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The Writers Guild of America has ordered thousands of Hollywood writers to dismiss their agents, which would be a radical move that could hinder the production of new television series and new films.
Friday's abrupt directive followed a break in negotiations on the proposed changes to the agreement that has guided the fundamental commercial relations between editors and agents over the past 43 years.
Discussions being blocked before the midnight deadline, the WGA sent its 13,000 writers an email with instructions to inform their agents in writing that they can not represent them before the signing. a new code of conduct.
"We know that together we will enter unknown waters," the message said. "A life that deviates from the current system could be disoriented to varying degrees.But it has become apparent that a big change is needed."
It was a bold move for a group accustomed to writing its own scripts. "I guess the idea of calling our agents is something that people have never thought we would do," said David Goodman, president of the Writers Guild of America West, in an interview with NPR.
"Studios and networks always need writers to get the job done, so until the agents realize that they need us more than we need them." we will take care of it, "said Goodman.
At the heart of the conflict, writers complain that their agents not only earn them dramatically, but prevent them from getting a better salary. The dispute is likely to be detrimental to production at a time when large broadcast networks are generally staffing the queue. It could also lead to job losses in the sector.
"All this struggle concerns the fact that in a period of unprecedented profits and growth in our business (…) the writers themselves actually earn less," Goodman said.
One of the main points of contention is the so-called packaging costs, the money that agents receive from a studio when they provide a list of talents for a film or television project. Traditionally, agents earned a 10% commission on the work that their clients were receiving from a studio. But with the costs of packing, they are compensated directly by the studios. "They have no incentive to increase the income of these writers," said Goodman.
Writers also protest against a change in business model in recent years in some of the largest talent agencies in Hollywood. Agents are increasingly present in the film and television sectors as producers, and writers say that such a double hat system represents a conflict of interest.
Goodman said that to get out of the stalemate, the industry had to come back "to the traditional agent-writer relationship", according to which an agent takes 10% of a writer's income.
Saturday, writers posted images letters they had signed and sent to their agents, expressing their solidarity if not total support.
"I have an amazing agency that represents me", Patton Oswalt, scriptwriter, actor and comedian says on Twitter. "But I have an even better guild that represents me."
"Good God" writes David Simon, author and television journalist based in Baltimore Thread. "I just realized that the [agency agreement] the midnight deadline is PST. So I have to stand still for three hours and a minute to send a picture of my [the Creative Artists Agency]. "
The Association of Talented Agents, which represents agencies, has promised more transparency when agencies participate in the production of a film or television show. The association is committed to reopening discussions on the issue after two years if the Writers Guild determines that members do not benefit from it.
The association also offered concessions until Friday's break-up, including the ability to share 80% of a "percentage" of their profits when packing fees for a television series are involved.
The guild said that, based on the offer received from agents, this "percentage" amounted to 0.8% of the money earned by agents from the expenses of the agents. ;packaging.
ATA also said the agencies would spend $ 6 million over six years to create a more inclusive environment and insisted that they "are and have always been on the writer's side".
In a statement, Karen Stuart, ATA Executive Director, said Friday's failure "was motivated by the Guild's predetermined trajectory for chaos." She said it would end up hurting artists.
"The WGA demands a" code of conduct "that will hurt all artists, with a particularly painful blow to mid-level and emerging writers, while dictating the operation of agencies of all sizes."
Goodman said the writers are already hurt. He described the proposal as "a ridiculous proposition considering that screenwriters are the reason a television show succeeds".
Until the impasse was resolved, members of the Guild told writers that they could approach directors or lawyers to manage their affairs.
ATA lawyers threatened to sue the guild, saying the union was violating licensing laws in California and New York. As part of his argument, he said in a letter that the union "can not" delegate "the authority that it does not have."
The break in Friday's negotiations has only marked the last chapter of the Writers Guild's persistent aversion to packaging costs. Goodman said the union had sought reforms as early as the 1970s.
"People say it's an unprecedented move, but it's not in the sense that 43 years ago we tried to get rid of packaging.