The WGA is gearing up for what promises to be a contentious negotiation for a new film and TV contract amid its ongoing battle with Hollywood’s talent agencies, which is now in its seventh month. The guild’s current pact with management’s AMPTP expires on May 1, and the WGA soon will be holding membership meetings to get feedback from members about what they want their leaders to address at the bargaining table.
The WGA East has set its first such a membership meeting for Nov. 14, and the WGA West is expected to hold similar meetings in the weeks to come.
The fight with the talent agencies, which began on April 13 when the WGA ordered all of its members to fire their agents who refused to sign its new agency Code of Conduct, is expected to loom large over the negotiations if an overall deal with the agents isn’t reached by May 1. As things stand now, the guild isn’t talking to the Association of Talent Agents, which represents all of the major agencies, but is seeking deals with individual agencies instead. The guild, however, hasn’t signed any new ATA-represented agencies to its Code since late July, when the Buchwald and Kaplan Stahler agencies broke ranks with the ATA and signed the Code, which bans packaging fees after one year and prohibits agency affiliations with corporately related production entities.
During the WGA’s recent election, WGA West president David A. Goodman – who easily won re-election last month – said in his campaign statement that the studios would be mistaken if they think they can “push us around because they think we’re ‘tired’” of battling the agencies, or that the agency campaign has weakened the guild’s resolve to fight the studios for a fair contract “if they pushed us to a strike.” A bigger share of the companies’ streaming revenues is expected to be a major bone of contention in the upcoming talks for a new Minimum Basic Agreement.
“Meanwhile, we have an approaching MBA negotiation,” he said in his campaign statement. “How does this agency campaign affect our leverage? It’s important to consider the current business landscape. All the major AMPTP companies are launching streaming services to compete with Netflix, Amazon, and Apple. As important as libraries are, the big companies can’t rely on their libraries to get subscribers; they need a steady stream of new product to build that base, and they need writers to write that product. It will take the AMPTP companies years to get to the subscriber numbers they need, and they will not just be competing with the established streaming companies but also with each other to get those subscribers.
“And though companies like Netflix and Apple have to adhere to the MBA if they want to use Guild writers, those companies are not represented in the AMPTP negotiations. The AMPTP companies understand that, if they pushed us to a strike, the threat that Netflix or another company would make an interim deal and keep producing new product is very real. The billions that the AMPTP companies have invested in their new streaming services would be at risk. That doesn’t mean that the AMPTP is going to roll over, but they have too much at stake to just push us around because they think we’re ‘tired.’ On top of that, we have shown that we are willing to take on an issue that everyone in the business (except the agencies) hates, but was unwilling to do anything about. The writers of the WGA have once again shown bravery and sacrifice, and that will give the AMPTP pause; it was this pause that led to the success of the 2014 and 2017 negotiations.
“For these reasons, whatever leadership decides our agenda is, we will go into negotiations in a very strong position. And as far as threatening our ‘alliance’ with agencies, I’ve been involved in four WGA MBA negotiations, and in all of them the agencies offered no help, in fact abandoned us and worked against our goals by describing us to their clients as intractable and unrealistic.”
No date has been set yet for the start of talks with the AMPTP. The WGA’s most recent strike – in 2007-08 – lasted 100 days.