A bitter feud between thousands of film and television screenwriters against major Hollywood talent agencies ended on Friday, almost two years after it had begun.
William Morris Endeavor became one of the leading agencies to reach a new franchise agreement with two Writers Guild of America unions, which he said did so on Friday afternoon.
“The authors have been a part of this agency since the beginning, and will continue to be part of WME’s Jeevan Dadaan,” said Endeavor CEO Ariel Emanuel, who controls WME. “We look forward to once again serving as their advocates during this unprecedented time in our industry.”
In the end, the writers’ unions got what they asked for, but only after the court battles and several allegations of bad behavior stalled the deadlock. In one episode, a top WME executive accused a union leader of wanting to “kill” him; The union leader refused, saying that.
“I say again and again that no one wanted an agency campaign more than me, and I’m so glad that we’ve achieved our goal,” said David Goodman, president of the Guild’s West Coast branch. He Said that “the financial interests of the agencies that represent us align with their author clients.”
In April 2019, thousands of Hollywood writers fired their agents over what politicians described as corrupt practices by agencies. The dispute centered on two agency practices, which the unions said created gross conflicts of interest. The agencies had long maintained that practices were put in place to benefit the authors, not to hurt them.
But the recession of Hollywood productions during the epidemic put strain on agencies, and the three kept dozens away from their employees last year. The union dispute was costing him the revenue he would have earned by striking deals for his author clients.
Last July, the United Talent Agency struck a deal with writers’ unions, and ICM Partners followed suit a month later. In December, the Creative Artists Agency signed a new agreement with the unions.
As part of the agreements, the agencies said they would soon end a practice called packaging. In addition, they would retain only a minority ownership stake – capped at 20 percent – in production entities that they started to ramp up in recent years.
Packaging, a decade-old practice that involves engaging authors with other clients of the agency for TV or movie projects. When agents charge a packaging fee, they will withdraw the usual 10 percent commission from their author clients and instead deal directly with the studio. Unions argued that this meant that agencies were not previously taking into account the financial interests of their authors.
When agencies started sister production entities to produce TV shows and movies, unions argued that writers might not be significantly represented by those who also owned them. The agencies assumed the companies would create more competition in an industry dominated by funded tech giants such as Netflix, Apple and Amazon.
For the past 22 months, the writers remained largely united, although in 2019 there was an effort – backed by many of Hollywood’s big-name writers – to displace union leaders and to strike a deal with agencies with more people ready. That effort failed after nearly four out of five writers continued to return to the leadership team.