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Hollywood Writers Sue Their Agents Over Pay and Competition Issues

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  • The Writer’s Guild of America is suing four major talent agencies alleging unfair competition practices and pay issues.
  • The WGA claims that the packaging fees that agents take as part of representing writers are illegal under California and federal law.
  • In some cases, the WGA says agents take 80 percent of packaging fees that are paid by the studios, rather than the standard 10 percent of a writers’ income.
  • The lawsuit was dropped after the agencies refused to sign the WGA’s code of conduct, which banned packaging fees.

Lawsuit Filed

The Writers Guild of America filed a lawsuit on Wednesday against four major talent agencies in a fight over writers’ wages and unfair competition practices.

The Guild and eight other writers, including The Wire creator David Simon, filed the complaint in a California superior court against William Morris Endeavor, Creative Artists Agency, United Talent Agency, and ICM Partners.

The main issue at hand focuses on “packing fees.” These are deals that allow agents to be paid directly by studios for bringing clients together on a project, instead of having agents receive a standard 10 percent of a writers’ income.

According to the WGA, the Big Four agencies currently receive about 80 percent of the packaging fees that are paid by studios.

One plaintiff, Meredith Stiehm, who created the CBS police drama Cold Case, said that after about six years with CAA, she learned that the agency made 94 cents for each dollar she made from the show.

That is indefensible,” she during a press conference. “An agency should make 10% of what their client makes—not 20, not 50, not like in my case, 94%. 10% is enough.”

The Claims

Along with issues about pay, the writers are also concerned about other ways the industry operates. For instance, they take issue with the trend of agents becoming producers themselves, which creates conflicts of interests.

In the lawsuit, WGA makes two legal claims: that packaging fees violate state fiduciary duty laws, and that those fees violate federal unfair competition laws.

First, under California state law, talent agents are considered fiduciaries. This means they are bound to represent writers, without conflicts of interest. Second, the Guild says that packaging fees constitute illegal “kickbacks” to agents, which would be a violation of both state and federal law.

The lawsuit cites the Taft-Hartley Act, a federal law passed in 1947. The anti-kickback section of the act prohibits “any employer or association of employers to pay, lend, or deliver, or agree to pay, lend, or deliver, any money or other thing of value … to any representative of any of his employees who are employed in an industry affecting commerce.”

Lawyers for the WGA argue that agency packaging fees fall under this ban.

“The plaintiffs will seek a judicial declaration that packaging fees are unlawful and an injunction prohibiting talent agencies from entering into future packaging deals,” Tony Segall, general counsel for the Writers Guild of America West, said in a statement announcing the lawsuit.

“The suit will also seek damages and repayment of illegal profits on behalf of writers who have been harmed by these unlawful practices in the past,” he added.

How We Got Here

The WGA has been trying to address this issue in recent days. The writers and agents have been without an agreement to govern their relationship with each other since one expired last weekend.

In fact, the WGA had even drafted a code of conduct for agencies that calls for the banning of packaging fees. Around 95 percent of the Guild’s members voted in favor of implementing it and the Guild then asked agencies to sign it. The Big Four agencies refused.

At one point during negotiations, Talent Agencies offered writers a 1 percent cut of their production fee money, but the Guild says that proposal was unacceptable.

On Saturday, the WGA told writers to fire agents who refuse to sign the union’s code of conduct. Some writers complied and have posted images of the letters they had sent to their agents. The letters say that under union rules, they can’t be represented by the agency until a negotiation is reached.

WGA West President David Goodman said the lawsuit shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. “We always had this as part of our strategy,” he said.

“The lawsuit is really at attempt to try and address the situation and make agencies realize this has to be fixed. It wasn’t a matter of the negotiations falling apart and then there was a lawsuit. It’s all part of the same thing.”

Defense

The Association of Talent Agents stands by the packaging fees. In its FAQ sections, the ATA writes, “Packaging agencies help assemble a show’s creative elements before the show is pitched to potential buyers and continue to service the show during its lifecycle.”

If packaging fees were to be eliminated, the ATA says “those packaging fees likely would not be redistributed in any way to talent.

The ATA also noted that United Talent Agency’s analysis found that its writers earn more money on shows that the agency packed and less on shows that it didn’t.

They issued a response to the lawsuit late Wednesday saying, “This development is ironic given that the guild itself has agreed to the legitimacy of packaging for more than 43 years. Even more ironic is the fact that the statute the WGA is suing under prevents abuses of power and authority by labor union leaders, even as the guild has intimidated its own members and repeatedly misled them about their lack of good faith in the negotiating room.”

What now?

Neither side appears to be willing to budge on the issue. The WGA says negotiations can continue as the lawsuit moves forward, with Goodman saying the WGA is waiting for the ATA to make contact with his team.

Without a deal soon, Hollywood productions could be stuck in limbo, leaving thousands of writers without work and hundreds of studio projects on hold.

“The agencies are the ones who’ve made it clear that they’re not taking it seriously. If they’re ready to do that, we’re here,” Goodman said.

The WGA has released a list of agencies that have agreed to their code of conduct and can represent its members. However, the Big Four agencies dominate much of the industry.

The tension unfolding between both parties is unprecedented and a meaningful agreement could change the industry practices for years to come.

See what others are saying: (Deadline) (The Hollywood Reporter) (The Washington Post)

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Alabama Public Television Refuses to Air Arthur Episode Featuring Same-Sex Marriage

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  • The season premiere of the animated series “Arthur” earlier this month featured a same-sex wedding between Arthur’s teacher Mr. Ratburn and his partner, a chocolatier named Patrick.
  • The episode was met with much praise from LGBTQ rights supporters, but Alabama Public Television decided not to air the episode.
  • APT said parents trust that their children can watch without supervision and since most parents might not have heard about the content, the network decided that airing it would be “a violation of trust.”

“Mr. Ratburn and the Special Someone”

Alabama Public Television decided not to air PBS’ recent episode of the animated series “Arthur,” which featured a same-sex marriage.

The episode entitled “Mr.Ratburn and the Special Someone,” is the first of the show’s 22nd season. In it, Arthur’s third-grade teacher Mr.Ratburn, marries his partner, a chocolatier named Patrick at a wedding attended by some of his students.

The show aired across the nation on May 13 and was met with widespread praise from LGBTQ rights supporters. However, Alabama Public Television (APT) decided against airing the episode.

Mike McKenzie, director of programming at APT, told NBC News that PBS sent a message to stations in mid-April alerting them “to possible viewer concerns about the content of the program.”

McKenzie and others at APT viewed the episode and decided not to broadcast it. Instead APT chose to air a re-run. “Parents have trusted Alabama Public Television for more than 50 years to provide children’s programs that entertain, educate and inspire,” McKenzie said in an email to AL.com.

“More importantly — although we strongly encourage parents to watch television with their children and talk about what they have learned afterwards — parents trust that their children can watch APT without their supervision. We also know that children who are younger than the ‘target’ audience for ‘Arthur’ also watch the program.”

McKenzie went on to say that if they aired the program, APT would take away the choice of parents who felt it was inappropriate content for their children to watch.

“The vast majority of parents will not have heard about the content, whether they agree with it or not,” he said. “Because of this, we felt it would be a violation of trust to broadcast the episode.”

In a phone call with TheWrap, McKenzie explained a bit further saying, “Our concern is with the subject matter, the marriage of Mr. Ratburn and the other gentleman.”

“We have a fairly large number of people who have a problem with teaching that to their children.”

As of now, the network has no plans to air the episode at a later time. According to McKenzie, parents who want to share the episode with their children can access the episode online at pbs.org.

Reactions

The news sparked outrage on social media. In several tweets criticizing the decision, many users referenced Alabama’s new abortion law that prohibits the procedure at any stage of pregnancy, making no exceptions for victims of rape or incest. Others called the move an act of censorship

Similar Moves

This is not the first time APT has refused to air an “Arthur” episode featuring a same-sex couple. According to AL.com, in 2005 the network pulled an episode in which the character Buster visited a girl who had two mothers.

At the time, then-executive director Allan Pizzato issued a similar statement saying,“’Our feeling is that we basically have a trust with parents about our programming. This program doesn’t fit into that.”

See what others are saying: (AL.com) ((TheWrap) NBC News)


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Game of Thrones Finale Leaves Some Fans Disappointed

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  • Game of Thrones ended its run on Sunday night and after eight seasons some fans were left confused and disappointed by the ending.
  • On top of that, there were more out-of-universe beverages left on-screen, except this time instead of a Starbucks cup, two water bottles snuck their way into the show.
  • Some fans are hoping that the book series, which has not yet concluded, will do a better job of closing the story, but they might still be disappointed.

The End

The ending of last night’s finale for Game of Thrones left some fans complaining about the writing once again and incited new frustrations over two water bottles that made it on-screen.

After the questionable choices made in last week’s episode, many fans were expecting to be disappointed by the ending and oh boy were they. This isn’t really surprising since the petition to redo season 8 withcompetent writers” now has more than one million signatures.

Source: Change.org

It’s also probably the reason why showrunner David Benioff told Entertainment Weekly that he and D.B. Weiss planned to spend the finale “drunk and far away from the Internet.”

After finding out who would sit on the Iron Throne, fans complained that the ending ignored foreshadowing from previous seasons.

However there were some people that felt the ending stayed true to the characters and followed through on what was set up.

On Rotten Tomatoes Season 8 is the lowest rated season with about 70 percent compared to every other season that has more than 90 percent approval. Sunday’s episode specifically has a score of 58 percent, which is still not the lowest rated of this season. That spot is still claimed by last week’s episode, “The Bells.”

Out-of-Universe Beverages Part II: The Water Bottles

To add to the frustrations around the season, there were two water bottles left on-screen during the same scene. Though unlike the Starbucks cup that has since been digitally removed, both of the water bottles were partially hidden underneath chairs and behind legs.

What About the Books?

Amid all of the complaints and calls for a rewrite, some are hoping that the books behind the series will have a better ending since the show raced ahead of where author George R. R. Martin left off a few seasons ago.

Martin told Weiss and Benioff his plans for how he imagined the story should continue, however, the writers still made some narrative changes.

Even so, the changes might not be too far off from how the book series will close. In an interview with 60 Minutes last month, Martin said, “I don’t think Dan and Dave’s ending is gonna be that different from my ending.”

So, for now, fans will have to wait and see if the books will end in a more satisfying way, especially after the response the final season faced.

See what others are saying: (Fox News) (New York Times) (AV Club)

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Over 500,000 Fans Sign Petition to Redo Latest Game of Thrones Season With “Competent Writers”

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  • Following a particularly upsetting episode of Game of Thrones, some fans are calling for the final season to be completely redone with “competent writers.”
  • One petition on change.org has more than 500,000 signatures.

Petitions

After a few rocky episodes of Game of Thrones, some fans are voicing their displeasure by signing petitions to redo the season with new writers to replace David Benioff and D.B. Weiss.

One Change.org petition that says Weiss and Benioff are “woefully incompetent writers,” has more than 500,000 signatures. “This series deserves a final season that makes sense. Subvert my expectations and make it happen, HBO!”

Source: Change.org

There is one hidden gem among the handful of other petitions with fewer signatures calling for a redo. That petition wants to “Hire Hannah Waddingham to walk behind D&D (Game of Thrones Producers)”

And it only has 3,800 signatures? SHAME!

Disappointed Fans

The episode that aired last weekend titled “The Bells,” really missed a lot of peoples’ expectations for the ending of the series. Episode 3 “The Long Night,” drew complaints about the lighting in some scenes being too dark.

Then there was that infamous Starbucks cup situation, where a cup was accidentally left in a scene.

There have also been complaints about pacing. Some say that in the last few seasons the show has had a faster pace than before. Others say this new season is a let down after seven seasons of build up, but the episodes are still averaging 43 million viewers per episode.

See what others are saying: (People) (Fox News) (CNN)

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