news 6 days ago

Writers Guild President Accuses Talent Agencies of Misconduct, Harassment

Variety — Dave McNary

In a blistering message, the president of the Writers Guild of America West has accused Hollywood talent agencies of engaging in misconduct by harassing guild members.

David Goodman issued the accusation Friday in a message to members that comes during the 10th month of the standoff against agencies over WGA rules allowing them to represent WGA members. About 80 agencies, including APA, Abrams, Buchwald, Gersh, Innovative Artists, Kaplan Stahler, Rothman Brecher Ehrich Livingston and Verve, have agreed to accept the WGA’s bans on agency packaging fees and affiliate production ownership.

WGA members were told in April to fire their agents if the agents had not agreed to ban packaging fees and affiliate production. Goodman did not specify in his message which agencies were involved in misconduct and harassment.

“A number of the unsigned agencies, while professing to want a deal, continue to engage in misconduct,” he said in the message. “We know that some agents are harassing former clients to work with them in secret under the false premise that ‘everyone else has come back.’ These same uwzœnfranchised agents are inserting themselves into potential deals by calling executives and acting as if they still represent writers who fired them. This is itself an indication that the pressure is mounting on them. We talked about this misconduct in a previous email, and there may be helpful information in it if you find yourself faced with this kind of pressure.”

Goodman also dismissed reports that some WGA members have gone back to unfranchised agents.

“We’ve also heard the rumors that some writers have gone back to their unfranchised agents,” he said. “When we receive specific information the allegations are investigated, starting with outreach by the Guild’s Working Rule 23 Committee. We have looked into a few reports that turned out to be without merit, which is why confidentiality is so important. But we continue to investigate other reports, and for any writers breaking the rules, there must and will be accountability.”

Variety reported this week that a host of prominent and seasoned writers in recent months have resumed regular communication and consultation on business issues with their former representatives at WME, CAA, UTA, ICM Partners and Paradigm.

Goodman also addressed the upcoming contract negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. The WGA’s contract expires on May 1.

“As we head into MBA negotiations, some in the industry have pushed the narrative that the agency campaign has weakened us,” he said. “But it has had the opposite effect: we have taken on the status quo, challenged business practices that everyone hated but no one else would question, and, in doing so, changed the way the whole town does business. The companies have seen another powerful example of the Guild’s unity and sense of purpose in protecting the well-being of writers. There is no doubt it has made us stronger.”

The “pattern of demands” recently approved by members includes a requirement that the AMPTP members agree to include language in the successor contract that the companies cannot do business with enfranchised agents. The AMPTP brushed off that demand a year ago, citing antitrust law.

CAA, UTA and WME have sued the WGA on antitrust violations, alleging the guild is engaging in an illegal boycott. The WGA has accused the agencies of a racketeering conspiracy by accepting fees from studios for packaging talent along with engaging in a price-fixing conspiracy by suppressing writers’ wages, and of an illegal group boycott, by agreeing to deal with the guild only through its trade association.

CAA, UTA, WME, ICM Partners and Paradigm have held out. Goodman said in his message that four of the five agencies had engage in “substantive” discussions about making a deal. He did not say which of the five agencies has refused to talk.

Representatives for CAA and UTA denied Goodman’s assertions about the discussions and his allegations of misconduct. WME said in a statement, “We would love to be able to say that we have been having substantive conversations with the WGA, but it’s disingenuous and simply not true. We wish there was a resolution to this dispute, but we need a willing negotiation partner to find one.”

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