Hollywood Writers Might Fire All Their Agents In A Week And A Half

File: The headquarters of the Creative Artists Agency in Century City. (Minnaert/Creative Commons)

The vote on whether TV and movie writers will be forced to fire their agents starts today. If writers approve a new Agency Code of Conduct and the agencies don't agree to it (which they've refused to do thus far), then the guild's 15,000 writers will be forced to fire their agents come April 7.

WGA leaders said they expect the code to be overwhelmingly approved — this follows a number of meetings with members over the last couple months.

The Guild recently unveiled a plan to help writers move forward without agents, if needed. But it's an especially scary time for writers to be agentless. They're in the midst of TV staffing season — and agents are the ones who would be helping them get jobs (and get paid well for said jobs).

The plan includes keeping a list of agencies that agree to sign onto the new Code of Conduct and launching online tools to help writers get jobs and employers find them. The writers' attorneys will be handling more of the heavy lifting when it comes to getting them good deals, though the guild is offering to help.

The reasons behind writers potentially firing their agents are complicated. We broke it down in depth with reps from the Writers Guild (representing writers) and the ATA (representing agents), but it boils down to this: writers are fighting to eliminate what they say are agency conflicts of interest, while agencies are fighting to defend some of their largest sources of income.

The Code of Conduct (the one being voted on by writers) includes provisions that would keep agencies from having an ownership interest in production companies — meaning they couldn't make all the money they make from serving as producers on films and TV shows — as well as banning packaging fees.

Packaging fees involve agencies getting payments that come out of a show or a film's budget. Writers say that the agencies have two big conflicts of interest: taking packaging fees and functioning as producers. The Guild argues that these get in the way of agents fighting for the interests of their clients.

The rhetoric on both sides has been heated. ATA executive director Karen Stuart accused the Writers Guild today of not arguing in good faith, and said in a statement yesterday that writers were trying to throw the industry into chaos. Stuart said today that the WGA won't make a deal until the last minute.

The WGA's last deal with the movie studios wasn't agreed upon until less than an hour before the previous agreement expired, Variety notes.

Meanwhile, the Writers Guild said yesterday that the agencies had ignored their proposals.

"We hope to make a deal before expiration, but we won't be intimidated by another threat from the agencies," the WGA said in a statement. "Their 'your Guild won't negotiate' stance is a calculated negotiating ploy, but it will not substitute for serious conversation about the damage inflicted on writers by conflicted practices. We stand ready to talk."

Almost 800 TV showrunners and screenwriters signed on to a statement of support last week, and that number's grown to more than 800. J.J. Abrams issued his own belated statement, signing on today, saying that he'd "missed my opportunity" to sign last week, but that he wouldn't miss his chance to vote yes. He encouraged others to do the same.

The Writers Guild has had their current deal in place with agents since 1976. They gave the agencies a one-year notification that they wanted to negotiate something new last year, and now that time is almost here.

We'll know what's happening a week from Sunday.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated Karen Stuart's title. LAist regrets the error.