Published On: Sun, Apr 14th, 2019

Here’s Why Hollywood’s Writers Are Publicly Firing Their Agents This Weekend

Patton Oswalt, Ashley Nicole Black, and Megan Amram, all of whom have fired their agents this weekend.

If you were hanging out online around midnight Pacific time on Friday night, you might have noticed a rash of high-profile screenwriters all announcing that they’d fired their agents. The Writers Guild of America and the Association of Talent Agents have been struggling to renegotiate an existing agreement between the two groups (the Artists Managers Basic Agreement) that hasn’t been updated since 1976. Last April, the WGA told the ATA they wanted to renegotiate that 43-year-old contract and set a deadline to do so. One year later, the WGA proved it wasn’t bluffing.

Indiewire has a great breakdown of what the WGA has been asking for, but essentially, the AMBA regulates the terms of how agents represent writers, including their ability to take upwards of 10% of their earnings. But since that agreement was written, the relationship between writers and agents has changed. The big agencies don’t just work to get writers a job; they deal in “packaging.” They’ll bundle together writers, actors, directors, etc. on one project and sell them to a studio as a creative package. Not only does it mean that the agent is going to get as many ten percents as possible, but they’ve also introduced packaging fees that can earn an agency millions of dollars from a hit TV show.

Many writers are pissed because that means agents are likely to be more interested in negotiating higher packaging fees than a better salary for their clients. A project could even be held up or it could fall through entirely over an agent’s demands not for their clients, but for themselves. Writers’ salaries have also reportedly stagnated over the last four years while agencies’ profits have grown wildly.

Apparently, the best the ATA offered to writers was a mere 1% of packaging fees–a pretty insulting offer. So after 43 years, the AMBA lapsed at midnight Friday/Saturday morning, and has now been replaced with a WGA code of conduct, which agents must sign in order to do business with a WGA writer.

The television industry is currently going into staffing season, so it’s not clear exactly how shows are going to find their writing staffs. This is different from past writers’ strikes since the writers are still working, they’ve just lost their middlemen (who oftentimes don’t even find writers work, but only negotiate salary after a job has been offered between writers). But there’s already an existing service that might be able to connect showrunners with up and coming writers: Twitter.

There’s a whole lot about Twitter that’s total garbage, but if it ends up replacing the Ari Golds of the world, it might all have been worth it.

(image: Rich Fury/Getty Images for The Recording Academy / Frazer Harrison/Getty Images / Joe Scarnici/Getty Images for New York Magazine)

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