A bitter feud pitting thousands of movie and television screenwriters against the major Hollywood talent agencies came to an end on Friday, nearly two years after it had begun.
William Morris Endeavor became the last of the major agencies to reach a new franchise agreement with the two Writers Guild of America unions, saying it had done so on Friday afternoon.
“Writers have been a part of this agency since our inception, and they will continue to be a part of the lifeblood of WME,” said Ariel Emanuel, the chief executive of Endeavor, which controls WME. “We look forward to once again serving as their advocates during this unprecedented time in our industry.”
In the end, the writers’ unions got what they had asked for, but only after a standoff featuring court battles and a number of accusations of bad behavior. In one episode, a top WME executive accused a union leader wanting to “kill” him; the union leader denied saying that.
“I’ve said repeatedly no one wanted the agency campaign over more than me, and I’m very pleased that we’ve achieved our goal,” said David Goodman, the president of the guild’s West Coast branch. He added that “the agencies who represent us now have their financial interests aligned with their writer clients.”
In April 2019, thousands of Hollywood writers fired their agents over what union leaders described as corrupt practices by the agencies. The dispute centered on two agency practices that the unions said created gross conflicts of interest. The agencies had long maintained that the practices were in place to benefit writers, not hurt them.
But the slowdown of Hollywood productions during the pandemic put stress on the agencies, and the three biggest laid off dozens from their staffs last year. The union dispute was costing them revenue they would have earned by striking deals for their writer clients.
Last July, the United Talent Agency struck a deal with the writers’ unions, and ICM Partners followed a month later. In December, the Creative Artists Agency signed a new agreement with the unions.
As part of the agreements, the agencies said they would soon end a practice called packaging. In addition, they will maintain only a minority ownership stake — capped at 20 percent — in production entities that they had started to ramp up in recent years.
Packaging, a decades-old practice, involved teaming up writers with other clients of the agency for a TV or movie project. When agents took packaging fees, they would forgo the usual 10 percent commission from their writer clients and would instead be paid directly by the studio making the deal. The unions argued that this meant the agencies were not placing the financial interests of their writers first.
When agencies started sister production entities to make TV shows and movies themselves, the unions argued that writers could not be fairly represented by people who were also their bosses. The agencies countered that the companies would create more competition in an industry that was being dominated by well-financed tech giants like Netflix, Apple and Amazon.
For the last 22 months, the writers stayed largely united, though there was an effort in 2019 — backed by many of Hollywood’s biggest-name writers — to displace union leaders with people more willing to make a deal with the agencies. That effort failed after nearly four in five writers continued to back the leadership team.