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C21May iPad

7,000 WGA members fire agents

The Writers Guild of America (WGA) has described more than 7,000 of its members who have fired their agents as an “astounding, powerful number,” in the latest salvo in its ongoing battle with the Association of Talent Agencies (ATA).

Shonda Rhimes

A “first batch of over 7,000 termination letters from WGA members to non-franchised agencies” have now been sent, said the WGA, which has around 9,000 active members.

The WGA thanked its members for their actions in its dispute with the ATA, whose main members – the CAA, WME, IUTA and ICM Partners – have refused to sign the Guild’s new code of conduct.

That code, which was voted into effect by more than 7,800 of close to 8,300 eligible members, wants to do away with packaging fees and the increasing tendency of agencies to operate their own production entities – something the WGA says creates a conflict of interest.

“We look forward to the day when we are all represented by agencies who have agreed to align their interests with ours; in the meantime, writers will continue working, continue supporting each other, and continue to prove that we can and will make the necessary change happen,” the WGA said in a letter to members.

Last week, the WGA launched an anti-packaging lawsuit against the four biggest US agencies, prompting the ATA to accuse the Guild of misleading its members.

The WGA’s action, filed in the LA Superior Court, argues that the fees charged by UTA, WME, CAA and ICM Partners for bundling talent and bringing projects together, known as packaging, violate state laws and federal competition laws, referring to the ‘anti-kickback’ rules outlined in the Taft-Hartley Act.

Thomas Schnauz

The WGA wants an injunction to stop the practice and has demanded repayment of monies gained from the practice since the initial agreement was signed in 1976. US reports suggest that, should the suit be successful, the figure could run into hundreds of millions of dollars.

The dispute, which is occurring at a key period ahead of US pilot season, relates to the renegotiation of the Artists’ Manager Basic Agreement between the WGA and ATA, which has been in place since 1976.

The WGA’s new code of conduct requires ATA members to eliminate the TV packaging fees they currently charge for bundling talent and bringing projects together, arguing that the model has resulted in stagnating salaries for low- and mid-level writers.

The ATA countered that the packaging fee model is better because it allows writers to forgo paying the 10% commission they would otherwise have to pay their agents.

The WGA also wants agencies to relinquish their interests in production companies and return to being simply talent agencies. Several of the biggest US agencies have in recent years been making their own moves into production and content ownership, effectively putting them in competition with their clients – something the WGA said is a clear conflict of interest.

Eric Haywood

The two sides have been unable to resolve the issue despite extended talks, leading to an escalating dispute.

Some of the biggest names in Hollywood have since followed through and dismissed their agents, including Grey’s Anatomy creator Shonda Rhimes, Breaking Bad scribe Thomas Schnauz, Empire screenwriter Eric Haywood and Lucifer showrunner Joe Henderson.

Damon Lindelof (The Leftovers), Hart Hanson (Bones), Steven DeKnight (Spartacus), Alexi Hawley (The Rookie) and David Simon (The Wire) have all also dismissed their representatives, with many voicing support for the WGA under the Twitter hashtag #IstandwiththeWGA.

Members have since reportedly been forming their own networks to link writers and employers.

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