certainly not if that confidence is based on incomplete data and a report that literally states that the numbers will change when all of the data is in.

You ended your email with your own anecdote about your dealings with your agency. The moral of the story was that negotiating hard won’t make your opponents hate you. Rather, they will respect you for it. I agree. They will respect bare-knuckle negotiations. That’s what I want to engage in, and I would truly love it if someone as experienced and dedicated as you were right next to me while I did it.

Look, there’s a reason we hired these agents in the first place, right? We hire them to be animals for us, to go out and beat people up for us and get us the best deal. They’ve managed to screw that up, and then screw it up more… and it’s been so screwed up for so long, I think they actually began to think they hadn’t really screwed it up at all. Well, those days are over. Now it’s a fight. We have to fix it or leave them behind. Either way, we cannot go back to the status quo.

I write all of this to you knowing full well that they will see it. I want them to see it. If the agents think that someone like me is going to make things easier for them, well… LOL.

I’m glad you gave me this opportunity to express my heart and mind to you, and I hope you choose to share it with the people you originally emailed. And if in the future you find yourself wondering what I think, just ask me. We don’t need to imagine the worst versions of each other. This isn’t Democrats and Republicans. The agents are the other side. This guild election is a primary. All of us running are doing so for the best possible reasons. ALL of us. My opponents, my friends, people I endorse, people I don’t.

Everything else is just “what’s the best way to win this Guild-Agency fight we’re in?”

I know there are people who feel that the mere fact that some of us are challenging the incumbent leadership is an act of Guild-weakening. I’m happy to see that you disagree with that. I’ve often felt that my loyalty is to the membership. I pay my dues, volunteer service to the Guild, and follow the Working Rules because that’s how I keep good faith with my fellow writers. I don’t believe anyone should replace “loyalty to the Guild” with “loyalty to the incumbent leadership.”

I mean… if I get elected, are the people who didn’t vote for me supposed to become loyal to me? I’m pretty sure they won’t, and they shouldn’t.

So let’s keep talking. We need to take care of each other as best we can and be as kind to each other as best we can…

…because the enemy is at the gates, and the biggest fight is yet to come.

Gratefully,

Craig

Nagy’s response:

Dear Shawn Ryan,

We’ve never met.

I very much hope our paths will cross over the next 7 weeks.

But until they do, I think it’s useful to address certain assumptions you’ve made about what I stand for regarding the current action with the agencies.

I have stated clearly that reform to the practice of packaging and the collection of packaging fees is absolutely necessary — and that these serious agency conflicts must be addressed. This includes affiliate production.

I have nowhere said that I would seek to drop lawsuits or be “nice” to agencies.

I have said I don’t believe we will find the best solution in an over-reliance on lawsuits. A lawsuit is a tool, like any other in a negotiation. Given your experiences with high-level negotiation and with the “best lawyers in town,” I think you know that most lawsuits are settled long before they play out in court. Like I said, a lawsuit is one tool. It’s not the only tool in the box. You use it for leverage, and this leverage is effective only if we are negotiating with the Big 4. Otherwise, that tool is a costly waste.

We owe gratitude to the current leadership for beginning to address these issues. I’ve said that, too. But to be blunt, we’re pretty much where we started when this action began in terms of tackling those problems.

We’ll never get there by avoiding the largest agencies — who represent the majority of our members — the agencies that engage in the lion’s share of packaging and who have ownership stakes in affiliate production companies.

You can create franchise agreements with as many agencies as you like, agencies that have done little or no packaging to this point and/or don’t have ownership stakes in affiliate production companies. That’s great for our members who can get back to work with their reps, and it’s to be applauded.

But it does not change the fact that the only way to address the conflicts current leadership highlighted is to hammer out an end to these conflicts with the very agencies who truly have those conflicts — the Big 4.

In refusing to negotiate with the ATA, current leadership has effectively refused to negotiate with the Big 4. Stalemate. That benefits no one.

It’s naive to think otherwise.

I’ll take a moment to address the broad assumptions and speculation you make about my character and approach to negotiation.

You mistake civility for weakness, and a desire to find a solution to the stalemate we’re in for a lack of fire in the belly or a desire to fight. You use words like “respectful,” “polite,” and “nice” as if they’re the Ebola virus. And that scares the hell out of me.

But like I said, you don’t know me. If you did, you’d know that I am the fighter you seem to seek. I’m honest. I’m tough. I’m aggressive. I don’t give up. Yeah, I’m civil. I don’t have a loud voice and I don’t scream my way through debates — and none of that should strike you as a disadvantage or cause you to be fearful on behalf of our fellow Guild members.

There’s always more than one way to win a fight. To answer your questions directly:

1. Yes, the conflicts and abuses of both have to be tackled head on and greatly curtailed or eliminated. That requires focused negotiation followed by presentation of terms to the entire membership for approval. It’s worth repeating — none of this will happen without rolling up sleeves and getting back to the negotiating table.

2. Leadership that’s inflexible on tactics loses. Every single time. You win this by being nimble enough to change course when necessary.Period. It’s not about “returning writers to their agents.” It’s about putting us in the strongest possible position for AMPTP negotiations next year. I do not believe the current strategy puts us there. Not by a long shot.

3. A few agreements with non-packaging and non-affiliate production-owning agencies in nearly four months are not significant progress. Do the math. Extend it to AMPTP negotiations. And it’s worth repeating that none of this addresses packaging or affiliate production.

Three agents leaving Abrams to set up shop is good for them and good for the clients they can take with them. On the other hand, Verve — never an ATA member — is dropping clients who’ve been loyal to them over time and taking on bigger fish who’ve left the Big 4. We’re all hearing more stories like that. One step forward, two steps back.

The new Guild inclusion report is inaccurate at best and misleading at worst, with only 60% of “anticipated hiring” this season tallied. Talk to me again when the report is complete. Then ask me if I think stability or mirroring industry-wide trends is enough. (It’s not.) Part of my platform is about transparency and proper data tracking.

My rationale for running is not solely about the agencies, though that is what you and others with fears about a change in leadership choose to focus on. I hope we can now move on to what the future could look like for our Guild.

To that end, I invite you to get to know me and my fellow Guild members who are running for office and for the Board in the coming weeks. Get to know our further positions and platforms as we begin the process of engagement with membership.

And the next time something about me scares you, add me to your email list. I’ll always try to put those fears to rest.

Sincerely,

Phyllis Nagy

Ryan’s UPDATE:

So last night, a few hours after writing this, I’m out and about and (of course) run into Craig Mazin. We had (in my opinion) a very cordial ten minute conversation where he expressed that he felt I had mischaracterized a couple of his and Phyllis’s positions. He insisted that they are not looking to remove the WGA lawsuit off the table in negotiations. He also said that his position in ATA negotiations would not be that much different that the current administrations, but felt better tactics could be employed to achieve shared results.

He also felt that I had called he and Phyllis “stupid” in my post, which I disputed. I said that I felt that an approach of expecting to go into negotiations with merely a better attitude and expecting wildly different results was naive based on my experience and that’s how I read Phyllis’s comments in the trades. To be clear I’m not impugning the intelligence of either Craig or Phyllis, but questioning the wisdom of the approach Phyllis appears to espouse in her comments in the trades.

Craig stated that he wished I had called him up and spoken to him directly before writing my open letter, and that is something I certainly could have done. He stated that he and Phyllis will be releasing candidate statements soon that will make their positions clearer. I countered that I felt that was all well and good but they are actively seeking endorsements right now which feel like a public rebuke of the current leadership in the middle of a negotiation and I felt it was important to weigh in immediately on that and ask people to withhold their support until much more of this slate’s views could be expressed, understood and evaluated.

So, I’m happy to share Craig’s thoughts now on where he thinks I went wrong with my open letter and you can all make up your own mind about it all (especially when the candidate statements arrive).

Finally, Craig mentioned that he had been getting a lot of online correspondence in the past 24 hours that was pretty hateful, calling him a “traitor to the guild” among other things. I shared my disgust at hearing that. I believe firmly that everyone running for office is doing so in good faith with the belief that they are fighting for things that will make the Guild and its membership stronger. We will disagree on tactics and goals and eventually all get a vote, but I would hope that a membership as intelligent as ours can make the distinction between debate and hate. Let’s all be respectful. All we have is each other in this struggle.

This article was printed from https://deadline.com/2019/07/wga-election-shawn-ryan-questions-phyllis-nagy-her-slates-goals-strategies-craig-mazin-responds-1202656298/