Five days into a world without agents, many Hollywood writers would appear to be feeling just fine.
"I love my agents, but the situation is fucked, and it needs to be fixed now," said one veteran TV show-runner I spoke to this week, who complained that agents have been treating writers like children who dont know whats good for them. “They know better, and theyre going to school us . . . Whats become a real struggle is for them to recognize were the ones with the power.”
On Wednesday, days after the Writers Guild of America required its members to fire agents who would not agree to a new code of conduct, the union ramped up its battle with the major talent agencies, announcing that it was filing a lawsuit against WME, CAA, UTA, and ICM, the four agencies that dominate Hollywood. Writers David Simon, Barbara Hall, Meredith Stiehm, Patti Carr, Ashley Gable, Deric Hughes, Chip Johannessen, and Deirdre Mangan will serve as plaintiffs, along with Writers Guild of America West and East. The complaint cuts to the heart of the disagreement between the guild and the agencies, alleging that the widespread use of packaging fees (deals that allow agents to be paid by studios and networks of a television show, instead of a standard 10 percent commission tied to writers earnings) are unlawful.
The plaintiffs are suing for an injunction “prohibiting talent agencies from entering into future packaging deals,” and are seeking “repayment of illegal profits on behalf of writers who have been harmed by these unlawful practices in the past,” according to Tony Segall, general counsel for the Writers Guild of America West.
All of this makes it increasingly unlikely that this rift between writers and their representatives will be quick or easily resolved. Unlike a union strike, however, this drama has not brought the entertainment industry to a halt. Existing shows carry on unaffected, and new deals for writers can be brokered by managers and lawyers. In fact, several writers and show-runners I spoke to said that the situation made them wonder why they needed an agent at all. They had found most of their writing gigs through personal connections, and their managers and lawyers were often doing the heavy lifting. “The agencies are struggling to come to terms with [writers] feeling that their agents arent doing enough for them,” one streamer show-runner told me, wondering why “they cant get their agent on the phone,” but are paying an additional 15 percent to a manager and lawyer “to find work and negotiate deals.”
That scenario works better for well-connected veterans than for more entry-level writers, for whom powerful agents can serve as a fierce champion. “What I liked about my agents was that they have this huge list, and they have access and are hearing about projects all the time,” said one relatively new TV writer, who expressed chagrin at having to fire her agents. “They were good basic advocates for me.” But she was surprised to discover that some other writers at a similar level made more than she did on a recent job, and she now wonders if her agents negotiated hard enough for her, or whether a tiny raise for her was too piddling for them to spend time negotiating, when they could be focused on nabbing giant packaging fees from projects by more senior TV writers.
Now that many writers are without agents, the W.G.A. has created a staffing submission system that allows members of the union to submit their work directly—but one can only apply for three open jobs at a time, those gigs might not be the right fit, and, of course, it doesnt work for scribes who dont have their W.G.A. card yet. So some writers have jumped into the fray to play matchmaker, and to serve as a sounding board for more junior colleagues.
“I am reaching out to all the writers that Ive staffed on my shows, to let them know that they should use me as a reference, and just check in on them because its a very scary time,” said Jenny Bicks, a show-runner on series like Divorce and The Big C. This is how it often worked, even before the dispute, she said: “Were always calling each other and saying, Hey, listen. You worked with this writer. Should I hire them? So were just doing the same thing weve always done; were just not getting phone calls from agents.”
Almost as soon as the W.G.A. announced it would require members to sever ties with agents, Javi Grillo-Marxuach (creator of The Middleman, who is currently at work on Netflixs The Dark Crystal) launched the Twitter hashtag #wgasolidaritychallenge, vowing to read one lower-level TV writers script each week, and, if he liked it, publicly boost the work. Into the Badlands and Walking Dead writer LaToya Morgan kick-started another hashtag, #WGAStaffingBoost, to serve as a more broad platform for writers looking for a staff job to shout about their accomplishments.
Both hashtags caught fire, with numerous writers flying their freak flags, and powerful show-runners throwing in offers to read and/or meet with some of the people in the threads, including Shawn Ryan, Read More – Source