Members of the Writers Guild fired their talent agents in April, after agents wouldn’t stop collecting packaging fees and working with affiliate producers.
Now, six months later, emotions are still high, and the two sides are suing each other in court.
So how are writers getting by without representation to help them find work?
“In theory, writers can have lawyers represent them. Managers represent them. And to some degree, that's what's happened,” says Kim Masters, editor-at-large of The Hollywood Reporter and host of KCRW's The Business. “The Writers Guild has tried to create a website, a portal where people can look for jobs that might be on offer. They have mixers, so people can network there. So there's some word-of-mouth kind of connection.”
Also, some writers have deals as producers and directors, so there are gray areas, Masters points out.
Are consumers seeing the impact?
Content is still churning out -- new TV shows, films, and video games.
“Game of Thrones” writers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss recently settled a $200 million deal with Netflix, and J.J. Abrams signed a $250 million deal with Warner Media reportedly without agents. Masters explains that Benioff and Weiss used lawyers to secure those deals.
“There's a lag between the writers firing their agents and necessarily having an impact with a lot of stuff already on the runway,” Masters says. “The real brunt of this has not been felt, except emotionally.”
Dissidents and loyalists
Masters says there have been rumors from the beginning about dissidents -- writers who oppose cutting ties with their agents, who want to keep working with agents. But no one has publicly come forward with that stance because they’ll get a lot of heat from fellow writers.
Also, with the guild’s leadership getting reelected, some writers want to continue backing the guild’s position of eliminating packaging fees. “To break ranks would be seen as a betrayal and could cause blowback,” Masters says.
On the other hand, some writers simply want a better deal with packaging fees, so they could get a better percentage and not have agencies bring in more money than them.
Basically, there’s no unity within the guild.
Any signs of yielding from the big four agencies (WME, CAA, UTA, and ICM)?
“They've sort of said, ‘Let's get back and talk.’ And the guild so far has been standing very strong with their line of no packaging fees, we're not negotiating numbers here,” Masters says.
What also makes negotiations difficult: the agencies aren't always on the same page.
“I've had the head of one agency say to me, ‘Yeah packaging fees kind of got out of hand, and we should be more transparent, we got a little bit carried away with these fees.’ And then the head of another agency who's one of those big four saying, ‘Absolutely never happened. We've never done anything wrong.’ ”
What might be next?
The guild is going to negotiate its contract in May 2020. “Some people fear this will just go on until then, and then there'll be a strike because the writers are seeing the ground shift underneath them,” Masters says. “And they don't get paid the same by streamers as they would have done in the old model of broadcast TV, where shows are syndicated and they get a gush of money from that. So there's just an enormous amount of stress overall in the industry right now.
--Written by Amy Ta, produced by Alex Tryggvadottir