After forty years, the contract that has been governing business between the Writers Guild of America, the WGA, and the Association of Talent Agents, or ATA, was set to expire at 12:01 am Sunday. Unfortunately, the two guilds are currently at odds with each other and have yet to reach a new deal.
So why are the WGA and ATA not getting along? Simply put: the WGA is not a big fan of the “packaging” deals that the agents have going on with the television studios. You see, according to the WGA, talent agents are supposed to negotiate the best deal for their clients on an individual basis and then get paid via commission, or a pre-determined percentage of whatever it is their client makes off the deal.
However, instead of individual deals, many agencies have opted to make “package” deals with the studios in which an agent receives a script and then bundles together a “package” of talent (including writers, directors, actors, etc.), all of whom are usually represented by the same agency, and then offer up said bundle to a studio in order to turn that script into a television show. If a studio picks up the script, then the agent collects a “packaging fee” from the studio.
The WGA is arguing that these packages do not incentivize talent agents to negotiate the best deals for their clients; instead, they motivate agencies to selfishly negotiate their own payday’s with the corporate entities that the ATA is supposed to protect its clients from.
With the current contract between the two guilds expiring, the WGA is looking to change the way talent agents are getting paid. However, the aforementioned “packaging fee” is generally much more handsome than the commissions that agents receive from their clients’ deals, thus the ATA’s hesitation to quit the practice of packaging. Unfortunately, talks between parties did not go anywhere prior to Sunday morning’s deadline, despite seven formal negotiating sessions between Feb. 5 and March 26.
In light of the stalemate, the WGA and ATA have agreed on a one-week extension that will keep negations alive until 12:01 am on Friday, April 13th. If the agents and the writers do not come to some sort of compromise by that time, then the WGA will instate its new “Code of Conduct,” which will force its members to fire their agents or face disciplinary actions from the guild (it’s important to keep in mind that this rule was overwhelmingly approved by WGA members).
The collective firing of agents by writers would have a devastating impact on the industry. Without agents, many writers will no longer be able to get their work in front of the eyes of producers. This essentially will make it impossible for new writers to break into the industry and those who already have, will need to hire their own legal representation in order to work out new deals with the studios. While the new Code of Conduct does not effect deals that have already been negotiated or that are currently in talks, it will put a hold on the amount of content that gets put out if the WGA and ATA’s dispute is further prolonged.
Did this article help you better understand the drama between the WGA and ATA? What do you make of this development? Do you find yourself on the side of the writers or the agents? Sound off in the comments below and let me know your thoughts about this article and the calamitous effect that this dispute could have on the network industry!