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More than 750 screenwriters and showrunners, including Alfonso Cuarón, Kenya Barris, Tina Fey and Adam McKay, have signed a letter supporting the Writers Guild of America in its battle against and the Association of Talent Agents over packaging fees and conflicts of interest.
“We are voting YES to support Guild implementation of an Agency Code of Conduct after the current AMBA expires on April 6th, if there is no negotiated settlement,” read the letter. “We agree a new agency agreement should 1) Confront practices that constitute a conflict of interest: agency packaging fees and agencies functioning as producers and 2) Require the agencies to work with the Guild to protect writers’ interests by providing writer contracts, invoices and other information.”
Fede Alvarez, Ike Barinholtz, Amy Berg, Greg Berlanti, Kay Cannon, Peter Farrelly, Simon Kinberg, Mindy Kaling, Barry Jenkins, Patton Oswalt, Amy Poehler, Issa Rae and Colin Trevorrow, among many more, signed the letter as well.
Over the past week, the WGA and one of the top agencies in Hollywood, United Talent Agency, have published dueling reports on the impact that packaging fees have had on how much writers get paid. UTA argues that by including writers in packaging deals instead of taking a 10 percent commission, they have been able to save their writer clients an average of $2,439.
But in its own report published Thursday, the WGA argued that TV writers with producer credits have not seen their pay increase in relation to inflation rates over the past 20 years.
For example, the WGA report notes that a supervising producer on a one-hour drama in the 1990s made an average $17,500 per episode, “That would be $27,300 in today’s dollars,” the report said. “But again, 17 years later, supervising producers at the median were making only $17,500 per episode.”
The WGA also said that while its members’ total earnings hit an all-time high of $1.4 billion in 2017, median wages are dropping. That is something the guild blames agencies for, claiming that agents “have not kept up their end of the bargain by fighting for increases in their clients’ over-scale payments.”
ATA’s counterproposal, posted to its official site Thursday, doesn’t differ much from the informal counterproposal made public on March 12. Talent agencies aren’t backing down on their commitment to package deals. However, the latest document explains in greater detail how agencies would provide transparency and greater consent for writers when it comes to packaging.
Packaging fees, the guild argues, have allowed agencies to capitalize on the demand for more TV programming by increasing the fees they receive for packaging deals for shows that can run for years, rather than operate on a commission system that directly ties how much agents earn to how much money they secure for their writers.
The WGA has scheduled a four-day membership vote that will begin on March 27 to authorize the guild to enforce a new Code of Conduct requiring agencies to remove all package fees from their deals in order to represent writers. If the vote is approved, the Code will be enforced on April 7, with the WGA calling on its members to leave any agency that refuses to comply.