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Writers Guild agrees to resume talks with talent agencies

LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 28, 2019 Building at 7000 West 3rd Street in the Fairfax area of Los Angel
The stalemate between the Writers Guild of America and Hollywood talent agencies began April 12 when talks broke down and writers began firing their agents.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

In a sign of a possible detente in a bitter conflict, the Writers Guild of America has agreed to resume talks with talent agencies following a stalemate that has lasted more than a month.

The guild’s leadership agreed late Wednesday to a recent invitation from talent agency UTA to restart the negotiation process. “Thank you for your offer to meet, which I accept on behalf of the WGA,” wrote David Goodman, president of the West Coast branch of the WGA, in an email to UTA’s co-president Jay Sures.

“We continue to believe that there is a deal to be made that aligns agency interests with those of writers. We look forward to hearing what you have to say.”

Talks between the two sides broke down on April 12, prompting guild members to begin firing their agents. The WGA said at the time that the agencies’ most recent offer was insufficient and that the two sides had not made meaningful progress on key issues.

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Sures wrote in his email to the WGA on Wednesday afternoon that the two sides should meet next Wednesday. “Many feel this fight has gone on too long,” he wrote.

He also touched on the recent lawsuit that the guild filed against the four biggest Hollywood talent agencies over the legality of packaging fees — the money that agencies receive from studios for bundling talent on a TV show.

The WGA is arguing that agencies have prioritized packaging over client needs. But the agencies have countered that packaging benefits writers because it improves the chances that a project will be picked up by a studio. Writers on packaged shows also don’t have to pay the traditional 10% commission to their agents.

“We have publicly stated that if a writer does not want his/her show packaged, we will honor that,” Sures wrote. “Let’s put an end to this unnecessary and extremely costly litigation that is a great detriment to your membership and the agencies.”

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Sures said the agencies still intended to file responses to the guild’s lawsuit. It remains unclear how the resumed negotiations would affect the case.

The other defendants in the suit are WME, CAA and ICM Partners.

The two sides are also feuding over so-called affiliate production — a more recent trend where agencies have launched production outfits, mini-studios that churn out their own TV shows and movies.

Writers believe affiliate production presents a conflict of interest because agencies in some cases both represent a client and are potential employers.

The Assn. of Talent Agents has led the negotiations with the guild on behalf of talent agencies. ATA representatives didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

david.ng@latimes.com

@DavidNgLAT


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