Fire Your Agent? Not Yet. Hollywood Writers and Talent Agencies Extend Talks.

anastasios pallis

Thousands of Hollywood writers are not firing their agents — yet.

As a Saturday night deadline approached, representatives for the writers and the agents agreed to give themselves another week to resolve their differences and stave off a potentially chaotic disruption of the entertainment industry.

The TV writers, affiliated with the Writers Guild of America, claim that the major talent agencies have been enriching themselves at the writers’ expense.

The writers and agents have been operating under an agreement that dates back to 1976 and was set to expire on Saturday. With the new deadline — 12:01 a.m. Pacific time on April 13 — the old agreement will remain in place as the two sides try to work things out.

“This afternoon, a small group of agents met with members of your committee,” the Writers Guild of America told its members in an email on Saturday night. “We had a frank and open conversation and, for the first time, the agencies acknowledged the depth of the problem that their behavior has caused.”

Karen Stuart, the executive director of the Association of Talent Agents, the trade organization that negotiates on behalf of the agencies, said in her own email that both sides were “committed to meeting regularly this week in our continued effort to work toward a resolution that serves the best interests of your businesses and your clients.”

At a time when there are more scripted shows than ever before, thanks to the rise of streaming, television writers have claimed that their pay is stagnant or going down, while the big agencies are expanding and growing richer. The writers blame the agencies for what they describe as gross conflicts of interest and corrupt business practices.

Two specific practices have gnawed at television writers. One is the agents’ decades-old habit of packaging a roster of talent from their pool of clients for a given project. In return for putting a writer together with, say, an actor and a director, the agencies waive the usual 10 percent commission fee paid to them by individual clients. In place of the commission, they collect large sums from the studios themselves, called packaging fees. These fees, the writers say, amount to money taken out of their pockets.

The writers’ second complaint is focused on how three major agencies — William Morris Endeavor, Creative Artists Agency and the United Talent Agency — have ventured into the production business by creating affiliated companies that produce and own content. Under this arrangement, the writers say, agents may end up across the table from executives who are essentially colleagues.

Agents had previously rejected both claims as ridiculous, countering that packaging talent and their move into production benefit writers in a business that has changed drastically in recent years with the entry of tech giants into entertainment.

If an agreement is not reached, the East and West branches of the Writers Guild of America have said they will instruct their members to fire their talent agents. There are 13,000 active members of the New York and Los Angeles based-unions, a spokesman for the W.G.A. said.

The battle between writers and agents is highly unusual. In previous Hollywood labor disputes, the W.G.A., which is more active than the actors’ or directors’ guilds, has typically gone after the studios. In 2007, the writers went on strike against the studios, and they nearly walked out again two years ago.

Negotiations between union leaders and the Association of Talent Agents are taking place during a period known in Hollywood as staffing season, when the broadcast networks sign writers for the fall television season.

This article is from NYT – go to source

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