UTA Closes Deal With WGA To Phase Out Packaging & Resume Writer Representation – Update

By Nellie Andreeva, Dominic Patten

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2ND UPDATE, 9 AM: UTA co-president Jay Sures just sent an email confirming the deal with the WGA — and it’s a labor-relations whopper.

“After many long discussions and significant work by both sides, we’ve successfully found middle ground that sets asides our core differences,” Sures stated in the three-page letter (read it in full below).

“The Guild has achieved many of its main goals and UTA has as well,” the agency exec added. “As the world continues to face down a pandemic and our industry remains under unprecedented pressures, we believed our highest priority was to bring writers and agents back together in joint focus on building and enhancing your careers.”

At its core, the deal between the uberagency and the guild will see writers once again work with their UTA agents as the highly contested issue of packaging is phased out over the next two years and all ongoing legal skirmishes between UTA and the WGA halted.

WME and CAA seemingly are not ending their mutual battle with the guild in federal court. ICM Partners is not a party to the lawsuits that started late last spring.

What is vital here is that the long goodbye to packaging that UTA and the WGA have agreed to only kicks in if “the Guild reaches a similar arrangement with one of the other major talent agencies.” Which means WME, CAA or perhaps even ICM Partners have to strike their own agreement to make this one effective. That may or may not be realistic as rumors are circulating that another agency deal is brewing right now too.

Additionally, as well as handling over financial information to the guild if approved by the clients, Sures’ letter today declares that UTA will continue to “maintain its involvement in our existing production entities, protecting our ability to provide financial terms for you that are stronger and more beneficial than legacy production entities can offer.”

In that vein, Sures’ letter seeks to find a middle ground between victory and truce, in both tone and substance.

“To be clear, we did not sign the Guild’s Code of Conduct, which was unacceptable to us from the start,” Sures made a point of noting about what has been a battlefield of contention between the Big 4 agencies and the WGA since the union demanded an end to the lucrative practice of packaging. “But we were able to find a path forward that works for both UTA and the WGA.”

UPDATED, July 15 8:40 AM: We hear the deal has closed, Details will be revealed later this morning but according to sources, the pact raises the cap of agency ownership in production entities to 19.9%, extends the sunset clause for packaging to two years, and does not involve contract info sharing without clients’ permission.

PREVIOUSLY, July 14, 10:30 PM: In what would be the biggest get yet for the WGA in its yearlong standoff with the top agencies, the scribes’ union appears close tonight to an agreement with UTA.

We hear that at a captains meeting Tuesday evening, WGA West president David Goodman revealed to members that the union was finalizing a deal with “major agency.” Official details of the possible breakthrough agreement could coming as soon as Wednesday, sources say.

The agency in question was not identified. However, multiple sources point to UTA as the likely new WGA signatory.

Attendees at the virtual labor meeting were also told that there is another significant agency pact brewing too, we’ve learned. No further details on that were provided either.

As COVID-19 keeps most of the industry, with the exception of writers, out of work, the new deal follows the WGA coming to terms on a new three-year overall contract with AMPTP on July 1.

At the same time, UTA, CAA and WME have been embroiled in contentious litigation with the WGA over the guild’s multi-pronged efforts to end packaging deals and affiliate production in the industry. It is unclear how a pending agreement would impact that, and whether UTA signing with the WGA would settle its ongoing federal lawsuit with the guild.

Back in April 2019, the WGA instructed its members to fire their agents if their organizations would not sign the new agency code of conduct. As thousands of scribes cut ties with agents that many of them had for years, the code in question basically pulled the plug on the lucrative practice of packaging. After a successful re-election campaign late last year, Goodman became even more emboldened in his anti-packaging stance, both in and outside the courts.

UTA has been possibly the most active in communicating with the WGA leadership among the big agencies. Co-president Jay Sures made an overture to the WGA West’s Goodman, a former UTA client, in May 2019, trying to restart the stalled negotiations between the guild and the Association of Talent Agents.

UTA has been hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic-related production shutdown in mid-March that emptied sets all over town. The agency in March instituted pay cuts; in May, it furloughed dozens of staffers, mostly assistants, as belts tightened further.

While the first of the Big 4 to parlay with the WGA, UTA is not the only agency by far. Gersh, Paradigm, APA, A3 Artists Agency and Buchwald have already signed agreements with the WGA. Verve was the first mid-size agency to reach an agreement with the writers guild last May. It was followed by literary boutiques the Rothman Brecher Ehrich Livingston Agency and the Kaplan Stahler Agency. About 70 smaller agencies also have deals in place.

Here’s Sures’ letter in full:

Dear UTA Writer Family,

At a time when good news is in demand, we have some.

Today, UTA and the WGA have reached an agreement that resolves the dispute that has separated writers and agents for more than a year. In this time of instability and uncertainty in our industry and world, we could not be more pleased to put this issue behind us and for our writer clients and agents to reunite as natural allies and partners.

Not long ago, UTA reached out to the WGA leadership, as we have done numerous times throughout this dispute, and made another effort to resolve this issue in good faith and through compromise. After many long discussions and significant work by both sides, we’ve successfully found middle ground that sets asides our core differences. The Guild has achieved many of its main goals and UTA has as well. As the world continues to face down a pandemic and our industry remains under unprecedented pressures, we believed our highest priority was to bring writers and agents back together in joint focus on building and enhancing your careers.

To be clear, we did not sign the Guild’s Code of Conduct, which was unacceptable to us from the start. But we were able to find a path forward that works for both UTA and the WGA. The highlights of our agreement include compromises on the issues of packaging, affiliate production, independent film financing and, most important to UTA, the protection of your confidential information.

• This agreement continues to protect your confidential contract and financial information, which was critical to us. This is information the Guild had insisted we hand over to them whether you consented or not, and it was a core sticking point. We expressed willingness to provide contract information but only if you do not object. Our agreement is that if you tell us not to provide your contract information to the Guild, we will not do so. Without this, UTA would not have made this agreement.

• We have agreed to eliminate the practice of packaging starting two years from now. We did so despite the long history of packaging that has provided immense benefits to writers, actors, directors and other artists. We made this agreement on the condition that this provision takes effect only if the Guild reaches a similar arrangement with one of the other major talent agencies.

• UTA will maintain its involvement in our existing production entities, protecting our ability to provide financial terms for you that are stronger and more beneficial than legacy production entities can offer. We have agreed to cap our minority profit participation and not launch any majority-owned production studio, which are steps we did not ever intend to take.

• We also mutually agreed to dismiss our respective legal actions. This includes the litigation launched by the WGA leadership against the major agencies in the moments when this dispute began and the defensive lawsuit we filed against the Guild in response.

Our commitments were squarely aimed at delivering what’s needed most right now: returning writers and agents to their natural role as partners, so we can together face a business stirring with historic levels of uncertainty. This is a time to get people back to work and some sense of normalcy. You deserve that.

UTA made its name in its earliest days, in large part, as a literary agency. Today, we are a strong, thriving, global company that advocates powerfully and effectively for writers and all artists. This agreement ensures we can continue to play that role for you. And in this moment when the world so clearly needs to be lifted up by powerful stories, we look forward to rejoining one another.
As we begin again, we do so with hopes that you and your loved ones are safe, healthy, and well.

Sincerely,

Jay Sures Co-President, UTA

This article was printed from https://deadline.com/2020/07/uta-wga-deal-wme-caa-labor-1202985876/