Opposition Candidate Blasts Writers Guild Tactics Over Agencies

Dave McNary

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Opposition candidate Nick Jones Jr. has condemned the tactics of the Writers Guild of America in its battle against Hollywood agents.

“I believe we’ve disrupted ourselves more than we’ve disrupted the Big 4,” he said.

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Jones, who’s running for the secretary-treasurer post as part of Phyllis Nagy’s Writers Forward Together slate, is running on a platform that the WGA needs to get back to the bargaining table after two months of staying away — particularly with WME, CAA, UTA and ICM Partners.

The contest, which also includes races for president and eight board seats, is viewed as a referendum on the WGA’s hard-nosed approach versus more accommodating tactics. Election results will be announced on Sept. 16.

Jones, a Marine Corp. veteran whose credits include “The Casual,” said in a post Friday that the WGA leadership was wrong to demand on April 13 that members fire their agents if they had not signed the guild’s Code of Conduct banning packaging fees and affiliate production. He asserted that the tactic has backfired.

“One strength of our industry is its ability to adapt,” Jones said. “We all know how quick this industry can shift to operate under new mandates and policies. The purpose of any protest is disruption. The goal against any barrier is infiltration. And the start of any change comes from within. So if we wanted to disrupt the flow of the packaging business with the agencies, why did we leave our agents?”

“I’d argue that we could have achieved far greater gains in this fight by staying with our agents. Right now, agencies are packaging with directors, actors, and non-writing EPs (executive producers)” he explained. “This practice isn’t anything new. But what happens when you remove a predator from an ecosystem? Prey population explodes. Now that writers are no longer a part of the equation, these non-writer packages are becoming more frequent.”

WGA West President David Goodman announced on June 20 that the guild had called off negotiations with the Association of Talent Agents in favor of pursuing individual talks with nine top agencies as it enforces a total ban on packaging fees and affiliated production for agents representing guild members. A trio of mid-size agencies — Verve, Buchwald and Kaplan Stahler — have signed agreements in recent months.

The issue of packaging fees, under which agents are paid fees by the studio instead of commissioning their clients, is a critical part of the stalemate between the WGA and the agencies. The guild is claiming that such fees are illegal and sued CAA, WME, UTA and ICM Partners, then moved the action this week from state to federal court. That’s resulted in countersuits by CAA, WME and UTA, alleging the guild is violating antitrust laws.

Jones said that the WGA leaders should have forced the agencies through a working rule order banning packaging.

“Instead of forcing the industry to work through us, we’ve forced them to work without us. And make no mistake, our industry is highly adept at navigating changing landscapes. In other words, we were behind enemy lines with a tactical advantage. And instead of using that advantage, we retreated, gave the agencies a non-compromised fighting position, forcing ourselves to mount an attack from the outside instead of within,” Jones said.

Jones is running against Evette Vargas and Michele Mulroney, who is a member of the guild’s agency negotiating committee. Nagy is running against incumbent president David A. Goodman and independent challenger William Schmidt.

 

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