Writers Guild Begins Voting on ‘Code of Conduct,’ Setting Stage for Agent Firings

Amid shaky prospects for a new deal with Hollywood agents, members of the Writers Guild of America have started voting on a “code of conduct” that will enable writers to fire their agents on April 7.

Five days of online voting by the 15,000 WGA members began Wednesday morning. The code includes provisions eliminating agency packaging fees and ownership interest in affiliate production companies by CAA, WME, and UTA — demands that the agencies have insisted are not feasible.

Guild leaders have said they expect the code to be approved overwhelmingly. If the 43-year-old franchise agreement expires on April 7, the WGA will require members to fire their agents if the agents have not agreed to the new code.

The WGA and the Association of Talent Agents have made negligible progress during seven negotiating sessions, starting on Feb. 5. The two sides met on Tuesday, then issued statements blaming each other for the lack of movement towards an accord. No new negotiations have been set.

The WGA held a member meeting Tuesday at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif., and will hold meetings Wednesday at the Sheraton Universal in Los Angeles and in New York at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center. The guild will also hold a meeting Saturday at the Writers Guild Theater in Beverly Hills.

Tuesday’s negotiating session came on the heels of WGA leaders sending members contingency plans, including instructions for firing their agents. The ATA accused the guild Tuesday of threatening to throw the industry into “chaos,” but the WGA’s negotiating committee asserted that business will continue.

“Our industry will not grind to a halt. Studios and producers will still need writers,” the committee said. “Writers on staff and working on projects will still go to work. Feature scripts will still get sold, and TV shows will still get staffed. Our ideas and our words will still have enormous value, and the work we all love to do will continue.”

The WGA included a link with an extensive Q&A for the 15,000 WGA members. For example, it asked the question: “How do I leave my agents? Do I have to call them up and personally fire them?”

The response was: “No, you don’t need to communicate with your agency directly, unless you want to. This is a collective action by Guild members. All you have to do is electronically sign a form terminating your representation agreement. The Guild will deliver the terminations to the agency in a group. The Guild has prepared a standard termination form which will be available on the website and activated if and when necessary and you will be able to eSign it.”

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