Get ready for some Hollywood labor strife.
Members of the Writers Guild of America voted overwhelmingly in favor of a new “code of conduct” for talent agents that would radically change how that group conducts business, the WGA said Sunday. The move represents a shot across the bow to the agencies, which heavily oppose the code and are unlikely to sign it as written.
The vote, for which WGA leadership pushed hard, paves the way for writers to fire their agents when a pact expires Friday.
The final tally was 7,882 members in favor and 382 against, which puts the “yes” camp at 95 percent. The five-day voting period closed Sunday.
At issue are packaging fees, the practice by which many agents make their money. Those fees come from studios, which pay a percentage of a show’s budget and profits to agencies that put together clients on a project.
The fees, the writers say, represent a conflict of interest for agents, who they argue should be getting paid strictly in client commissions. The agents say that by incentivizing bigger projects, the fees benefit clients, too.
The new code mandates that “no agent shall accept any money or thing of value from the employer of a writer” — essentially prohibiting packaging fees.
A number of high-profile WGA members, including screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, comedian Tina Fey and filmmaker J.J. Abrams, had in recent days come out in favor of the code.
If the agencies and WGA cannot agree, the WGA would probably call for members to fire their agents.
Mass firings would put Hollywood into unknown territory, not only upending its traditional way of doing business, but potentially slowing down the sale and greenlighting of series.
There is a possibility for a new agreement to be reached, however. Experts say the WGA was seeking a strong vote as leverage at the bargaining table. After seven nonproductive sessions in recent weeks, no new talks between the sides are scheduled, but it’s possible the parties could meet this week before the deal expires.
The Association of Talent Agents released a statement in the wake of the results.
“Now that the WGA is past its vote, we look forward to getting back into the room to work through an agreement that serves the best interest of writers, respects their individual choice, and prevents unnecessary disruption to our industry,” it said. “We stand ready and waiting.”