Writers Fired Agents. But Did They, Really?

And now, it’s time for another edition of Perception v. Reality.

While it may not be as exciting or heart-pumping as the adrenaline-fueled Ford v. Ferrari, it still involves suit-laden corporate overlords, scrappy and passionate underdogs, and one of those twists where the scrappy passionate underdogs think one thing is happening when, in fact, the suit-laden corporate overlords are doing something entirely different.

What we’re talking about is the months-long WGA fight against the agency system in Hollywood.

Back before everyone was so worked up about Oscar nominations and Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, way before Harvey Weinstein was faking a back injury with a tennis-ball walker and way way before people were confused by the narrative structure of Little Women, the Writer’s Guild of America and its voting body of writers voted to fire all of their big (and small) Hollywood agencies until they’d agree to the Writer’s Guild new code of conduct and stop the practice of packaging their projects.

For the laymen: some of the big agencies (who also own Production companies and were diving into the creative side of Producing) were accused of having a conflict of interest. How could they negotiate the best salary for a writer when they were also trying to get the project to move ahead via packaging? Some suggested they weren’t negotiating as hard for their writers so they wouldn’t blow up a bigger deal for a packaged project or TV show. And then the agencies would get significant money built into those deals to where very successful shows that went many seasons would end up paying agencies a monetary amount that often exceeded what the writers were getting.

Our Cliff Notes’ version of the above: Agencies were taking extra “producing” or “packaging” fees to package a project, and the Writer’s Guild proclaimed that such acts were not in the best interests of their writing clients.

So, the question was: why should agencies make all this money as a Producer or Packaging entity just by packaging the project. Shouldn’t they simply represent the writers as an agent, take their 10% and be happy with that role in the industry?

Whatever side you might have been on (agency vs. writer), the WGA took a vote and asked everyone to fire their agents. In the interim, writers were supposed to fire them, use their lawyers and managers to secure jobs and negotiate contracts, and it would have to stay this way until the WGA and the agencies agreed on the revised go-forward rules of engagement that removed “packaging” as a part of the Chinese Menu of the agency world.

Since then, the big agencies like WME, CAA, UTA, ICM and Paradigm haven’t moved on their position, and neither has the WGA. And so the industry has been locked in a stalemate where agents aren’t working for writers, and writers aren’t paying agents.

Which is a total fabrication of reality.

Talk to people high up in the agency world and they’ll tell you that the writers made a huge miscalculation in firing them. That the agencies don’t need that money from the writers, especially when they are making tons of money off their other directing, producing and acting clients, while also still taking packaging fees from the movies and TV shows they are producing. The writers are going to look back at their action, some have said (while usually holding a cocktail), and realize that this was the moment in time that the industry realized that writers were no longer necessary.

Talk to people in the writing world and they’ll tell you that the agents made a huge mistake by pushing back on the WGA’s demands. That the agencies can’t package shit if there isn’t a script. That without the script, there is nothing. That without writers, the entire industry will grind to a standstill, and that if they want to continue to grow their businesses, they’d better find a way to make things right with the writers. That they will never go back to their agents until that happens.

So, what’s the reality?

The reality is that agents and writers are still working together. There is a growing trend of writer’s quietly going back to their agents and agents quietly reaching out to their writers to engineer a new kind of relationship. A relationship where the perception is that they’re not working together at all, but where the reality is that they are. Sure, lawyers can still negotiate the contracts and managers can still get writers their jobs, but behind the scenes the agents are talking to their partners at studios and production companies to both pitch and secure work for their writer clients, and the writers are quietly communicating with their agents to strategize with the managers and lawyers along for the ride.

Bottom line, nothing has changed. Not really.

The more time that goes on, the more writers will continue to go back with their agents, and the more agents will realize that there’s really no need to give into the demands of the WGA. The more writers that go back to their agents, the more scenarios come to light to the WGA, who realizes that their opportunity for changing things may be in the past, and that the only thing they did by voting to fire agents in Hollywood, was create a problem for the younger writers in Hollywood who may not find representation again when all is said and done.

But that’s not really the story. (I know, that was a lot for it to not be the story.)

The real story, is that somehow…through some amazing confluence of events…that NCIS is still being written, produced and landing in the Top 10 of television shows on a weekly basis.

Now, how is that possible?

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