Michael Tolkin, the Emmy-nominated creator of Showtime’s Escape at Dannemora, is urging WGA members to stop vilifying agents and to start the reconciliation that will be needed to resolve the ongoing feud with the Association of Talent Agents in advance of the upcoming negotiations for a new film and TV contract.
“I’ve never felt such hatred within the Guild,” he said Friday in an email blast to members of the WGA West in support of opposition leader Phyllis Nagy and her WGA Forward Together slate of running mates.
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Here’s the full letter:
“My family has been in the Writers Guild since 1949, when my father, Mel Tolkin, started writing for live TV in New York. We have seventy years of continuous membership. He was nominated for five or six WGA awards, and won four times. One year, my parents came home from the awards banquet disturbed by a sketch that was part of the entertainment. It was a parody of an animal documentary show like Wild Kingdom. The joke was simple, look at film clips of animals in their habitats while the narrator pretends to be a tour guide in Hollywood. I don’t remember the specifics of the gags but assume that lions feeding were the MGM commissary, monkeys were a writers room, gazelles were starlets. Along those lines. What I do remember is that at one point the camera approaches a rock, it’s turned over, and the soil is alive with worms and beetles. ‘Ah,’ says the narrator, ‘Here we have the William Morris Agency.’ It went on like that, comparing bugs to agents and was mean enough to dent my parents’ evening.
“Much of what I see in our collective assault on each other’s reputation, this corrosion of previous good will, I can trace back to that thing which so upset my parents. Contempt, an old derisive contempt for our agents, because they remind us that this is not just an art but a hard business that admits only a few to the sanctum. They sell us, and that’s complicated. The conflict of interest starts with every agent who has more than one client, they represent our competition. To do their job they make decisions about us that can hurt us, or hurt someone else. So it’s less painful to think of them as living under a rock or, as David Simon, a living master of dialogue so famously called them, ‘Fuckfailing greedheads, grifting soulless fuck bonnets.’ It was exciting to read those words so close to the voting. I think the 95 to 5 percent vote might even have been made the result possible because of those words. However, they set a bad precedent because by defining the current action, a contract dispute, as vengeance, they are destructive and bad for the union. They cloud our thinking, and are part of the reason we’re having a civil war. Friendships are breaking up over this.
“Though voting started last week, we are allowed to do a double take. I’ve never felt such hatred within the Guild, and I’ve been going to those meetings at the Beverly Hilton since 1964, when my father dragged me along to see how things get done. From his deathbed, as the 2007 strike began, he gave me a few words to share at a rally: Fight for the union, and have courage. I’m fighting for the union now. I don’t expect everyone to vote for the whole Forward Together slate, but if you haven’t voted yet, read their statements and letters and if even if only one makes sense to you, or speaks to your concerns, try marking their name on the ballot. The MBA negotiations are coming up soon and to be effective we have to trust each other. To do that we need at least one of those new voices at the table, so that everyone can feel heard. Our reconciliation has to start now.”