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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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Netflix Cuts Controversial Suicide Scene from ‘13 Reasons Why’ Season 1

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  • Netflix has removed a controversial and graphic suicide scene from its popular series “13 Reasons Why,” more than two years after the scene originally aired. 
  • The company and show creator said they made the decision after hearing concerns from medical experts.
  • The decision to re-edit the scene has been met with mixed reactions, with some praising the move, some saying it should have been done long ago, and others saying that it should have remained in the show because it is powerful and important to watch.

Netflix’s Announcement 

Netflix announced Monday that it has edited out a graphic suicide scene from the first season of “13 Reasons Why,” more than two years after it was released. 

The show, which centers on the suicide of a fictional teenager named Hannah Baker, stirred up controversy when it first aired in March of 2017. While many praised the show for raising awareness about suicide and bullying, others, including organizations like the National Association of School Psychologists and the Parents Television Council, accused Netflix of glorifying and romanticizing suicide to vulnerable teens.

Critics of the show found one scene that aired during the season 1 finale particularly upsetting because of its graphic depiction of Hannah taking her own life. 

“We’ve heard from many young people that 13 Reasons Why encouraged them to start conversations about difficult issues like depression and suicide and get help — often for the first time,” Netflix said in a statement.

“As we prepare to launch season three later this summer, we’ve been mindful about the ongoing debate around the show. So on the advice of medical experts, including Dr. Christine Moutier, chief medical officer at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, we’ve decided with creator Brian Yorkey and the producers to edit the scene in which Hannah takes her own life from season one.”

Suicide Scene Re-edited 

The nearly three-minute-long scene aired about midway through the episode and showed Katherine Langford’s character Hannah looking at herself in the mirror before she was shown cutting her wrists in a bathtub. The camera held on Hannah during her graphic final moments before showing her parents finding her body. 

The re-edited scene now shows Hannah looking at herself in the mirror, then cuts directly to her parents finding her body in the bathroom. Sources told The Hollywood Reporter that Netflix will also monitor and issue take-downs for any pirated clips that feature the original scene.

“Our creative intent in portraying the ugly, painful reality of suicide in such graphic detail in Season 1 was to tell the truth about the horror of such an act, and make sure no one would ever wish to emulate it,” show creator Brian Yorkey said in a statement before also mentioning that concerns from experts helped him reach this decision. 

“No one scene is more important than the life of the show and its message that we must take better care of each other. We believe this edit will help the show do the most good for the most people while mitigating any risk for especially vulnerable young viewers,” he added.

Mixed Reactions 

The decision to re-edit the scene was met with support from the American Association of Suicidology, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, American School Counselor Association, Dr. Helen Hsu from Stanford, advocacy group Mental Health America, the Trevor Project and Dr. Rebecca Hedrick from Cedars-Sinai, according to THR.

We support the decision to edit the scene in which Hannah takes her own life from 13 Reasons Why. There has been much debate about the series in the medical community,” the groups said in a joint statement. “But this positive change will ensure that 13 Reasons Why continues to encourage open conversation about mental health and suicide prevention — while also mitigating the risk for the most vulnerable teenage viewers.”

However, the move was met with mixed reactions online, with some arguing that the scene was painful but powerful and should have remained in the show.

Meanwhile, others said the scene should have been cut from the series a long time ago.

If you or someone you know may be contemplating suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text TALK to 741741 for free, anonymous 24/7 crisis support in the US from the Crisis Text Line. Other international suicide helplines can be found at befrienders.org.

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

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Scarlett Johansson Clarifies “Politically Correct” Casting Comments After Backlash

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  • In a recent interview with As If magazine, Scarlett Johansson was quoted saying that she should “be allowed to play any person, or any tree, or any animal because that is my job and the requirements of my job.”
  • Her comments reignited a debate on social media about Hollywood casting and diversity in the film industry.
  • After facing backlash, Johansson released a statement saying that her interview was “edited for click bait and is widely taken out of context.”

As If Cover Story 

Scarlett Johansson says her recent remarks about “political correctness” in casting were taken out of context after the comments sparked much backlash online. 

The actress was previously criticized for accepting the role of a transgender man in the film “Rub & Tug.” She stepped down from the role last summer amid calls for the character to be played by a trans actor instead.

Before that, Johansson also faced backlash for playing a Japanese character in “Ghost in the Shell,” which critics again argued should have been played by a Japanese actor. 

In a cover story for As If magazine published last week, Johansson discussed her viewpoints on the issue. Then different media outlets quoted selections of her comments from the interview.

Johansson was quoted saying: “You know, as an actor I should be allowed to play any person, or any tree, or any animal because that is my job and the requirements of my job.

“There are a lot of social lines being drawn now, and a lot of political correctness is being reflected in art,” she added.

“I feel like it’s a trend in my business and it needs to happen for various social reasons, yet there are times it does get uncomfortable when it affects the art because I feel art should be free of restrictions.”

Twitter Users React

Headlines about Johansson’s comments began circulating on Twitter, prompting many users to speak out.

Still, some users came to Johansson’s defense on the issue. Some specifically pointed to the reactions that appeared when Halle Bailey was cast as Ariel in Disney’s live-action remake of “The Little Mermaid.”

Johansson Clarifies Comments

Johansson released a statement on Sunday through her reps saying that the interview, as it’s been quoted, “has been edited for click bait and is widely taken out of context.”

She explained that the question she was answering was about the “confrontation between political correctness and art.”

“I personally feel that, in an ideal world, any actor should be able to play anybody, and art, in all forms, should be immune to political correctness. That is the point I was making, albeit didn’t come across that way.”

“I recognize that in reality, there is a wide spread discrepancy amongst my industry that favors Caucasian, cis gendered actors and that not every actor has been given the same opportunities that I have been privileged to,” she added. “I continue to support, and always have, diversity in every industry and will continue to fight for projects where everyone is included.”

See what others are saying: (Fox News) (Entertainment Weekly) (The Hollywood Reporter

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R. Kelly Facing Two New Federal Indictments For Sex Crimes

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  • R. Kelly was arrested on Thursday in Chicago after he was hit with over a dozen federal charges including child pornography and enticement of a minor.
  • A second federal indictment in New York accused the singer of other crimes, including kidnapping, transportation for prostitution and sexual exploitation of a child.
  • His attorney said Kelly was not surprised by the charges, but claimed that these accusations are an attack on his client.

Federal Indictment in Illinois

Singer R. Kelly was hit with two federal indictments accusing him of criminal sexual activity in Illinois and New York.

A 13-count indictment from the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois includes charges of child pornography, enticement of a minor and obstruction of justice. Kelly was arrested on Thursday for these counts. 

According to this indictment, Kelly “did knowingly employ, use, persuade, induce, entice and coerce a minor, namely Minor 1, to engage in sexually explicit conduct for the purpose of producing a visual depiction of such conduct” on multiple occasions. The charges also involve four other minors between the ages of 13 and 17-years-old, whom Kelly had also allegedly engaged in sexual conduct with.

Federal Indictment in New York

On Friday, the United States District Court in the Eastern District of New York unsealed a five-count indictment against him. The charges here include racketeering, kidnapping, transportation for prostitution, forced labor and the sexual exploitation of a child.

The New York indictment says that Kelly made rules for his sexual partners, which included women and young girls. These rules included partners not being allowed to leave their rooms, not being allowed to look at other men, being forced to wear baggy clothing when they were not accompanying Kelly to events, and being forced to refer to Kelly as “Daddy.”

Kelly’s Attorney Responds

In a statement, Kelly’s attorney, Steve Greenberg, confirmed that Kelly was arrested in Chicago while walking his dog. He says the charges appear to “largely be the same as old conduct previously alleged.”

“Mr. Kelly was aware of the investigations and the charges were not a surprise,” Greenberg added. “He had already assembled a team of outstanding federal litigators. He and his lawyers look forward to the truth coming out and to his vindication from what has been an unprecedented assault by others for their own personal gain.” 

Kelly already faces over 20 sex abuse-related charges handed to him by Cook County in February and May. He is pleading not guilty to all of those charges. 

The charges, in this case, followed the release of a Lifetime docu-series, Surviving R. Kelly. The series featured interviews with accusers and their families and prompted a boycott of his music along with the hashtag #MuteRKelly. 

Kelly is expected to appear in a Chicago federal court on Tuesday for his arraignment for the new federal charges. No timing has been set for his appearance in New York. 

See what others are saying: (CBS Chicago) (Associated Press) (NBC New York)

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