What the WGA Agency Agreement Expiration Means for Screenwriters

by Rebecca Norris on February 8, 2019

As reported in the Hollywood Reporter this past week, the Agency Agreement between agents and the Writers Guild of America (WGA), which represents writers of film and television, is set to expire on April 6th.  The expiration of the 43-year old agreement could put writers in the unenviable position of having to side with either their agents or their union in a fierce battle over the bottom line. 

What is the Agency Agreement?

The WGA has an agreement with the Association of Talent Agents (ATA), known as the Artists’ Manager Basic Agreement of 1976 (AMBA), or the “franchise agreement.” On April 6, 2018, WGA West and East sent a letter to the ATA with proposed changes to the agreement, and several of those changes might protect writers’ interests but be unfavorable for agencies’ profitability. The letter started a year-long ticking clock that ends on April 6, 2019, when the current agreement will terminate if no action is taken. 

What is the WGA asking for?

In a recent letter to its members, WGA states: "Our goal is to attain a new Agency Agreement that eliminates practices that constitute a conflict of interest: agency packaging fees and agencies functioning as producers.” 

Television packaging fees are payments from networks and studios to writers’ agencies, which can include a sizable upfront payment and percentages of profits for the run of a show.  

In addition to packaging, agencies are also starting to produce their own content, meaning that an agency is both representing a client and employing that same client, and owning what that client produces—a conflict of interest, according to the WGA.

How would the proposed Agency Agreement changes affect screenwriters?

Currently, the packaging fees charged by agencies can lead to agencies making more money from a hit show than its creator(s). The large payments can also lessen the profits of writers and producers once the gross profits of a show are reduced by the amount of the agency fees. Also, if an agency both represents a client and employs a client, it might not have the writer’s best interests at heart in financial negotiations.

On the flip side, some agencies feel they must charge packaging fees to remain viable in a studio system owned by mega-corporations. 

If I’m a WGA member, how can I learn more about this?  

The WGA has announced a series of member meetings for mid-February—an opportunity to get face-to-face with every member of the Guild ahead of the Agency Agreement expiration on April 6th.  The meetings are scheduled for Feb. 9 and 13th in Los Angeles, and Feb. 12 in New York.

Rebecca Norris is a producer, writer, and filmmaker with her production company, Freebird Entertainment. Her recent award-winning feature film, Cloudy With a Chance of Sunshine, has been distributed on Amazon Streaming and DVD. Rebecca is also a script analyst and consultant who has read for many companies, including Sundance, ScreenCraft, Bluecat, and the International Emmys, as well as her own script consultancy, Script Authority. Rebecca blogs for ScreenCraft, The Script Lab, WeScreenplay and Script Magazine, exploring the film writing and production process and encouraging writers to produce their own work. Follow Rebecca’s posts on Twitter at @beckaroohoo!

Photo credit: Dutton Architects

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