If you're looking to break into Hollywood as an agent, Stephen King, Patton Oswalt, and David Simon are among thousands of Hollywood writers who have just fired their agents in solidarity with the Writers Guild of America.
On Saturday, the union called for its members to send termination letters to their representatives through the Association of Talent Agents. The WGA has engaged in a long-standing battle against the widespread practice of agents negotiating "package fees" to their own benefit in lieu of fair salaries for their clients, as well as creating conflicts of interest by serving as producers on the TV shows and films their clients write.
In response, the WGA has ended their 43-year-old deal with the ATA. In its stead, the union's new code of conduct strictly forbids the practice of film packaging, a deeply divisive practice wherein agents negotiate a client's participation in a project's established team. The problem lies in the "packaging fees," whereby the agent waives their usual 10 percent commission fee taken from their clients' salaries. Instead, they're paid directly by the studio. Writers have long argued that this disincentivizes agents from negotiating better salaries for their clients and results in deals with high package fees to agents rather than higher salaries to writers. But the ATA has argued that writers fundamentally misunderstand the practice of packaging deals and that clients have statistically received higher wages with packaging deals than without them.
Ultimately, only a small number of agencies agreed to the WGA's new code of conduct, and none of them were major Hollywood agencies like William Morris, Creative Artists Agency, or ICM Partners. Instead, the WGA proposes that members "deputize" their lawyers to broker financial deals with studios. In theory, the two roles overlap enough to do the job. But legal technicalities, mostly in California and New York, have thus far forbidden lawyers from serving as agents. The California Talent Agencies Act states, "No person shall engage in or carry on the occupation of a talent agency without first procuring a license therefore from the Labor Commissioner."
Moreover, a number of Hollywood lawyers have sided with ATA, with one powerful attorney telling Deadline, "The WGA has no right to anoint anyone as a de facto agent to do anything for any of its members that an agent would do. If they want to take their members down the garden path, I suggest they re-read relevant New York and California law."
On Monday night, the president of WGA West, David A. Goodman, wrote to union members that "thousands" of termination letters to agents had been sent thus far, with more to be sent "later this week." Many writers have posted their letters to Twitter. While the union's standard letter is brief, formal, and direct, the tweets from professional writers breaking up with their agents alternate between hilarity and impassioned moves to action.
Emmy-winning writer David Simon posted, "Dammit. Just realized that the WGA-ATA midnight deadline is PST. So I have to stay up another three hours and one minute to send a pic of my naked ass to CAA. #WGA #UnionUnionUnion." Modern Family writer Danny Zuker posted his letter with the tweet, "Look, I love my agent. I mean, I'm not IN love with him… although there was this one time at The Palm where the light danced in his eyes and… anyway I 💯 support the stand my union is taking!" Meanwhile, Patton Oswalt was succinct and sincere, "I have an amazing agency that represents me. But I have an even better guild which stands for me."
Even Stephen King fired his Paradigm agent in solidarity, tweeting, "This is never what I wanted. My rep has been honest and diligent for over 40 years. Not his fault, but we're a union family. Come on, ATA. Come on, WGA. Solve this so we can go back to doing what we do."
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