You’re fired! That’s what Hollywood scribes recently told the people who are supposed to find them work.
Tensions between writers and their agents have been building for years and have finally boiled over. The conflict has pitted the Writers Guild of America, which has about 13,000 members, against the Assn. of Talent Agents, a trade group that represents the talent agencies. Here are some answers on what’s behind Hollywood’s strange and ugly family feud:
Aren’t writers and agents supposed be on the same side?
Yes, they are. Agents help writers find work, providing the vital link that connects a writer’s script with potential buyers, usually studios and producers. For their services, agents typically charge the writer a commission of 10%. This is a system that is almost as old as Hollywood itself.
So why are they at war?
Like most break-ups, it’s complicated. Writers feel that their agents have been unfairly enriching themselves from their hard work. They feel agents are no longer looking out for their best interests and instead are seeking new sources of income that aren’t connected to traditional client representation. Specifically, the WGA is enforcing a new agency code of conduct to replace a 43-year-old agreement, and agencies say it threatens their business.
What’s all this stuff about packaging fees?
Packaging fees are one of the main reasons the two sides are fighting. Essentially, this is money that talent agencies earn for putting together a deal, instead of collecting the usual 10% commission. The fees have been around for decades, but have grown bigger as agencies have become more heavily involved in production of films and TV shows. Writers maintain that these fees — which can be as much as $75,000 per episode on a single TV series — mean there is less money on the table for them and incentivize agents to put their own financial interests before their clients.