‘The Whole Town Thought We Would Lose’: WGA Chief on How Guild Prevailed in Agency Fight

WGA West president David Goodman knew taking on Hollywood’s largest talent agencies would be an uphill battle from the start.

But the veteran showrunner who led the guild’s campaign to reform its agency franchise rules was heartened at key junctures during the three-year fight by the strong sense of solidarity and unanimity among WGA members about the need to eliminate agency packaging fees and to clamp down on agency-affiliated production activity.

On Friday, the WGA West and WGA East reached total victory, securing a franchise agreement with the last and largest agency holdout, WME.

“To me, the greatest accomplishment is showing that the guilds took on a fight that pretty much the whole town thought we would lose,” Goodman told Variety. “Everybody from the start said the agencies are never going to give up packaging. They’ll give up representing writers rather than give in” to the guild’s new rules.

“I feel very proud of the membership,” Goodman said. “We wouldn’t have been able to have this success if they hadn’t shown such solidarity with the union and such an understanding of the importance of the things we were fighting for.”

Goodman acknowledged that the effort was anxiety-inducing for many members. His inbox was flooded with messages and questions from members for more than two years. The overwhelming majority, Goodman asserted, were supportive of the guild’s stance.

In 2018, the guild alerted the Association of Talent Agents that it intended to renegotiate its decades-old franchise agreement governing how talent agents can represent the more than 11,000 members of the WGA West and WGA East. Guild leadership had long wanted to take aim at what it believed were inherent conflicts-of-interest in the longstanding industry practice of agents collecting packaging fees from producers.

The writers unions were also concerned about the growth of production entities such as Endeavor Content and CAA’s Wiip, which were created in part to help maximize the value of each agency’s talent pipeline. But the WGA sounded the alarm about the danger of agents and producers working too closely together under the same roof.

Goodman, showrunner and executive producer of such series as “Family Guy” and “The Orville,” didn’t set out to tackle what would prove to be a historic union reform effort when he was first elected WGA West president in the fall of 2017. But he knew it was an issue of importance to leadership, and there was a groundswell of concern about packaging problems among members who were feeling the ups and downs of the Peak TV production boom.

“The things that we said really rang true for a lot of members — even for those who had very good relationships with their agents,” Goodman said. “They understood the agency system as it was then constituted was not in their best interest.”

More to come

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