WGA members have voted overwhelmingly – 95.3% to 4.7% – to approve the unilateral imposition of a new Agency Code of Conduct, just six days before the guild’s existing franchise agreement with the Association of Talent Agents is set to expire. The final vote by the combined members of the WGA East and West was 7882 in favor to 392 opposed.
The one-sided vote, though not unexpected, should bolster the WGA’s bargaining position by letting the agencies know that writers aren’t bluffing – that they really are ready to walk out on their agents, altogether and all on the same day. The ATA says that would create “chaos” in the industry. The WGA calls it a “difficult” part of a necessary “realignment” of a “corrupt” business model that has and will continue to drive down the over-scale pay – which agents negotiate – of thousands of writers, producers and showrunners.
The ATA issued a statement on today’s outcome.
“Now that the WGA is past its vote,” the ATA said, “we look forward to getting back into the room to work through an agreement that serves the best interest of writers, respects their individual choice, and prevents unnecessary disruption to our industry. We stand ready and waiting.”
The WGA and the ATA are expected to return to the bargaining table later this week, although no date has been set. The deadline for a deal is April 6. After that, if no agreement is reached and the talks aren’t extended, the guild could order its members to walk away from any agents who refuse to sign its new Code.
At last count, nearly 800 writers – including many of TV’s top showrunners – have pledged that they will do just that if a new franchise agreement isn’t reached. They could still keep their same agents for directing jobs, but not for writer deals. Writer-directors would have to have two agents at different agencies to procure employment for them, which only licensed talent agents are allowed to do.
The ATA, meanwhile, has said that its members standing together too – that more than 100 of them, including all the major agencies that do nearly all the packaging, have pledged that they won’t sign the WGA’s Code. Thus, the showdown
The impact of a writers’ walkout on the upcoming TV staffing season, if it comes to that, would be felt immediately, as thousands of writers would be looking for jobs and agents at the same time. TV production, however, won’t feel so much as a hiccup because writers will remain on shows already in production and on those with signed deals. But their agents won’t be allowed to represent them or renegotiate for them if they don’t sign the Code.
TV development, however, would quickly see significant turmoil because the big four agencies are deeply involved in the development of the shows they package – and they package the vast majority of them. Studio and network development divisions would have to pick up a lot of the slack for the WGA’s plan to succeed to reinvent agenting.
Independent films could also discover that funding and distribution is harder to find, which the big agencies bring together in deals they package. A slowdown in that sector, the ATA says, would hurt actors, directors and crewmembers as well.
The guild, meanwhile, has taken the unpreceded step of deputizing its members’ personal managers and lawyers to serve as replacement agents for the top agents they no longer will have if the Code is implemented. Many writers don’t even have agents, managers or lawyers, and like many of those who do, say they will find writing jobs on their own, as many say they do already.
To help connect writers with hirers, if necessary, the guild has also created a new electronic jobs board – called the WGA Staffing Submission System – that’s already recruited hundreds of showrunners and executive producers who’ve pledged to review their fellow writers’ self-submissions for staffing on TV shows.
(Excerpt) Read more in: Deadline