Gersh Agency Signs Deal With The WGA; New Franchise Agreement Extends Sunset Date – Update

Nellie Andreeva and David Robb

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UPDATED with details, full text of agreement: A major development in the standoff between the WGA and the agencies: Gersh has become the first major full-service talent agency to sign a franchise agreement with the WGA. It will immediately resume representation of writers.

The agreement comes after months of negotiations between Gersh and the guild. It is one of two major members of the Association of Talent Agents, along with Paradigm, that have been rumored to be in discussions with the WGA.

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Gersh is the latest ATA member to break ranks and sign the guild’s new franchise agreement. The other four association members to sign make WGA deals are Buchwald, which also is a full-service agency; literary boutiques the Rothman Brecher Ehrich Livingston agency and the Kaplan Stahler Agency; and Pantheon. Non-ATA member Verve, also lit-focused, was the first mid-size agency to reach an agreement with the WGA last May.

“Writers are vital to our industry, and Gersh has a long and proud history representing them,” said Gersh co-presidents David and Bob Gersh. “We are deeply committed to our writers and their interests, and appreciate their patience. We enthusiastically look forward to resuming our work on their behalf.”

In a message to their writer clients, they said: “Thank you for your patience. Gersh has represented writers for over 70 years, helping to build and nurture some of the industry’s top literary talent. We are deeply committed to you and your interests and are eager to resume our work on your behalf.”

In a communique to members, the WGA’s agency negotiating committee said that prior to the dispute, Gersh represented more than 500 WGA members, “and as of today, the agency may represent WGA members for covered writing services again.” The guild added that “Our goal remains to move the negotiation process forward with the remaining unsigned agencies. We will keep you updated as progress is made.”

The new agreement is similar to the one signed in November by Rothman Brecher, but with several amendments that the guild says any franchised agency can adopt to remain competitive with those agencies that refuse to sign.

Under the new modified agreement (read it in full here; redlines reflect changes made to the Rothman Brecher agreement), packaging fees by franchised agencies will now be allowed until July 15, 2021, and even longer if two of the Big 4 agencies don’t cave and accept the guild’s terms. Under the Rothman Brecher deal, the sunset date had been January 22, 2021. To date, WME, CAA, UTA, and ICM Partners have shown no indication they are going to sign.

The new agreement states that “In the event that on July 15, 2021, the WGA has not concluded a franchise agreement with, or otherwise prohibited by court order or other legal means the receipt of packaging fees (as they are currently named, but to include any fee, regardless of label, paid by a production company or studio directly to an agency) based on the representation of writer clients by, two of the four major agency competitors of Gersh (i.e., WME, CAA, UTA and ICM), WGA will extend the ‘sunset’ date under this section to ensure that Gersh is not placed at a competitive disadvantage with such competitor agencies.”

Gersh’s agreement had been expected to include provisions similar to the ones introduced in the Rothman Brecher Ehrich Livingston deal, which allows small- and mid-size agencies who sign it to continue packaging for the foreseeable future, until two of the Big Four agencies sign deals with the guild, as well as partial ownership in affiliated production entities.

Like with all other agencies that have made pacts with the WGA, any favorable terms made by others down the road would be applicable to Gersh, too.

The ATA in response to today’s news rereleased a statement it made in November after Rothman Brecher signed with the guild.

“Writers who agree with the WGA leadership are of course free to join the agencies that have signed with WGA, and writers who care most about other issues should be free to join agencies that offer services that meet their needs,” it said at the time. “There is no reason for WGA to continue to restrict the freedom of writers. Writers should be able to decide which issues are most important to them and then freely decide which agent to hire.”

The WGA and the ATA have been at loggerheads since last April, when the guild ordered all of its members to fire their agents who refuse to sign a Code of Conduct that banned packaging fees and agency affiliations with corporately related production entities. Since then, the guild has modified its franchise agreement.

None of the major packaging agencies have signed, however, and the guild is currently locked in a legal battle with WME, CAA and UTA over packaging fees.

The WGA and the ATA haven’t met at the bargaining table since June 7.

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