WGA president David A. Goodman told members Friday that the guild has had “substantive discussion with all but one” of the five biggest talent agencies about making deals that could end the guild’s 10-month battle over packaging fees, adding that “those we have spoken to have said directly to me they would like to make a deal.” He didn’t say which of the five agencies has refused to talk.
In his latest message to the writers guild’s members, Goodman said the guild continues to “place pressure” on the holdouts who refuse to sign its franchise agreement “by pursuing the lawsuit, by negotiating with the smaller agencies, and by withholding their ability to represent writers. The goal remains in sight: to realign all our representatives’ financial interests with their writer clients by ending packaging fees and curtailing agency ownership of production.”
The guild is currently in a legal battle with three of the biggest agencies – WME, CAA and UTA – in which both sides accuse the other of antitrust practices. Goodman also disputed “rumors” that many writers have returned to their unsigned agents, and challenged the notion that the battle with the agencies has weakened the guild going into its talks with the major studios and production companies for a new film and TV contract.
“A number of the unsigned agencies, while professing to want a deal, continue to engage in misconduct,” he told his members. “We know that some agents are harassing former clients to work with them in secret under the false premise that ‘everyone else has come back.’ These same unfranchised agents are inserting themselves into potential deals by calling executives and acting as if they still represent writers who fired them. This is itself an indication that the pressure is mounting on them.
“We’ve also heard the rumors that some writers have gone back to their unfranchised agents. When we receive specific information the allegations are investigated, starting with outreach by the Guild’s Working Rule 23 Committee. We have looked into a few reports that turned out to be without merit, which is why confidentiality is so important. But we continue to investigate other reports, and for any writers breaking the rules there must and will be accountability.”
The guild’s Rule 23 prohibits members from being represented by agents who are not signed to its franchise agreement.
“Despite the challenges of this new landscape, writers continue to pursue their careers working with the help of a manager, a franchised agent or on their own, often utilizing Guild-provided tools,” Goodman told his members. “The numbers speak for themselves: overall employment is up, compensation is higher, and writers are maintaining health benefits at higher levels than last year. The Guild will continue to provide and improve the tools we’ve set up to help writers find work.
“As we head into Minimum Basic Agreement negotiations (with management’s AMPTP), some in the industry have pushed the narrative that the agency campaign has weakened us. But it has had the opposite effect: we have taken on the status quo, challenged business practices that everyone hated but no one else would question, and, in doing so, changed the way the whole town does business. The companies have seen another powerful example of the Guild’s unity and sense of purpose in protecting the well-being of writers. There is no doubt it has made us stronger.”
Goodman’s claim that four of the five major agencies have had “substantive discussions” with the guild could not be independently confirmed. A knowledgeable agency source said that they’re all dismayed by the claim.
“We would love to be able to say that we have been having substantive conversations with the WGA, but it’s disingenuous and simply not true,” a WME spokeswoman said. “We wish there was a resolution to this dispute, but we need a willing negotiation partner to find one.”
A UTA spokesman said: “As it pertains to UTA, this is completely false.”
A CAA spokesman said that the agency is not in any discussions with the guild.
A spokesman for ICM Partners said: “In June, the WGA broke off negotiations with the agencies and since then none have taken place with ICM Partners.”
Goodman said: “I stand by my statement.”