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Hollywood Writers Sue Talent Agencies In Escalating Battle Over Packaging Fees

David SimonDavid Simon
David Simon is among the plaintiffs in a lawsuit against Hollywood's four biggest talent agencies. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images)Dimitrios Kambouris Getty Images

A Hollywood screenwriters’ union and eight of its members sued the four largest talent agencies, escalating a dispute over what are known as packaging fees.

The Writers Guild of America is demanding damages and repayment of illegal profit from the four agencies, according to a copy of the complaint filed Wednesday in state court in Los Angeles. The plaintiffs include Meredith Stiehm, creator of “Cold Case,’’ and David Simon, creator of “The Wire.’’

The writers want the agencies stop collecting fees for putting multiple clients in a project. Many have already fired their agents, alleging they and their firms enrich themselves at the expense of clients through such fees. The median pay for screenwriters has slipped in recent years, with the writers blaming the agencies’ expansion into new lines of business.

“Why in the world would my agents make $75,000 per episode on my show,’’ Stiehm said at a press conference. “Agencies don’t work on shows. They make deals at the beginning and that’s it.’’

The four companies are Creative Artists Agency, William Morris Endeavor, ICM Partners and United Talent Agency. They either declined to comment or couldn’t be reached. The guild said it plans to submit thousands of letters from writers dismissing their agents.

Stiehm recounted a story about “Cold Case,’’ which was produced by Warner Bros. and aired on CBS. Stiehm said she was unaware that her representatives, Creative Artists, were collecting packaging fees until she negotiated the budget for the show’s seventh season. CBS asked her to cut $500,000, requiring her to reduce the planned spending for music.

“It adversely affected the quality of the show, but we needed savings,’’ she said.

Stiehm later discovered that CAA was collecting $75,000 per episode. When she asked Warner Bros. if CAA would take a cut, she was told that number was fixed. She estimated that her agents collected 94 cents for every $1 in income she received from the program.