WGA West’s David Goodman on agency battle, gender parity gains and ‘crucial’ 2023 contract talks
When his tenure as president of the Writers Guild of America West began four years ago, David Goodman knew that a groundswell was brewing for a campaign to end the decades-old practice of talent agencies collected packaging fees for television shows and movies.
As such, the longtime scribe and showrunner of “Family Guy” and “The Orville” realized that putting in place a strategy to kill the dragon costs the packaging once and for all – the problem had spread throughout the guild since the early 1970s – would be a top priority. As WGA leaders developed a pitch to present to members, Goodman fervently hoped that the WGA grassroots would not be overly engaged.
“People don’t believe me when I say this: I hope they’re going to say, ‘We don’t agree with this,’ because then we don’t have to,” Goodman said. Variety in a lengthy interview before he passed the pen to his successor, Meredith Stiehm, on September 21. ‘But they found the case compelling.
Against all odds and over 18 months of costly litigation, the WGA was able to claim victory. All of Hollywood’s big talent agencies have reluctantly signed new deals with the guild that prohibit agencies from receiving producer fees for projects wrapped around client writer and showrunner, for conflict of interest reasons.
The guild has shown impressive strength in also securing a ban on agencies and their parent companies from owning more than 20% of a production or distribution company. The move forced CAA to take a controlling stake in June in its new production company Wiip, which was behind HBO’s hit “Mare of Easttown”, from South Korean studio JTBC. Endeavor, the parent company of WME, is in the process of selling its Endeavor Content arm to potential buyers by the end-of-year divestiture deadline.
In both packaging and agency-affiliated production, the WGA said the activity puts talent agent interests at odds with clients. The agencies argued that the industry has changed from earlier company eras and that the largest agencies today are positioned to help talent orient their careers towards greater content ownership and ownership. intellectual and greater freedom of creation. Agents still question the value of the deal for writers who will now lose the chance to have their standard 10% commission removed on projects the agency ordered a package to.
Jay Sures, UTA co-chair, recognizes Goodman’s effectiveness in leading the guild through a difficult process. The WGA West chief was a long-time client of UTA until he and thousands of other writers laid off their agents in April 2019. Goodman has since signed with A3 Artists Agency.
“He’s a strong supporter of his membership and he was excellent at rallying the troops around his cause,” Sures said. Variety.
Goodman concedes that the campaign was harsh and bitterly divided, as there were strands among the over 10,000 members of WGA West who disagreed with the guild’s tough stance. Figures are hard to come by, but according to rough estimates from agency sources, around 20% of writers who had been represented by one of the three big agencies at the heart of the conflict – WME, CAA and UTA – are no longer sure. the list of clients.
The move has been a boon for small agencies like A3 and Verve and for talent managers, who have seen their client numbers grow. A number of prominent former literary agents from the Big Three have made the transition to the post of director amid the turmoil of recent years. Goodman acknowledges that there was a strong vein of dissent in the ranks, but it was never enough to undermine the campaign.
“I have personally lost a lot of friends because of it,” he says. “The people I used to love a lot, we don’t talk to each other anymore because of that.”
Goodman has his share of other unexpected curve balls that have come to him during his tenure as president. The #MeToo movement gained momentum right after he was elected in 2017. In 2020, the WGA had to scramble with other guilds and industry organizations to meet member needs and workplace safety protocols. for the COVID crisis.
On the bright side, Goodman notes that the majority of the 16 WGA West board members are now women, and for the first time the top three guild officer positions will be filled by women, Michele Mulroney and Betsy Thomas joining Stiehm as vice-president and secretary-treasurer respectively.
“It’s a huge thing,” Goodman says of progress toward gender parity. The new trio of executives have a mountain to climb given the growing tension in the industry over the main film and television contract negotiations in 2023. Writers feel they are working harder for less money. money given the monumental changes in the industry through television and film and the changing nature of manufacturing.
“It’s known in the bones of every writer that the next negotiation (contract) is crucial,” Goodman says. “Writers’ incomes are dropping while the business is booming. Whether it’s vertically aligned businesses, shortened seasons, or mini-venues, writers’ pay is reduced. Not just the residue, but the writer’s base salary.
The Guild’s ability to carry out the talent agency franchise reform campaign has sent a strong signal to Hollywood management that writers are ready to join the WGA.
Overall, Goodman believes the agency battle, coupled with the social upheavals of recent years, has only reinforced the central role the guild plays in the lives of working writers.
“I’ve always been surprised but gratified to see how much the guild means to the members,” Goodman said with a catchy voice, “because it means a lot to me.”
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