Creative Artists Agency, WME request injunctions in WGA fight
The protracted fight between Hollywood writers and their agents isn’t over just yet.
This week, Creative Artists Agency and WME filed motions for preliminary injunctions in federal court in Los Angeles that would prevent the Writers Guild of America from restricting its members from being represented by agents at the prominent talent agencies.
The action is the latest sign of the ongoing rift with the WGA. Although the union has reached agreements with two other major agencies — ICM Partners and United Talent Agency — CAA and WME remain at odds with the guild more than a year after it instructed writers to fire agents who did not sign their code of conduct.
The code eliminates industry practices such as charging packaging fees for assembling talent on shows and limits how much agencies can invest in affiliated production companies. The measures are intended to avoid potential conflicts of interest for agents.
The WGA has signed individual agreements with more than 80 agencies, who have pledged to end packaging by June 30, 2022, and to restrict their ownership in affiliate productions. In its most recent deals signed with UTA and ICM Partners, the two major agencies agreed to limit their stakes in production companies to no more than 20%.
CAA has tried to work out a deal with the WGA, including offering to put its ownership in affiliated production company Wiip into a blind trust that would cap CAA’s ownership stake at 20%. The guild did not respond to CAA’s offer, prompting the agency to request the court’s help.
The Century City-based agency said that its business is hurting from rivals who aim to poach CAA clients and agents.
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Some agents also are leaving their employers to start their own management firms.
“The harm to CAA talent agents and client relationships that is occurring now can never be repaired unless this Court halts the Guilds’ unlawful tactics pending trial,” CAA wrote in court filings. “A preliminary injunction is necessary.”
In a letter to members on Tuesday, the WGA agency negotiating committee said CAA’s latest proposal was a welcome step but did not fully protect writers’ interests.
“As we have made clear from the moment they finally returned to the table, we will not now make a deal with them that undermines what we have already achieved,” the committee wrote. “That is not changed by the fact that CAA is more conflicted than other agencies, nor by threats of specious lawsuits and arbitrary deadlines.”
Beverly Hills-based WME said more than 1,000 WGA members, including 300 showrunners, have sent termination letters to the talent agency.
After the union signed agreements with UTA and ICM Partners, around a dozen former WME clients signed with those rival agencies, said Rick Rosen, a partner at WME in a court declaration filed on Wednesday. Others are choosing talent managers to replace WME, Rosen said.
“These harms to WME from the Guilds’ boycott have most severely impacted our youngest, up-and-coming agents whose careers have been harmed by the Guilds’ boycott in ways that cannot be remedied merely by the Guilds paying damages to WME,” Rosen said.
The declaration also highlights how tense relations have been with the guild.
Rosen said after he sent an internal memo in August to WME agents updating them on the standoff, WGA West Executive Director David Young during a phone call “repeatedly threatened to ‘kill’ me for having drafted this internal-only message.” Rosen said he later called WGA West President David Goodman about Young’s threats and Goodman replied, “Oh God,” according to the declaration.
“This to me underscores that such behavior by Mr. Young is both expected and condoned by the Guilds,” Rosen stated under oath.
Goodman and Young deny Rosen’s claims, said WGA West spokesman Neal Sacharow.
WME said it has agreed to reduce its ownership in affiliated production company Endeavor Content to 20% and to end packaging. But details regarding the divestiture remain in dispute with the union, including whether third-party investors in WME’s parent company, Endeavor, would have to restrict their ownership in affiliated production companies, terms that are different from other agency agreements, WME said.
Goodman said in a statement that WME’s request for a preliminary injunction is “not a way forward.”
“As we said to CAA yesterday, the Guild and its members will not be bullied into giving up our right to fair and non-conflicted representation,” Goodman said. “If WME honestly believes that the way to win writers’ hearts is to threaten us with undermining the Guild itself, they do not know writers — 20 months in and they still do not know writers.”
The pandemic has placed more pressure on talent agencies, as productions have been significantly delayed. Many talent agencies have implemented cost-cutting measures. CAA had salary reductions in April and, in July, laid off 90 agents and executives. WME also implemented cost-cutting initiatives affecting 20% of its staff, most of which were layoffs.
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