I was responding to a post on a WGA Facebook group and my thoughts just kept going and going. It was long, and buried in a thread and I knew no one was going to read it.
I am not sure anyone will read this either, of course, but I thought this might at least be a better place for these thoughts.
The writer in question was refreshingly honest in explaining why he was backing the “Forward Together” slate of Phyliss Nagy and the others.
He basically didn’t think we could win.
He believed that packaging fees would continue unabated and writers would ultimately be weakened by this endeavor. The Big 4 (CAA, ICM, UTA and WME) would just simply go on with business as usual without us.
It’s a static view of the business. A belief that everything else would remain the same except this.
This is not my view, but it is a legitimate position that reasonable people can just disagree on. What I don’t like about the Forward Together slate, however, is their refusal to say this very thing as plainly as this fellow writer did.
This position is the only thing that makes their often contradictory stances make sense. And because they will not state their position clearly (likely, because it is unpopular amongst the WGA,) we are unable to have an open and honest debate about it.
I believe where one stands on this question is what defines their overall position:
Do we believe that packaging fees are simply a fact of life now?
Do we believe that the Big 4 are so powerful — and life without them so unacceptable — that they can force this corrupt practice on us and we just have to negotiate enough of that pie that we can save face? (The inability of the Forward Together slate to articulate any strategy other than “negotiate” and “make a deal” should be troubling to any WGA member.)
My belief is the WGA is here just for this very purpose. To protect writers when powerful forces try to impose something unethical on us because we are not powerful enough individually to fight back.
Collectively, however, we DO have power. For most of us, it is often the only power we have (I am of the opinion that Nagy and the slate have seriously undermined the WGA in their public statements. Why on earth would a mid-level agency sign the agreement before the election now? But alas, the alternative of “no dissent” is even more unpalatable.)
I am not at the point that I believe the Big 4 are more powerful than every writer in the business unified.
I do not believe the Big 4 are so powerful that they can force us to accept indisputably unethical behavior that is against our own interest.
I’m just not there yet.
Of course, I am not smart enough to see the future either.
Will the Big 4 just get out of the writer representation game entirely? Maybe. I would argue that if they only want us as leverage for their packaging fees, they already have.
Will studios continue to pay packaging fees over the long run if only directors and actors are a part of them? Again, I don’t know.
How will the Big 4’s non-writer clients react when they refuse to get them work on shows that are not packaged? I don’t know that either.
Will agencies that have signed the WGA New Agency Agreement rise up to challenge the Big 4? Will agents peel off to start their own agencies as the founders of Endeavor and CAA once did?
You guessed it, I don’t know.
And does it even matter if studios are paying packaging fees without us? As long our own reps have their financial interests aligned with ours?
One more time, I don’t really know.
I am only certain of a few things.
First, the Big 4 will not give up packaging fees. At least not for the foreseeable future. When it comes to television the agencies are no longer in the representation business. They haven’t been for some time. They are in the packaging business. Which is, of course, the problem.
Second, I am certain that packaging fees are an inherent and undeniable conflict of interest and are absolutely incompatible with the fiduciary duties of an agent.
Third, I am also certain that when entrenched forces try to impose corrupt practices on us, the only place we can expect genuine help from is our fellow writers acting as a unified front.
This is why the WGA exist. And this is why I am backing the current leadership.