The Abrams Artists Agency has signed the WGA’s Code of Conduct, making it the third mid-tier agency to break ranks with the Association of Talent Agents and sign the code since the guild ordered all of its members seven months ago to fire their agents who refused to sign it. The code bans packaging fees after one year and prohibits agency affiliations with related production entities.
Abrams says it signed after negotiating new terms with the guild about audits and client confidentiality – issues that have reportedly kept several other mid-tier agencies from signing even though they that don’t do much packaging or have any production affiliations. Abrams now joins three other ATA member companies that have broken ranks with the ATA: Buchwald and Kaplan Stahler, which signed in July – and Pantheon, a small agency that signed months before talks broke off with the ATA on June 7.
The Verve agency, which is not an ATA member, signed on May 16.
“The writers had elections, and they overwhelmingly reelected David Goodman, one of the leaders of this strategy,” said Abrams chairman Adam Bold, who had come close to a deal with the guild at least once before. “We feel that it is time to put the writers back to work, as well as our agents. The code of conduct as it stands now, is a much better document than it was before. For that reason, along with some of our negotiated changes, made it an agreement that we can stand behind.”
Those negotiated changes, he said, deal with the disclosure of client contracts and invoices; confidentiality and data security; agency audits, and diversity. “I was concerned,” he said, “that the requirement to send writers’ contracts and invoices to the WGA puts the agency in a place where we have legal responsibility by the contract to do it, but if a client says they don’t want us to, then we have a conflict with our fiduciary responsibility to the client. We have solved this problem by creating a disclosure form for our clients that creates transparency so that they understand the agency has a contractual obligation to the WGA to provide contractual information to them. If the client independently opts that they don’t want us to disclose it, then we will let the Guild know, and give the Guild the opportunity to explain to the client why it’s in their best interest. In exchange, we will never talk clients out of it.”
Similarly, Abrams said in a statement that “The WGA has strengthened their language about confidentiality and data security to make sure that our clients’ contract information stays private. They are going to use heightened security protocols, and limit access to staff within the guild who have a valid business reason to have access to the information.”
As for audits, Abrams said that “They had language before that said the Guild had the right at their discretion to audit the Agency for anything, and now it says that the Guild is limited to only the procedures to make sure we are in compliance. We have every intention of complying, so this should never come into play.”
With respect to diversity, Bold said that the code requires agencies to “make reasonable efforts to hire from diverse groups and give the WGA a report stating diversity efforts,” adding that “We believe the Guild and its members will be very pleased that we are ahead of the curve on this, as it is one of our core company mandates. At present, we have 81 women and 77 men at Abrams. Of our agents, we have 31 men and 30 women. In senior management roles (non-agent, director and above including the owners) is seven men six women, and six of those are from diverse groups.”
In July, veteran Abrams literary agents Brad Rosenfeld and Paul Weitzman left that agency and partnered with former colleague Karen Kirkland to launch a new agency, Culture Creative Entertainment, which promptly signed the WGA’s franchise agreement.