WME Nears Deal With WGA, Sealing Guild’s Victory in Battle With Agents (EXCLUSIVE)

Cynthia Littleton
·3 min read

After a nearly two-year standoff, WME is closing in on a settlement with the WGA that will allow the powerhouse agency to resume representing writers.

WME and its parent company Endeavor acknowledged in a statement Monday that the sides have been making progress. The guild and the town’s largest agency group have been in on-again, off-again negotiations on a settlement since last fall.

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“We are currently in substantive discussions with the WGA to resolve the ongoing dispute,” Endeavor president Mark Shapiro told Variety. “The tenor of the conversation is positive, and we are working diligently with the WGA to move this forward as quickly as possible.”

Representatives for the WGA did not respond to a request for comment.

An agreement with WME will cement the WGA’s victory in the long fight with Hollywood’s top talent agents as the guild sought to reform the rules governing how talent agents represent more than 11,000 members of the Writers Guild of America West and Writers Guild of America East.

The guild’s campaign promises to end the decades-old industry practice of agents receiving packaging fees from producers, and it establishes strict new rules that prevent agencies and their parent companies from owning more than 20% of production or distribution entities. WME fought hard and had the most complicated negotiation with the guild because parent company Endeavor had heavily invested in production and distribution activities through its Endeavor Content unit.

The plan for divesting Endeavor Content is still unclear. One of the biggest hurdles in separating Endeavor Content from the rest of Endeavor is the fact that the production-distribution unit has upwards of 300 projects in various stages of development. Endeavor Content also has existing contracts with dozens of WGA members, agreements that had been allowed by the guild as Endeavor Content accelerated its development activity in 2017.

Led by WGA West president David Goodman and WGA West executive director David Young, the guild set its sights on reforming its agency franchise rules in 2018. Concerns about inherent conflict-of-interest issues in packaging had long simmered among some guild members and leaders. The more recent expansion of large talent agencies into production and distribution through Endeavor Content, CAA’s Wiip and investments by UTA had also raised conflict-of-interest alarm bells.

At the outset, the WGA seemed to be a facing an uphill battle in trying to bring about major changes to longstanding industry practices. The largest agencies — notably CAA, WME, UTA and ICM Partners — sought to negotiate a new agreement through the Association of Talent Agents bargaining organization. But those talks were fitful and unproductive and by April 2019 the guild directed its members to fire agents who would not agree to the guild’s new rules.

That mass separation of scribes from representatives led to strain and confusion across the industry as suddenly agents weren’t fulfilling their traditional matchmaking function of facilitating film and TV deals for clients. It also sparked a flurry of litigation between the guild and the agencies. Last month, federal judge Andre Birotte Jr. in Los Angeles told lawyers for both sides to work harder at reaching a settlement in the case originally filed by WME, CAA and UTA accusing the guild of mounting an illegal boycott against the agencies.

UTA was the first to reach an accord in July 2020. ICM Partners followed the next month. CAA reached a deal in December, after a false start in September when CAA announced it would agreement to the WGA’s terms but the WGA begged to differ.

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