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ATA to ‘fight’ as WGA demands firings

The Association of Talent Agencies (ATA) in the US has said it will “keep fighting” in its dispute against the Writers Guild of America (WGA) after the latter told its members to fire agents who have not signed up to its new code of conduct.

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

The WGA produced a new code of conduct earlier this year that its members have overwhelmingly approved. It 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.

The two sides have been unable to resolve the dispute despite extended talks, with the latest deadline for a resolution passing on Friday night.

That led to the WGA implementing its new Agency Code of Conduct on Saturday, ordering its members to fire all agents who refuse to sign it. Members have since reportedly been forming their own networks to link writers and employers.

Numerous writers and showrunners have reportedly fired their agents since the dispute came to a head over the weekend, including Damon Lindelof (Watchmen), Hart Hanson (Bones), Steven DeKnight (Spartacus), Alexi Hawley (The Rookie) and David Simon (The Wire).

All major agencies have refused to sign the code, with the ATA saying yesterday that its “resolve has never been stronger” and accusing the WGA of threatening its “agency business operations.”

ATA exec director Karen Stuart said the WGA leadership had “thrown the entire entertainment ecosystem into an abyss, affecting stakeholders across the spectrum.” She added that the agencies she represents “will not be a willing participant to any further chaos.”

Stuart said the ATA was now abiding by its own Agency Standards for Client Representation that provides guidance on agents’ relationships with clients who are writers. “It provides clarity and stability for writer clients and your agencies in that it offers transparency, disclosures, safeguards and choice,” she said.

Stuary also reiterated a series of counterproposals made late last week, which included a plan to share a small percentage of packaging fees with writers on successful shows.

Those ideas were rejected by the WGA, however, which is after root-and-branch change. In a statement, it said that “among other unacceptable proposals, the agencies insist on continuing their major conflicts of interest. They insist on continuing to produce and be our employers. Their ‘offer’ on packaging is to share 1% of their packaging fee with writers.”

David A Goodman, WGA West president, said the ATA’s offer was “not a serious proposal” and added that it “in no way realigns your incentives with these writers.

“You are still receiving money from our employers for access to us, and keeping 99% of the profits of your back end. It does not change your incentives at all.”

Stuart, meanwhile, countered that the rejection of the ATA’s proposals showed the WGA “favours industry-wide chaos over reason and compromise. Although the future may be uncertain, we are ready for it.”

She added that the WGA proposals were “unacceptable” to agencies of all sizes and would provide the guild “with an unprecedented level of control” over its members’ operations.

Stuart said her members would now “do everything we can to mitigate the damage the guild has imposed by implementing their strategy,” but added that the ATA was “prepared to continue fighting for a long-term solution that protects our clients and serves all ATA member agencies.”

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