EXCLUSIVE: The Buchwald agency has signed the WGA’s new franchise agreement, marking another big win for the guild in its efforts to realign the agency business. Buchwald is the second Association of Talent Agents member agency to break ranks with the organization this week. The Kaplan Stahler agency signed the guild’s agreement on Monday. Buchwald said its negotiated agreement includes several improvements to the recently signed Kaplan Stahler agreement, and said it “now becomes the first mid-sized, full-service agency to sign the guild’s franchise agreement.”
“We negotiated the agreement to a place where we felt that writer interests and confidentiality concerns were protected while also addressing Buchwald’s concerns regarding agency confidentiality, ambiguities in the existing franchise agreement, and a fair dispute resolution policy,” said Richard Basch, Buchwald’s chief operations officer. “Buchwald respects and values the ATA’s concerns as well as our long-standing relationship with the ATA, however we feel that signing this agreement furthers our agency’s collaborative culture and is in the best interest of our clients. It is our hope that the compromises reached today may lead to additional discussions and progress between the ATA and the WGA. We are thrilled to get back to work for all of our writer clients.”
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In a joint statement, Julia Buchwald, West Coast president, and Ryan Martin, the agency’s co-head, said: “We are an artist-first agency and we want to continue to fulfill our representation responsibilities and put our valued literary clients back to work. As a full-service agency without the ability to represent writers, we are doing a disservice to all of our clients with producorial mindsets as we continue to build our intellectual property division to further the goals of those clients and strengthen the overall structure and support for all of our clients.”
The guild told its members that the agreement with Buchwald “largely mirrors Monday’s agreement with the Kaplan Stahler Agency, with a few minor modifications. The new agreement clarifies that a franchised agency may provide distribution services for indie film projects in addition to financing and sales services. The requirement for guild consent of the agency’s film financing, sales and distribution services is modified to exclude circumstances when the agency’s agreement to provide those services predate the writer’s involvement on the project. The agreement also adds two arbitrators and provides for the parties’ mutual agreement on arbitration hearing locations in certain circumstances.”
The WGA’s original Code of Conduct – it’s not called that anymore – expressly prohibited agencies from collecting packaging fees, and banned agency affiliations with corporately related production entities. The latest version of the guild’s franchise agreement, the one signed by Kaplan Stahler, allows agencies to continue packaging for one year, and allows individual agents to own less than 3% of any publicly traded company engaged in the production or distribution of films and TV shows.
These and other modifications to the old code, including a new provision that allows writers to object to their agents turning over their confidential contract information to the guild, has led to what many believe will be a steady stream of mid-tier agencies signing the guild’s new franchise agreement.
When the WGA and ATA’s franchise agreement came to an end in April and more than 7,000 writers fired their agents, many predicted lit agents would leave the major agencies and the launch of new firms aligned with the WGA. And now that too has begun to happen. As Deadline reported exclusively Wednesday, the three lit agents involved in the creation of a new agency called Culture Creative Entertainment were the first to do just that: leaving the Abrams Artists Agency and signing the guild’s new agreement.
In a statement today citing that story, the guild said that “Our goal remains to move the negotiation process forward with all unsigned agencies.”
And yet, more than 100 days into the guild’s standoff with the ATA, the WGA still has a long way to go to truly “divide and conquer” the agencies. To date, only three of the ATA’s 114 member agencies have signed the guild’s agreement. The Pantheon agency, which has a very small lit department, was the first to sign back in March, before talks between the WGA and the ATA failed to reach an agreement and the guild ordered its members to fire their agents who refused to sign its code. The Verve agency, which is not an ATA member, signed a modified version of the code in May. With the signing of Buchwald, the guild now has 78 agencies signed to its agreement, but most of them are very small agencies that do little or no packaging.
None of the Big Four packaging agencies – WME, CAA, UTA and ICM Partners – is expected to agree to the guild’s terms anytime soon, if ever. And together, they were responsible for nearly all of TV packaging.
A year ago, the WGA reported that nearly 90% of all scripted TV shows were packaged by talent agencies, and nearly 80% of those shows were packaged by WME and CAA. In a review of the 2016-2017 television season, the guild found that 87% of the more than 300 series produced that year were packaged by the agencies, and that “packaging is dominated by WME and CAA,” which accounted for 79% of all the packaged series.
The guild’s new agreement allowing packaging to continue for one more year, however, could be enough to open the floodgates to more agencies signing up – and to continue packaging for one more year before the door closes on that for good. Buchwald, which has offices in Los Angeles and New York. notes on its website that “feature film packaging” is one of the services it provides.