Agency packaging fees and the growing prevalence of affiliated production entities are in the spotlight as Hollywood talent agencies on Wednesday (Feb 6) emphatically denied they had reached an impasse in negotiations with the Writers Guild of America (WGA).
As the April 7 expiry date for the existing agreement looms, the Association Of Talent Agents (ATA) sent a letter to the Guild in which it rejected the claim by WGA West president David A. Goodman that the parties were at an impasse. The missive denied agents had withdrawn from talks, countering that the Guild had not replied to an earlier letter in which the agencies said they were willing to negotiate on every WGA proposal.
Wednesday’s ATA letter followed a statement of purpose posted on the WGA website that called for agency change and decried a “corrupt system”. Central to the statement is what the Guild called “agency-based studios and packaging fees” that it said “make a mockery of the notion of agents as representatives and fiduciaries.
Late on Wednesday the WGA West’s Goodman said the Guild was willing to negotiate and was hopeful of reaching an agreement.
At issue is the Guild’s frustration over packaging fees and the relatively recent rise of agency-related production entities. The Guild wants agencies to cease their packaging operations and cut all links to affiliated entities that are involved in production.
There has been growing dissatisfaction among the Guilds, not to mention financiers in some circles, who have cried foul when agencies charge more than mere representation fees. Adding packaging fees is nothing new, however in some cases agencies have also played the role of sales agent and financier, and have charged extra fees to reflect their deeper involvement on a film or TV project.
For their part, the agencies assert that talent save their 10% commission if their agency is one of the packaging agents on a show, and claim talent would pay more were packaging fees to be eliminated, while studios would pay less. With regard to production, the agencies say that consolidated studios, networks and distributors are less willing to finance and distribute a higher volume of content, which is why agencies have taken on greater responsibility in these areas.
The letter in response from the ATA said it was “ready, willing and able” to meet with WGA leadership at any time and engage in responses and counter-proposals to the Guild’s proposals. It called on the writers to work towards the same goal and find common ground.
The Guild will vote on a new code of conduct on March 25 that proposes a ban on packaging fees and agency-related production entities. It is understood the proposal is likely to secure the support of members.