The heads of the Abrams Artists Agency took a dig tonight at the Association of Talent Agents in the first open schism among the major agencies, as the showdown between the WGA and the ATA looms ever larger. The firm’s three partners – Adam Bold, Robert Atterman and Brian Cho – confirmed tonight that they will not be signing the WGA’s new Code of Conduct, but a memo they sent to their staff said that they have not even been consulted by the ATA about its negotiations with the guild.
“As the WGA/ATA saga has continued, many of you have wondered where The Abrams Artists Agency stands, what our position is and how it might affect us,” the partners said in the memo. “We are members of the ATA, and they do a good job of representing us on most topics and issues, but quite honestly, they haven’t consulted with us regarding the writers. They have been informing us about their efforts, but they are really only concerned with the big four – especially since so much of the argument is over packaging, and those firms do the vast majority of it.”
Those four firms are WME, CAA, UTA and ICM Partners.
“We are going to have to live with the outcome of this situation since they are not asking us, but we will do the right thing for our clients here – regardless of what the WGA and the ATA work out,” they said. “Unlike many of our big competitors, our goal is the long view and what is right for our clients – not just whatever we can make today. We are not for the WGA; we are not for the ATA. We are The Abrams Artists Agency, and we are for our clients. We will be a place where when we represent a writer, actor, or any other artist, they feel at home. It comes back to our core belief that if we do what is right for the client, it will ultimately be what is right for us.”
A spokesperson confirmed that the agency “will not be signing the Code of Conduct,” but the partners’ memo highlights the different needs of the big packaging agencies and all the others. The ATA, meanwhile, has said that more than 100 of its member agencies, big and small, have agreed that they will not sign the guild’s Code either. So far, only one of the smaller ATA members – the Pantheon Talent Agency – has broken ranks with the ATA and signed the Code. At last count, the guild said that “There are 24 agencies signed so far, most of them small, one of them an ATA member.”
“Six months ago, when we purchased the agency,” the Abrams partners said, “we realized that there was a true need in the marketplace for a different kind of agency – one that would serve as collaborative, fierce advocates for their clients, many of whom had been abandoned or abused by a focus on profits rather than on people. Regardless of what the WGA and ATA work out, here are a few guiding principles that we will abide by:
“ON PACKAGING: As we understand it, the writer’s biggest individual worry is that they will be added to or taken out of a project based on the agency’s desire to make their packaging fee, as opposed to whether or not a project is good for their career. Their second fear is that the agency will do what’s easiest for them to get their packaging fee rather than to negotiate the highest fee for their clients. We will never do that. Our advice is never tainted, and our highest priority is to get the biggest amount of money for our clients. As advocates for our clients, whenever we initiate a package, it will be solely for the purpose of giving our clients the best chance of producing an extremely high-quality deliverable, which in turn, increases the chances of a TV show being renewed or a film being successful at the box office. We will never ever do a package for the financial gain of our agency. But there are reasons an old-fashioned package can be in the best interest of a client and those include: 1) Using the packaging fee to offset some of the commission the client would otherwise have to pay themselves. 2) Potentially putting many of our clients to work, instead of just one at a time. 3) Increasing the odds of a good program, movie, show, etc. by putting like-minded, collaborative artists together.
“ON TRANSPARENCY: When we are involved in a package, whether initiated by us, or whether as part of a bigger agency’s package, all of our clients will know everything that we know about the package. Full transparency is just the right thing to do. And since we are not involved in the WGA/ATA negotiations about packaging—regardless of what specifics they end up settling on—we will share part of our portion of the packaging fee with our clients. We deserve compensation for the work that we do; but that is of less consequence than our clients being compensated for what they do.
“ON SCALE: Initially, one of the demands from the WGA was that agencies would not charge commission on writers receiving only scale. They dropped that. However, as an artists agency, it is important every year that we add a number of emerging clients to our roster—not just writers, but in every vertical that we represent. We want to be very clear that we will never put undue financial burdens on emerging clients who are just trying to pay their bills. Our agency is financially strong enough that we don’t need to make small commissions off of people who aren’t even making a living wage. Because we do not have outside investors to report to, we are in the unique position to make decisions based on the long-term career goals of our clients, and not worry about immediate profit today.
“ON WRITERS LEAVING THEIR AGENTS: Who knows if writers will fire their agents, but whatever happens, if some writers become available—we don’t care how big or small they are—if they are the kind of people who are congruent with what we stand for, then let’s find a home for them. We would feel the same way if this were actors or any other talent we represent. It’s time that someone does a good job for them – the way it’s supposed to be.”
The WGA, meanwhile, continues to show signs of unity going into the showdown with the ATA. Membership meetings were held on both coasts tonight, and nearly 800 prominent writers and showrunners have signed a pledge to vote for the guild’s proposed new Code of Conduct that would ban packaging fees and force agencies to sever their ties with affiliated production companies.
“There was a tremendous amount of support for the negotiating committee,” said a writer who attended the packed WGA East meeting tonight at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center in Manhattan.
“Lots of applause whenever a member declared they’re voting yes,” said another.
“It was an energized room of members clearly ready to back guild leadership,” said another.
Voting on the Code, which begins tonight, is expected to be approved by a wide margin. The Code would replace the guild’s current franchise agreement with the Association of Talent Agents if a new deal can’t be reached by April 6. After that, the guild could order its members to fire those agents who refuse to sign the Code.