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Script competition

Agencies offer to share fees in WGA, ATA row

Hollywood agencies have said they will share packaging fees with writers on successful shows, in the latest development in the ongoing row between the Writers Guild of America (WGA) and the Association of Talent Agents (ATA) in the US.

Earlier this week, the two parties agreed a short extension of the deadline to resolve the dispute, which relates to the renegotiation of the Artists’ Manager Basic Agreement (AMBA) between the WGA and ATA, in place since 1976.

The WGA produced a new code of conduct that it says its members have overwhelmingly approved. This code requires ATA members to eliminate the television packaging fees they currently charge for bundling talent and bringing projects together.

The ATA has 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.

ATA exec director Karen Stuart has now put forward a further series of counter-proposals ahead of the deadline of midnight tonight to avoid what she describes as a “destabilising industry fall-out.” If no agreement is forthcoming, WGA members could be required to fire their agents.

Proposals in a memo sent to ATA members include “sharing success,” and would see writers handed a portion of the agencies’ packaging fees – although details around an amount, or a percentage of the packaging fee, have not been given.

“When a packaged show does well, writers will now share in the success and receive a share of the agencies’ packaging fees,” the memo read. “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 programmes to foster and expand inclusion of historically underrepresented writers. This is a meaningful investment in the writer community.”

Other proposals include: agencies providing the WGA with copies of writers’ contracts and financial information, with the writer’s permission; a US$2m annual fund, available for three years, to improve inclusion; and agencies sharing anonymised date and summaries about deals made on behalf of agent-affiliated production entities that engages writers.

Stuart added that the ATA is “committed to getting a deal across the finish line,” adding that it was “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 organisations.”

The WGA is yet to comment on the latest development.

Another bone of contention between the two sides is the move by several of the biggest US agencies in recent years into production and content ownership, effectively putting them in competition with their clients – something the WGA said is a clear conflict of interest.

The 1976 AMBA deal was due to expire last week, at which point the WGA was expected to require its 15,000-strong membership to fire their agents over the weekend. Agencies not signing up to the new code would be forbidden from working with WGA members.

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