No one was expecting these numbers. Today the WGA announced it had delivered its first batch of over 7,000 termination letters from its members to agencies. The guild estimated that of its 13,000 active members, WGA’s records showed 8,800 of its current members had an agent as of 10 days ago. That means approximately 80 percent of WGA members with an agent, fired that agent.
Three weeks ago when it came to implementing a new Agency Code of Conduct, which would require agencies to abandon packaging if they wanted to represent writers, WGA members showed tremendous solidarity. Writers authorized the WGA Board to implement a new Code by an overwhelming majority: 7,882 voted yes, with 392 voting no.
Considering that all of the big agencies, represented by the Association of Talent Agents (ATA), had made it abundantly clear that they would never agree to the new Code, its implementation on April 13 effectively stripped the “Big 4” (CAA, ICM, UTA, WME) of the guild’s authorization necessary to represent its members. Yet, 10 days ago, the WGA asked its writers to take a far more dramatic step — in an act of solidarity, designed to give the WGA leverage in negotiations and eliminate any grey area the ATA felt existed in state law — writers were asked to fire their agent.
And while many writers took to Twitter, at the strike of midnight on April 13, to post screenshots of their docusign forms notifying their agency they were severing ties, last week stories emerged of how the severe step had not only induced pain and fear in writers, but was also causing a resentment and questioning of the WGA leadership’s hardline tactics. Agency sources told IndieWire the expectation was that half of the writers would not take the step of firing their agents, many believed the WGA was dragging its heels in announcing what was assumed to be an embarrassingly low number. For those backing the ATA, today must have been a rude awakening.
What’s likely more frightening to WME, UTA, ICM, and CAA, is how many of the over 800 prominent writers, who three weeks ago signed the letter of support for the implementation of a new Code of Conduct, had also fired their agent.
“99 percent of the members who signed the Statement of Support have fulfilled their pledge by terminating their non-franchised agencies,” wrote the WGA today announcing the termination notifications. “These are astounding, powerful numbers.”
It’s not clear which names are part of that one percent who didn’t fire their agent, but the over 800 names was a deep list of A-List talent that included Shonda Rhimes, Mike Schur, Greg Berlanti, Jenji Kohan, Joss Whedon, David Simon, Kenya Barris, Amy Sherman-Palladino, Matthew Weiner, JJ. Abrams, Tina Fey, Barry Jenkins, Alfonso Cuaron, Peter Jackson, Marielle Heller, Edgar Wright, Peter Morgan, Amy Poehler, Noah Hawley, Neil Gaiman, Aaron Sorkin, and hundreds of the biggest creative names in Hollywood.
While it’s unclear if writer-directors like Jenkins and Cuaron, or actor-writers like Fey and Waithe, fired their agency for only their writing work, or all work, agencies’ attempt to muddy the water and spin a story of derision would appear, at least at this moment, to be more of a smoke screen than actual fire.