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United Talent Agency Breaks Ranks, Cuts A Deal With Hollywood's Writers

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The Writers Guild of America's headquarters in L.A. (Andy E. Nystrom Via Flickr)
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Hollywood screenwriters are used to coming up with surprise endings, but few people in the industry expected today’s plot twist in their union’s epic battle against talent agencies: The United Talent Agency broke ranks with Hollywood’s biggest agencies and said it has reached an agreement with the Writers Guild of America.

More than a year ago, thousands of WGA members fired their representatives, claiming the agents were neglecting their screenwriting clients’ best interests.

The dispute, which also includes a federal lawsuit, hinged on two issues.

  • The first is a packaging fee; that’s when an agency collects a share of a TV series’ overall budget, rather than taking a traditional commission just on a screenwriter’s salary. The WGA argued that because packaging fees can be worth huge sums of money, agents might only put their clients in shows that agree to the fee, potentially costing writers jobs.
  • Second, talent agencies over the last several years have started their own production companies. Because the agencies enjoy the profits of the resulting movie or TV series, the WGA argued they had an incentive to keep production costs down, meaning screenwriting clients might be underpaid.

Today, the United Talent Agency said it has agreed to end packaging fees in two years, and it pledged not to start a new production company. The WGA and UTA also ended their lawsuits against each other.
But there could still be a cliffhanger: The agreement requires one of the other top agencies — CAA, WME or ICM — also to settle with the WGA, or the deal is void.

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