WGA Leaders Toast Agency Battle Victory, Zing Ari Emanuel in Writers Guild Awards Remarks

Though confined to a virtual ceremony thanks to the pandemic, leadership at the Writers Guild of America still found cause for celebration at their annual awards ceremony.

WGA West president David Goodman and WGA East head Beau Willimon addressed nominees and members in a pre-recorded greeting on Sunday, recapping their recent triumph in a nearly three-year battle with the talent agencies.

“We are recording this three weeks ahead of the ceremony, so if anything has happened to me in the meantime I would encourage the police to take hard look at Ari Emanuel,” Goodman joked, referring to the Endeavor CEO, whose WME agency was the final institution to cave to the guild’s demands over packaging fees.

Goodman said their efforts this past year had “led to a number of recent notable successes. Our agency campaign has made us true partners again with our agency representatives.”

The WME deal reached in January cemented the WGA’s victory in the long fight with Hollywood’s top representation firms as it 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.

At the heart of the beef was ending the decades-old industry practice of agents receiving packaging fees from producers, and establishing 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. UTA was the first major to adhere to the new code of conduct.

Led by 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.

“There will always be more struggles,” Goodman noted of ongoing conversations around writers compensation for streaming content, and coverage for animation writes. “I speak for Beau and the rest of the west and east leadership — we’re incredibly proud. We will fight  and unite and sacrifice when necessary, and continue to prove the value of what it is we do.”

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