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At the Request of Their Union, Screenwriters Are Firing Their Agents

14 April 2019

From The Digital Reader

An ongoing contract dispute is sending shockwaves through Hollywood, and it’s going to have an interesting effect on what stories get told on your favorite show.

Variety reported on Friday that the Writers Guild of America has called on its members to fire their agents. A months-long negotiation between the WGA and the ATA (Association of Talent Agents), the union representing agents, over revising a 43-year-old franchise agreement had broken down after the two organizations had failed to come to terms.

Over the past decade a number of the larger talent agencies had developed the practice of negotiating their own contracts with studios that created conflicts of interest between the agents and their putative clients.

. . . .

“In this situation there are two actions required of all members:  First, do not allow a non-franchised agent to represent you with respect to any future WGA-covered work.  Second, notify your agency in a written form letter that they cannot represent you until they sign the Code of Conduct.”

. . . .

The reason the WGA walked out of the negotiations is that the major talent agencies no longer serve the best interests of their writer clients. In some cases they have launched or invested in production companies, and in others cases they have negotiated production deals with studios. This means that when a writer’s agent sits down to negotiate a deal with a studio, the agent’s boss is effectively sitting on the other side of the table.

. . . .

In the book publishing industry, there is a strong sentiment that agents’ interests are more aligned with publishers than with authors. Robin Sullivan, Kris Rusch, and others have argued that agents won’t push for the best deal for an author because the agent values the long-term relationship with the publisher more.

Link to the rest at The Digital Reader

With respect to agents for authors in the traditional publishing business or the movie business, the point Nate makes in his last paragraph is absolutely true. An agent needs a good long-term relationship with a publisher/film studio more than an agent needs the same type of relationship with an author.

There are an essentially unlimited number of authors (although top-selling authors are a different matter) while the number of publishers willing and able to sign a book deal with a six-figure advance is much smaller and, thus, far more valuable because of its rarity.

A publisher (or more specifically, a senior editor who makes book acquisition decisions) with which an agent can sign 3-5 large contracts  per year is a highly-valued resource. If an agent can continue to do that for several years, he/she will be in an excellent financial position (absent substance abuse problems or a bad divorce).

On the other hand, a single author who is not a consistent multi-title top-10 NYT bestseller won’t make an agent nearly as much money over a 5-10 year period as an acquisition editor who likes the agent’s taste in book projects.

Agents

4 Comments to “At the Request of Their Union, Screenwriters Are Firing Their Agents”

  1. This type of practice seems to have appeared previously on a post in this blog. https://www.thepassivevoice.com/but-im-not-a-lawyer-im-an-agent/

    Obviously we are not privy to the particular documents involved. Nor am I aware of US laws relating to fraud, secret commissions and the like. It seems to me that such behaviour may well be perilously close to criminal, including fraud, if not fully disclosed to clients.

  2. Yay! Agents are like the unions. Great when they first came around, now they’re just another layer of greed stealing your money.

  3. Your money comes from your employer/boss/customer.
    Where do agents get their money? Not from the writers.

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