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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 Reinstates Employee Who Crashed Director-Level Meeting After Criticizing Dave Chapelle

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Terra Field had publicly accused Chappelle of making transphobic remarks in his new stand-up special “The Closer” just days before she was suspended.


Netflix Reinstates Terra Field

Netflix reinstated a transgender employee who was critical of Dave Chappelle’s new stand-up special after suspending her for attending a director-level meeting without an invitation. 

Terra Field tweeted on Tuesday that she was reinstated once the company determined “there was no ill-intent in” her decision to attend the meeting.

“I’m going to take a few days off to decompress and try to figure out where I’m at,” she added. “At the very least, I feel vindicated.”

Field also shared an email Netflix sent her regarding her suspension being lifted. 

“Our investigation did not find that you joined the QBR meeting with any ill intent and that you genuinely didn’t think there was anything wrong with seeking access to this meeting,” the email said. “Additionally, when a Director shared the link it further supported that this was a meeting you could attend.”

Field’s suspension came just days after she tweeted a viral thread criticizing Chappelle’s latest program on Netflix, “The Closer.” She was one of many activists who claimed Chappelle’s set was transphobic and encouraged Netflix to take action. Field wrote that his comments attacked “the very validity of transness.” Netflix insisted those tweets had nothing to do with her suspension. 

Field reportedly attended the director-level meeting with two other employees who were also suspended. A spokesperson for Netflix told Deadline that those two staffers have likewise been reinstated and the company “will be distributing broader guidance about meetings and clarifying which are for which people.”

Netflix’s Response to Dave Chappelle Controversy

Netflix, for its part, has defended Chappelle and rejected calls to remove “The Closer” from the streaming service.

“It never feels good when people are hurting, especially our colleagues,” Netflix co-CEO Ted Srandos wrote in an internal memo. “You should also be aware that some talent may join third parties in asking us to remove the show in the coming days, which we are not going to do.”

“We don’t allow titles on Netflix that are designed to incite hate or violence, and we don’t believe The Closer crosses that line,” he added. “I recognize, however, that distinguishing between commentary and harm is hard, especially with stand-up comedy which exists to push boundaries. Some people find the art of stand-up to be mean spirited but our members enjoy it, and it’s an important part of our content offering.”

Among other things, Chappelle took time in his special to defend author J.K. Rowling, who previously faced backlash over a series of transphobic remarks she made. Chappelle said he agreed with Rowling.

“I’m team TERF,” he added. “I agree. I agree, man. Gender is a fact.”

Chappelle went on to make jokes about Caitlyn Jenner before comparing the genitalia of transgender women to Beyond and Impossible meat.

Many employees at Netflix are still frustrated with the way the platform has handled the controversy surrounding “The Closer.” According to The Verge, a trans employee resource group is planning a walkout on Oct. 20.

“Trans Lives Matter. Trans Rights Matter,” the group said in a memo. “And as an organization, Netflix has continually failed to show deep care in our mission to Entertain the World by repeatedly releasing content that harms the Trans community and continually failing to create content that represents and uplifts Trans content. We can and must do better!”

See what others are saying: (The Verge) (Deadline) (The New York Times)

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Lil Nas X and Bella Poarch May Have Abandoned Plans To Participate In TikTok NFT Program

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Lil Nas X’s TikTok NFT was scheduled to debut a week ago and is still not available to the public.


Creators Allegedly Leave TikTok’s NFT Program

Musicians Lil Nas X and Bella Poarch may have quietly exited TikTok’s new NFT collection, according to a report from Rolling Stone.

TikTok first announced the line, which is called “TikTok Top Moments,” at the end of September. It involves a series of creator-led NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, which are unique and tradeable digital assets. TikTok’s NFTs can be purchased with the cryptocurrency Ethereum. According to a press release, the money will “largely go directly to the creators and NFT artists involved.”

TikTok said that creators like Poarch, Lil Nas X, Grimes, Curtis Roach, Brittany Broski, and more would be participating in the program. The company called NFTs an “empowerment tool” that will allow these creators to “be recognized and rewarded for their content.” It planned to debut the collection on Oct. 6 with Lil Nas X’s NFT, but that token has still not been made available. A source told Rolling Stone that it may never be released. 

NFT Rollout Described as “A Mess”

The outlet also reported that Poarch is “actively contemplating pulling out of the program due to worries about its execution.” According to Rolling Stone, three sources familiar with the rollout of the program have described it as “a challenge,” “a mess,” and “a complete joke.”

Those sources claimed that in order to secure Poarch’s initial participation, TikTok offered her marketing support worth potentially $4 million for her next release. The company also allegedly promised to use one of her songs in an end-of-year campaign. A spokesperson for TikTok, however, described these claims as “not accurate.”

Neither Poarch nor Lil Nas X has commented on their participation yet. Meanwhile, TikTok declined to answer Rolling Stone’s questions about the status of their NFTs. 

Some of TikTok’s announced NFTs have gone public, though. Throughout Tuesday, Roach’s “Bored in the House” video was up for auction on the platform Immutable. 

NFTs took the internet by storm in early 2021, but their popularity peaked in May and declined throughout the summer. Celebrities, tech moguls, and everyday people featured in viral memes have hopped on the trend and made millions doing so. 

According to Rolling Stone, TikTok has valued some of its own NFTs at $1 million. Now, it’s unclear if those tokens will ever hit the market.

See what others are saying: (Rolling Stone) (Dexerto)

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Ariana Grande, Bella Hadid, and Others Honor World Mental Health Day

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A slew of stars acknowledged the day by sharing personal stories and making hefty donations to organizations that offer mental health resources.


Celebrities Donate to Mental Health Organizations

Major celebrities honored World Mental Health Day on Sunday by speaking candidly about their mental health struggles and donating to nonprofits.

Singer Ariana Grande announced that she is donating $5 million worth of free therapy through the online counseling platform Better Help. The star previously partnered with the company over the summer to give $1 million in therapy to fans and opted to throw more money at the program following its success. 

“I acknowledge that there are very real barriers when it comes to accessing mental health resources, and while this is only one small gesture (and a much larger systemic problem remains) I wanted to do this again with @betterhelp in hopes of bringing access to a few more people and perhaps inspiring a few of you to try something new and prioritize your own healing,” Grande wrote on Instagram. 

Those interested can sign up for a free first month of Better Help and get an additional 15% off the second month. 

Model Bella Hadid also pledged to donate to mental health resources. She teamed up with the beverage company Kin Euphorics, which will donate 10% of its October sales to Gurls Talk, a nonprofit that gives adolescent girls a space to talk about mental health, along with various educational tools to aid those discussions. Hadid will match those donations.

“Dealing with mental illness for most of my life, bringing awareness to the education of mental health through my platform is something that I will continue to do until our mental is just as respected as our physical,” Hadid wrote. “I want everyone who struggles daily to know that you are not alone.”

Stars Share Resources and Personal Stories

Meanwhile, actress and singer Selena Gomez used her new makeup brand Rare Beauty to share statistics about the prevalence of mental illness and the efforts to combat it. The company, which has previously focused on several mental health initiatives, shared that just 1.3% of philanthropic investments go towards supporting mental health.

The company additionally cited information from an American Psychological Association report, which revealed that young people are particularly vulnerable to mental health struggles. It found that seven out of 10 Gen Z adults are more likely to report experiencing depression symptoms compared to other generations. 

Gomez shared Rare Beauty’s post to her own story as well. 

Singer Olivia Rodrigo similarly opened up about mental health and therapy during an interview with CBS that aired Sunday. In it, she said she has been in therapy since she was 16, which she believes has helped her both personally and professionally.

“That was a really big, life-changing moment,” she said. “I’ve learned so much about myself.” 

“I think there’s sometimes a stigma around it, too, like I was saying,” the singer continued. “Sometimes people are like, ‘Oh, you don’t need that. You have so much. Your life is so great. What are your problems?’ I think that’s definitely a thing that sometimes older people can do to younger people to kind of trivialize what they’re going through.” 

See what others are saying: (Billboard) (E! News) (Complex)

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