WGA to Sue Hollywood’s Top 4 Talent Agencies Over Packaging Fees
The Writers Guild of America on Wednesday announced that it plans to bring a lawsuit against Hollywood’s top four talent agencies, escalating its dispute over packaging fees.
At a press conference on Wednesday, the guild said it was filing a lawsuit that alleges that packaging fees — collected when bundling talent and bringing them as a package to a studio or network for film or TV projects — are illegal under California and federal law.
The lawsuit claims that packaging fees violate California fiduciary law by “severing the relationship between writers’ compensation and what the agency receives in fees.”
Lawyers for the WGA also argued during the press conference on Wednesday that packaging fees violate the Taft-Hartley Act, which says that any representative of an employee cannot receive money from the employer.
Reps for the Association of Talent Agents and the four agencies did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Among the plaintiffs on the lawsuit are “Cold Case” creator Meredith Stiehm and “Madam Secretary” creator Barbara Hall. Stiehm also serves as the co-chair of the negotiating committee for the WGAW and sits on the guild’s board.
Stiehm said that her agency, CAA, negotiated a packaging fee on the long-running CBS police procedural “Cold Case” without her knowledge, and that she didn’t become aware of the fee until the show was in its seventh season, when the network asked her to reduce the show’s budget.
“For every dollar that I made, (CAA) made 94 cents. They should make 10 percent,” Stiehm said, citing the traditional fee that agencies collect from clients. “If an agency is taking $75,000 out of the budget every episode, that is money that can be spent on actors or sets or music. We had to take out music, we had to cut down to 17 episodes and we couldn’t shoot in Philadelphia. Season 7 was less of a season than it could have been.”
Since a 43-year-old agreement between the WGA and the Association of Talent Agents expired last Friday, the guild said “thousands” of its writer members have severed their relationship with their agencies.
A host of prominent film and TV writers have taken to Twitter to commit their support for the WGA and the new code of conduct that members approved by an overwhelming majority. The code explicitly forbids agents representing its writer members to collect packaging fees — a condition that none of the major talent agencies so far has agreed to honor.