Michele Mulroney and Evette Vargas, in their candidate statements for WGA West secretary-treasurer, addressed the guild’s ongoing battle with the talent agencies to replace the old Artists’ Manager Basic Agreement. In its place, the guild has implemented its own Franchise Agreement, which would end packaging fees after one year and prohibit agency affiliations with related production entities.
As a board member and a member of the guild’s agency negotiating committee, Mulroney wrote: “I remain committed to negotiating a fair agreement with any of our agency partners; one that supports our right to proper fiduciary representation. I’m committed to constantly examining and refining our strategy as the campaign evolves and to supporting compromise where it makes sense. I am committed to keeping open lines of communication with all of you, hearing your ideas, needs, and concerns.”
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Vargas, an AMBA Captain in the ongoing battle with the agencies, which is now in its 105th day, wrote: “I will never claim to know more about any WGA issue than I actually do, and as someone who has not been privy to these meetings, I would not presume to guess how we are going to get out of the ATA WGA dispute. But what I can say is that I know what it feels like to be outside of those meetings, and not get sufficient or accurate information to make a decision about my own career. The existing system was doing harm, our Guild sought to take steps to fix it, and I voted in support of the Guild’s action. Whatever the next steps will be in resolving the three primary issues of Packaging Fees, Affiliate Production, and Contract Sharing, we must pursue a new contract with agencies that gives us full transparency, so that writers have the power to make the most informed decisions about their careers.”
“I realize that for some members, this is pretty much a single-issue election, so let me touch on the AMBA Campaign,” Mulroney wrote. “Let’s be real: it’s tough. It’s uncharted territory. We are addressing deeply entrenched practices involving unknowably large revenue streams on which some agencies have come to depend. So it stands to reason that nothing about this would be easy. And as with any Guild action – even though this campaign does not require a work stoppage – it impacts every member differently and for some the struggle is more acute than for others. I promise you, this is absolutely not lost on me and I will continue to do all I can to support you.”
“I’ve never been part of a package,” Mulroney wrote. “I’ve never worked for one of the agency-based production companies. Like many of you, I really liked my agent. But when I heard countless first-hand horror stories of packaging deals where an agency out-earns their own client, or where deals have been blown up over packaging fees, when I hear about clients not being submitted for shows where their agency has the packaging fee or not even being told about an offer their agency received on their behalf because it doesn’t fit into the agency’s packaging plans…I knew I needed to stand with my fellow writers and work through this together, as this Guild has done countless times, to my benefit, throughout its history.”
Mulroney, whose screenwriting credits include Power Rangers and Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, said that “On the issue of agency-based production companies: if we do nothing now, in five years, do we really want to be negotiating the terms of our MBA with our own agencies? This is a real existential threat that affects screenwriters and TV writers alike.”
Vargas, whose TV writing credits include Dark Prophet, said she’s running for secretary-treasurer “because I know how many voices in our Guild are not being heard and see an opportunity to make an impact in writers’ lives, one that will reach all corners of our membership at all stages of their careers. What I will bring to the boardroom is a fresh perspective, out-of-the-box thinking, and unwavering leadership.
“In this shifting media landscape, many writers are examining the present course of their careers and are trying to decide which direction will be most beneficial. Similarly, many of us are looking at this election, and the current labor action, in the same light, wondering if we should stay the current course and how we can bring differing perspectives to the table. In me, you will always have a representative who believes there is room for new ideas and I will communicate those options before putting them into action.”
As an AMBA captain, Vargas said: “I have 142 writers on my team and I both respect and enjoy every one of them. I have shared in their ups, downs, fears, and tears and have learned so much by being present in their journeys. Serving as an AMBA Captain has filled my heart. If I am elected, I will focus on growing the Captains Program. The most important element of the entire AMBA Captain gig is Messaging—succinct, powerful, clear, honest and consistent messaging between our Guild’s Leaders and our Guild’s members. Interestingly enough, messaging is something many writers feel has not been as effective as it should. Messaging is a strength that I will bring to bear in office.”
Mulroney wrote that “As part of a team of board members, I’ve helped to get tools like the Staffing Submissions System, the Weekly Features Memo, and the Staffing and Development Platform on their feet to assist members during and well beyond this campaign. Seeing the ways our members are connecting and looking out for one another is nothing short of inspiring. It has only deepened my belief in what we can accomplish when we stand together.”
Vargas noted that “the Guild itself is in a position to become an incredible resource for finding talent. We have begun doing this by creating and enhancing tools, like Find a Writer, Script Submission System, TV Development Memo and Feature Development Memo. These tools work. I myself have booked pitch meetings from using the TV Development Memo, but we can’t stop here. We must build upon these tools, develop new ones and I will utilize my tech background to support this effort.”
Looking ahead to next year’s negotiations with management’s AMPTP for a new film and TV contract, Mulroney wrote that “One of the toughest things every three years is getting the membership to engage. We’re way ahead on that front with the high level of discussion and debate currently going on. I very much doubt that that the AMPTP is looking at us and thinking we’re weak, that we’re pushovers who’ll settle for crumbs. Quite the opposite. Ultimately, our 2020 Pattern of Demands comes from you. Your priorities must be our priorities. We know what we’re up against: mega-mergers, dwindling back-ends, shorter seasons, shrinking staffs, attrition in screen at the studio level, 30-week mini-rooms, stagnating salaries, the epidemic of free work.
“But we also know that content is queen. And it’s not gonna write itself. Which is where our leverage comes in. (As evidenced by the swift deal we were able to close with Apple under more favorable terms than our current MBA.) With new platforms springing up all over town and the competition for streaming supremacy heating up, that means more jobs for writers. But as our opportunities increase, we must make sure our compensation does too. Now, as much as ever, it’s about protecting salaries and working conditions.”
Vargas, who’s served as co-chair, vice-chair and co-vice-chair of the guild’s Latino Writers Committee, said that “Representing a culturally diverse America and creating equal opportunities for all writers, especially writers of color and women, is a deep-seated passion. No longer can diversity be a conversation; we must take action. If I win, I will be a loud voice advocating for creating equal opportunities for all writers; equal pay for all writers; equal opportunity employment in writers rooms; and encourage showrunners, studios and networks to hire more diverse writers and bump them up.”