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Talent Agents Offer to Share Packaging Fees With Writers

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Friday, April 12, 2019

In a formal proposal to the Writers Guild of America on Thursday, the Association of Talent Agents offered to share a portion of earnings from package deals with writers. The offer comes one day before the current agreement between the two groups is set to expire.

ATA’s proposal would provide an unspecified percentage of packaging fees on a given film or television project with that project’s writers, 80% of which would be shared with writers who are not already participating in profits. Further, ATA’s proposal says this money will be provided regardless of who represents a writer, and that the remaining 20% would be invested in efforts to increase diversity among writers.

Packaging — in which agents collect fees for bundling talent and bringing them as a package to a studio for film or TV projects — has been the primary point of contention between WGA and ATA as they try to hammer out a new agreement. WGA’s position is that packaging creates a conflict of interest for agents, and that it has contributed to a decline in overall earnings for writers. ATA says that packaging is essential to the agencies’ current business model, and that writers who participate in packaging earn more.

The guild has demanded that talent agencies end the practice outright, and on March 31, WGA members overwhelmingly voted to approve a new code of conduct that would require any agency representing them to do just that. The code would go into effect immediately if the current deal expires without a new agreement in place; WGA members will then be called upon to fire any agent or agency that doesn’t agree to comply.

The current agreement was originally set to expire at midnight on April 6. The two groups agreed to a last-minute extension hours before that deadline elapsed. That extension expires on Friday.

WGA representatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment from TheWrap.

The ATA explained its offer in a letter to members Thursday night. Read the whole letter below:

Dear ATA Members,

As you know, we’ve been working diligently to reach a deal with the WGA. Thanks to all of you who attended our membership meeting this week – we deeply appreciate your input, guidance and overwhelming support as we work through these negotiations as a unified front. As we discussed, the WGA’s Code of Conduct is a threat to agency business operations – whether two agents or 2,000.

The past several days have been a rapid crescendo to this pivotal moment in our negotiations. We have now presented the WGA with comprehensive counterproposals that address their issues. We’ve listened and heard meaningful feedback this week from WGA leadership, and in our own agency meetings and townhalls with writer clients during the past few months. Those meetings helped us further understand and reflect upon the fundamental issues of concern, including calls for greater transparency, deeper understanding of agency operations, increased support for lower- and mid-level writers, and ultimately better alignment in agent/writer compensation. Our goal throughout the discussions to date has been to avoid a destabilizing industry fallout.

Outlined below is a summary of our draft counterproposals:

• Partnering With The Guild: Agents are, and always have been, on the side of the writer and are committed to protecting writers against free rewrites and late payments. The WGA has requested access to client contracts and invoices so they can intervene directly with studios/employers to rectify situations on behalf of writers. While WGA already has authority to collect that information from its Guild members and studios are also required to submit to the Guild, collection has been problematic. Agencies have agreed to provide the Guild with copies of writers’ executed contracts and financial information for writing services within the Guild’s jurisdiction – with the writer’s ability to opt out of sharing his/her confidential information.

• Sharing Success: When a packaged show does well, writers will now share in the success and receive a share of the agencies’ packaging fees. Specifically, agencies will provide a percentage of their back-end profits to writers – 80% of which will be shared amongst a show’s writers not participating in the profits of the series, regardless of which agency represents them. The remaining 20% will be invested in industry initiatives and programs to foster and expand inclusion of historically underrepresented writers. This is a meaningful investment in the writer community.

• Jumpstarting Inclusion: Agencies will also advance $2 million per year for three years ($6 million total) to jumpstart an industry-wide fund to foster and encourage inclusion, making a significant investment in today’s creative community.

• Transparency in Film Financing. Agencies will be permitted to perform motion picture consulting, financing and sales services, and will fully disclose any fees and arrangements to the writer.

• Transparency in Affiliates. Agencies have committed to providing safeguards and transparency to clients working with agency affiliates. Further, agencies will share anonymized data and summaries (e.g., aggregated financial terms, form contracts, initiatives) about deals made on behalf of agent-affiliated production entities that engages writers. The parties will meet on a quarterly basis to evaluate how the affiliate production companies are benefitting writers. If, at any point after the first two (2) years of the initial term of this agreement, WGA determines that the affiliate production companies are not benefitting Writers, WGA may give 90 days’ notice of intent to reopen this agreement on this limited issue.

• Commission. Maintain all of agents’ current rights with respect to commissions. At this critical juncture, we are committed to getting a deal across the finish line. We are intensely focused on ensuring that it’s a long-term solution — one that meets a dual-purpose of protecting the best interests of all writers while creating alignment between the goals of our two organizations.

I’ll continue to keep you updated and thank you for your support.

Sincerely,

Karen Stuart
Executive Director

Related stories from TheWrap:

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ATA Rips Writers Guild Action Plan in New Letter to Members

ATA Sticks With Packaging Fees in Latest Counterproposal to Writers Guild

Source: The Wrap