UPDATED with more details: Innovative Artists has joined the list of agencies that have signed a deal with the Writers Guild of America. With the signing, the Association of Talent Agents, which has been at loggerheads with the WGA since last April, now has three members of its 16-member board of directors whose agencies have signed the guild’s franchise agreement.
“We are proud to support our literary agents and the talented writers they represent,” Innovative Artists owner and president Scott Harris, along with the agency’s executive committee, said in a statement to Deadline. “We are grateful for our clients’ loyalty and are excited to resume working for them. As advocates and representatives, we always seek to put our artists’ interests first and foremost, and to that end, we have heard the concerns and positions of our writers and look forward to continuing to provide the level of personalized and passionate service that they have always valued and enjoyed.”
Harris was elected to the ATA board on January 14, as was Stephen Kravit, EVP Business Affairs at Gersh, which signed the guild’s deal three days later. Jim Gosnell, president and CEO of APA, signed the guild’s franchise agreement January 21. He had been president of the ATA until January 14, when he was elected to the ATA board of directors.
Innovative is the latest full-service agency and ATA member to reach a deal with the WGA and resume its representation of writers. It joins Gersh, APA, Abrams Artists and Buchwald, along with literary boutiques the Rothman Brecher Ehrich Livingston agency and the Kaplan Stahler Agency, and Pantheon. Non-ATA member Verve, also lit-focused, was the first mid-size agency to reach an agreement with the WGA last May.
The ATA, which represents more than 100 talent agencies, has been unable to come to terms with the guild on terms for a new franchise agreement. Last April, the guild ordered all of its members to fire their agents who refused to sign its Code of Conduct, which banned packaging fees and agency affiliations with corporately related entities. The two sides haven’t met at the bargaining table since June 7.
In recent months, however, the guild has modified the terms of its franchise agreement so that signers can compete with the larger agencies that refuse to sign. Under the terms of its latest deals, the WGA allows signers to continue collecting packaging fees until July 15, 2021 – and even longer if two of the Big 4 agencies don’t cave and accept the guild’s terms. To date, the Big Four packaging agencies – WME, CAA, UTA, and ICM Partners – have shown no indication they’re going to sign. The guild is currently embroiled in an antitrust suit over packaging fees with WME, CAA and UTA.
The guild’s new deals also allows signatory agencies to have a 5% ownership stake in an affiliated production or distribution company.
In response to Innovative’s signing, the ATA re-released a statement it makes every time one of its members signs with the guild. “Writers who agree with the WGA leadership are of course free to join the agencies that have signed with WGA, and writers who care most about other issues should be free to join agencies that offer services that meet their needs,” it said at the time. “There is no reason for WGA to continue to restrict the freedom of writers. Writers should be able to decide which issues are most important to them and then freely decide which agent to hire.”
A source familiar with the holdout agencies’ thinking said that “The fact that WGA has now signed a handful of agencies means that writers who are concerned with packaging and/or affiliated production now have choices…they can go to Innovative or APA or Rothman or Gersh. Given that there is now this choice, what justification is there to prevent writers who don’t care about packaging/affiliated production from going to the agents who they believe best serve their career needs?
“If the Innovative agreement resembles the APA and Gersh agreements, it is worth nothing that the agreement allows Innovative to own up to 5% of an affiliated production entity – which runs counter to the WGA’s position that no compromise is possible where there are such alleged conflicts of interest – and allows packaging for months and even years to come, depending on whether WGA is able to sign one of the Big Four agencies. So even these agreements with smaller agencies do not end packaging. Again, contrary to WGA’s position that packaging is inherently wrong and must be halted.”