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Verve talent agency breaks ranks and sides with Hollywood writers

LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 28, 2019 Building at 7000 West 3rd Street in the Fairfax area of Los Angel
The Writers Guild of America said Thursday that it had reached a three-year agreement with Verve, a boutique talent agency founded in 2010.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

A boutique talent agency has broken ranks and sided with Hollywood writers in their ongoing dispute with agencies.

Verve, a young Los Angeles agency focusing primarily on writers, is the biggest agency so far to make peace with the opposition, though it is far smaller than the four major Hollywood agencies that are at the center of the fight. The Writers Guild of America said in a message to members late Thursday that it had reached a negotiated franchise agreement with Verve for a three-year term.

The agreement includes key provisions of the guild’s proposed code of conduct that it has asked all agencies to sign. Those provisions would prohibit Verve from charging packaging fees and engaging in production activity — two of the most contentious points in the dispute between writers and agents.

“This agreement is an important step forward in our efforts to realign agency incentives and eliminate the conflicts of interest that have undermined representation of writers,” the guild said in the message.

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Verve’s decision is more symbolic than substantive, since the agency doesn’t engage in production activity and also doesn’t do much packaging. The agency, which was founded in 2010, is believed to represent a few hundred clients. But Verve is the biggest firm yet to break ranks with the agencies, making the deal a publicity coup for both parties.

Siding with the writers could prove a financial boon to Verve if the agency begins poaching clients from other agencies. But that could expose Verve to potential lawsuits, since the major Hollywood agencies have a history of taking legal action to protect their businesses.

Verve joins a handful of other small agencies that have already sided with writers. But the big Hollywood agencies that account for the overwhelming share of writer representation and packaging — WME, CAA, UTA and ICM Partners — remain unmoved and are currently locked in a court battle with the guild over the legality of charging packaging fees.

In recent weeks, Hollywood TV and movie writers have been firing their agents as part of the guild’s efforts to put pressure on agencies. The guild has said that more than 7,000 members have sent termination notices to their agents.

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Verve said in a statement that its clients’ interests remain the firm’s top priority.

“As a result of our meaningful dialogue with our clients and their elected leadership, Verve has decided this course of action is in the best interest of our clients and our company,” the agency said.

“Although there will be modifications to our business practices that are necessitated by today’s decision, one thing that will not change is our commitment to providing long-term, premium service to our clients.”

The agency’s client roster includes writer-director Colin Trevorrow, screenwriter Michael Arndt and screenwriter Meg LeFauve.

The agency isn’t a member of the Assn. of Talent Agents, the trade organization that is representing agencies in the fight.

The ATA said in a statement Thursday that Verve’s decision was disappointing.

“The WGA leadership has put writers and agents alike in an untenable position,” the association said.

“It is disappointing but not surprising that some of the most vulnerable agencies may reluctantly be forced to sign an onerous agreement. While Verve is not an ATA member agency, their decision to sign the WGA’s Code will ultimately harm their business and the artists they represent on many levels.”

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david.ng@latimes.com

@DavidNgLAT


UPDATES:

4:47 p.m.: This article was updated with a statement from Verve as well as additional company information.


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