by Matt Donnelly, Joe Otterson
July 15, 2020
Details around the deal between United Talent Agency and the Writers Guild of America have emerged, revealing some notable concessions that will allow the two Hollywood institutions to resume work together.
The agency has agreed to cease packaging fees, a lucrative practice at the heart of the WGA’s new franchise agreement, in two years time, leadership said in a memo to clients on Wednesday morning, which can be read in full below.
There’s a catch. The agency will only follow through with the pledge if the guild can recruit one of its rivals — WME, ICM, or CAA — to do the same within that time frame, the memo said. UTA will also agree to the WGA’s request to disclose financial details around deals they broker for writers, but only at the express consent of those clients.
When it comes to investment in third-party production entities, which the guild has decried as conflicts of interest for the agencies to participate in, UTA has agreed not to launch any majority-owned production studio. The company will keep its interest in Civic Center Media, a joint TV production venture with MRC, and cap its minority profit participation in the independent film sales space.
Finally, UTA will withdraw from a joint antitrust lawsuit against the WGA, which it entered in with rivals WME and CAA over the guild’s boycott and subsequent firing of their agents in April 2019.
“Our commitments were squarely aimed at delivering what’s needed most rightnow: returning writers and agents to their natural role as partners, so we can together face a business stirring with historic levels of uncertainty,” UTA co-president Jay Sures wrote. “This is a time to get people back to work and some sense of normalcy. You deserve that.”
Word first broke Tuesday night that UTA was nearing a deal with the guild, bringing the protracted fight between the guild and the major agencies closer to resolution.
UTA now joins more than 80 agencies allowed to represent WGA members thanks to agreeing to a limit on agency packaging fees and affiliate production. WGA members were told on April 13, 2019 by WGA West president David Goodman to fire their agents if the agents had not agreed to bans on packaging fees and affiliate production.
Several other agencies — Paradigm, APA, Gersh, Innovative Artists and Verve — have signed deals with the WGA in recent months. It’s unclear if CAA and WME will continue to stand together in the lawsuit, accusing the union of engaging in an illegal group boycott. ICM Partners has not joined the CAA-WME lawsuit.
Dear UTA Writer Family,
At a time when good news is in demand, we have some. Today, UTA and the WGA have reached an agreement that resolves the dispute that has separated writers and agents for more than a year. In this time of instability and uncertainty in our industry and world, we could not be more pleased to put this issue behind us and for our writer clients and agents to
reunite as natural allies and partners.
Not long ago, UTA reached out to the WGA leadership, as we have done numerous times throughout this dispute, and made another effort to resolve this issue in good faith and through compromise. After many long discussions and significant work by both sides, we’ve successfully found middle ground that sets asides our core differences. The Guild has achieved many of its main goals and UTA has as well.
As the world continues to face down a pandemic and our industry remains under unprecedented pressures, we believed our highest priority was to bring writers and agents back together in joint focus on building and enhancing your careers.
To be clear, we did not sign the Guild’s Code of Conduct, which was unacceptable to us from the start. But we were able to find a path forward that works for both UTA and the WGA. The highlights of our agreement include compromises on the issues of packaging, affiliate production, independent film financing and, most important to UTA, the protection of your confidential
• This agreement continues to protect your confidential contract and financial information, which was critical to us. This is information the Guild had insisted we hand over to them whether you consented or not, and it was a core sticking point. We expressed willingness to provide contract information but only if you do not object. Our agreement is that if you tell us not to provide your contract information to the Guild, we will not do so. Without this, UTA would not have made this agreement.
• We have agreed to eliminate the practice of packaging starting two years from now. We did so despite the long history of packaging that has provided immense benefits to writers, actors, directors and other artists. We made this agreement on the condition that this provision takes effect only if the Guild reaches a similar arrangement with one of the other major talent agencies.
• UTA will maintain its involvement in our existing production entities, protecting our ability to provide financial terms for you that are stronger and more beneficial than legacy production entities can offer. We have agreed to cap our minority profit participation and not launch any majority-owned production studio, which are steps we did not ever intend to take.
• We also mutually agreed to dismiss our respective legal actions. This includes the litigation launched by the WGA leadership against the major agencies in the moments when this dispute began and the defensive lawsuit we filed against the Guild in response.
Our commitments were squarely aimed at delivering what’s needed most rightnow: returning writers and agents to their natural role as partners, so we can together face a business stirring with historic levels of uncertainty. This is a time to get people back to work and some sense of normalcy. You deserve that.
UTA made its name in its earliest days, in large part, as a literary agency. Today, we are a strong, thriving, global company that advocates powerfully and effectively for writers and all artists. This agreement ensures we can continue to play that role for you. And in this moment when the world so clearly needs to be lifted up by powerful stories, we look forward to rejoining
As we begin again, we do so with hopes that you and your loved ones are safe, healthy, and well.