Hollywood Writers Fire Agents in Show of Solidarity Over Financial Disputes

April 15, 2019, 3:09 PM UTC
Patton Oswalt
the Hollywood writers firing agents after talks between the WGA and ATA collapsed over the weekend. (Photo by JB Lacroix/WireImage)
Jean Baptiste Lacroix WireImage

At midnight Pacific time Saturday, the Writers Guild of America ordered all its members to fire their agents, following a drawn-out battle between the union and the Association of Talent Agents over money. As the writers see it, agents are operating without their clients’ interests in mind, favoring potentially more lucrative “packaging fees” instead of better salaries for the scribes and double dipping as both the producers of shows and movies and the representatives of the people who pen them.

After the guild voted overwhelmingly in favor of establishing a new Code of Conduct for agents that would eliminate those fees and separate the agencies from production entities, no agreement could be reached by both sides. The ATA offered to share 1% of the package payments, increase transparency in its production arms, and invest in inclusivity initiatives, but that wasn’t enough for the WGA. So the mass-firing commenced, with big names like Stephen King, David Simon, and Patton Oswalt being among the thousands signing letters that ended their relationships with agencies until the new code is signed.

In a statement, the ATA said, “Despite our best efforts, today’s outcome was driven by the Guild’s predetermined course for chaos,” calling it a move that will particularly hurt up-and-coming writers. The union members, meanwhile, mostly took to Twitter to share their termination letters, some, like Simon, with joy and most with mixed feelings, saying they’re disappointed to have to do this but, because of the way Hollywood wages stagnate while agency profits soar, they have to stand with the Guild.

Simon, who previously wrote about losing millions due to shady dealings with his agents and called packaging fees “organized theft,” tweeted: “Dammit. Just realized that the WGA-ATA midnight deadline is PST. So I have to stay up another three hours and one minute to send a pic of my naked ass to CAA.” Others went the more lighthearted route, like Modern Family’s Danny Zuker: “Look, I love my agent. I mean, I’m not IN love with him… although there was this one time at The Palm where the light danced in his eyes and… anyway I 💯 support the stand my union is taking!”

“This is never what I wanted,” Stephen King, who parted ways with Paradigm, wrote. “My rep has been honest and diligent for over 40 years. Not his fault, but we’re a union family. Come on, ATA. Come on, WGA. Solve this so we can go back to doing what we do.”

Oswalt, meanwhile, kept it simple, saying, “I have an amazing agency that represents me. But I have an even better guild which stands for me.”

Many WGA members and their supporters also devoted time to refuting a New York Times article they saw as being slanted in favor of the agents and dismissive of the writers’ contributions. “The writers’ unions […] have traditionally had disputes with their bosses at the big studios,” TV reporter John Koblin wrote. “This time, they have directed their fury with the people who have served as their advocates and friends.” In particular, guild members took issue with his description of Hollywood’s “staffing season” as “when the broadcast networks assemble their fall lineups and hire writers to bang out telescripts for sitcoms and police procedurals.”

As Sarah Watson, who created Freeform’s The Bold Type, responded, “I work incredibly hard to write thoughtful dramas. Some of which your newspaper has covered with glowing praise. It’s such a bummer that a fellow writer would use his platform to belittle another category of writer.”

The path forward for both sides is still murky. The WGA released a list of agencies that agreed to the new Code of Conduct and can represent its members, while none of the big four firms, CAA, WME, UTA, and ICM, have signed onto it. The guild also has a new Staffing Submission System by which writers can send in their scripts and have them delivered to producers and showrunners.

Other WGA members pledged to help as many writers as they could. LaToya Morgan, who has executive produced AMC’s Into the Badlands and Turn, tweeted, “If you’re a writer looking to staff this season, I want to help you out. Reply with a few sentences about what kind of writer you are & why showrunners should give you a shot, and I’ll give you a #WGAStaffingBoost.”

Megan Amram, who’s worked on NBC’s The Good Place and Parks and Recreation, said, “There are currently various plans afoot to pull together great resources for WGA writers to mentor and hire other writers. In the mean time, I pledge to start reading the work of writers looking to be staffed and support them in any way I can.

While the effectiveness of those plans remain to be seen, neither side has revealed any timetable for renewed talks or a willingness to bend. As the ATA wrote in a letter to members, “Agencies will not be a willing participant to any further chaos,” while showrunner Mike Schur, one of the chief WGA negotiators, said, “What happens now? We stick together.”