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The Writers Strike Back – TV Writers Union Threatens to Fire Agents En Masse Over Licensing Deals

[dropcap size=big]T[/dropcap]he cyclical nature of Hollywood has lead to an effort by the Writers Guild of America (WGA) to scale back the powerful hold that talent agencies have on the industry. The WGA has asked thousands of members to fire their talent agency, according to a report.

This comes after rising frustrations from screenwriters being left in the dark about packaging deals with studios and production companies affiliated with talent agencies.

“In the end negotiations are always a balance of power,” said Chris Keyser, on On The Frame. “We do not work for them.” The former WGA President and current co-chair of the WGA negotiating committee talked about how the issue is an imbalance of power.

“It doesn't make sense in a world in which budgets are skyrocketing, that writers alone should see their salaries decline,” he said. Another issue Keyser pointed to is the agency is more incentivised to work with a director in their agency. If writers want to work with a director in another agency they might have to split those packaging fees.

The move could be a blow to the Golden Age of Television that was spurred on by shows like Six Feet Under, The Sopranos, and The Wire. The WGA set April 6th as a deadline to negotiate a new agreement. The WGA met with agencies on Thursday but no agreement was reached. They are expected to continue meetings next week.

'Their proposals require each individual to respond to a powerful agency.'

The practice of packaging fees by talent agencies is not a new practice, it really took hold after the weakened studio system in the 1950s. The major difference today is that talent agencies have moved into film and TV production.

The trend especially impacts writers who write for television shows with shorter seasons. According to the Times, “The guild estimated that the average pay of TV writer-producers fell 23 percent from 2014 to 2016.” This is partly a result of the declining residuals from reduced DVDs sales and syndication and the rise of online streaming services.

Some agencies agree that the reduced salary of writers is due to the external factors and the nature of the industry. James Gosnell, president of the ATA and president-CEO of the APA agency, argues that the decreased salary of writers is due to “consolidation, streaming, globalization, and short orders with most shows at eight to 13 episodes.”

Talent agencies believe that packaging top talent actually benefits writers because it has a better chance of being greenlit by studios. Most recent television shows are a result of a packaging – nearly 87 percent of the 2016-17 class, according WGA West.

The Association of Talent Agents proposed a “statement of choice” that gives writers the choice of working on packaged show. “Their proposals require each individual to respond to a powerful agency – that is virtually no choice at all,” says the WGA.

The talent agencies have such a tight grip on Hollywood that some think that this move by the WGA could just be a bargaining tool. L.A. Times says, “Although writers aren’t threatening to strike, the standoff could disrupt the pipeline of TV shows and movies currently in development.”

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