The duty of agents is to represent writers and act in their best interest. Unfortunately, because of the conflicts of interest allowed in the current agreement between WGA and the Association of Talent Agencies, agencies are often doing anything but that. Writers have been sharing their experiences with conflicted representation, showing how it harms us both creatively and economically. Please share your experiences with us. Email Agency Agreement.
The statements below have been submitted confidentially to the Guild by members and published with their permission.
“The assertion that packaging fees will only return money that should go on screen to the studios’ pockets directly contradicts my experience. I sold a series to a network after spending a considerable amount of my own time and money to build up the I.P. in another medium. During production discussions, I was told explicitly by the studio’s production executives that the difference between shooting in Los Angeles versus a less desirable tax haven state—or another country—was the money taken from the above-the-line budget by the agency package. After some difficult conversations, the agency agreed to cut their package in half (albeit for the first season only) as a concession to the truth that my work in another medium was the reason the property sold in the first place. It was never suggested during these discussions that the money would just go back to the studio: the money was immediately returned to the show’s budget, and we were able to make the decision of where to shoot based on what was best for the show, as opposed to financial exigency.”
“I co-created a show and sold it, and my agency negotiated itself a packaging fee of over $70,000 an episode plus 10% of the backend on the series—the single biggest backend stake. They set up a couple of meetings, fielded two offers, and my lawyer helped my agent negotiate the deal. The show was sold with no producers, no actors, no elements attached; they packaged nothing. As far as I could see, the total amount of work for them was somewhere between ten and 20 hours, and that might even be a generous guess. The work of conception, pitch, execution and delivery of the first season represents two years of full-time work for me personally. And my agency will make more than me on this project.”
"I am repped at one of the Big Four agencies, and I have a TV project with an Academy Award-nominated director that my agency does not rep. My agent advised me to get rid of the director claiming he didn't matter in TV. When I would not get rid of the director, my agent refused to return any calls regarding the project, even when there was an offer from a studio. Eventually the director called me to figure out what was going on and I had to put him in touch with my attorney to move the deal forward. If I didn't have a personal relationship with the director the deal would have died and I would not have known why. It's not worth any agent's time to work on deals where there is no package."
“Here’s how I learned the difference between packaging and a packaging fee: I sold a project to a studio with myself (the writer), a director, and a producer all repped by the same agency, so it was both fully packaged and had a packaging fee attached. The studio didn’t wind up making the project, so when the rights came back to me a few years later, I sold it to a different studio, but this time with just me attached. This deal took a very long time to close. After it finally did, I talked to the exec at the studio about the delay, and she told me that the packaging fee had held things up. My agency wouldn’t close the deal without the fee despite not doing any actual packaging, delaying not only my payment but our opportunity to take the project to market. I was furious, but also powerless to do anything about it—I hadn’t even known what was going on while my agency was negotiating for itself.”
“I put an entire show together, but I didn't want my agency to get the package. In the end, they held the deal hostage and I had to cave to get the project through. Every network I showed the project to made a bid on my show. I wanted it to go to one network, but my agent thought they'd get a bigger package if they went with another network, so they sold the package to them. My agent told me that there was a bigger penalty with the network they preferred, but I found out later that wasn’t true. Then, a network executive told me that my agency was holding the project hostage with the packaging fee. My agency was not representing my best interest—they were representing theirs.”
“I like working on a TV writing staff, but agents are not interested in representing writers who want to do that. They’re only interested in writers who develop new projects because that’s how they get a package fee. I went looking for an agent and met with some low level agents at one of the big agencies. They seemed very excited until I said I wanted to work as staff on a show rather than develop. They said, ‘If you’re not into developing, then we’re not interested. It's not worth it to us.”
"Before I became a working writer, I worked in the packaging department of a major agency. I saw firsthand how packaging influenced the way agents steered their clients’ careers. Problematic situations would come up, like when the agency wanted to move from a partial package to a full package; agents would push writers into packages to maximize the agency’s revenue, regardless of whether it was in the clients' best interests or even what they wanted."
“As part of an overall deal, I consulted with a writing team who were represented by a different agency on a pilot they were developing. I made clear to the studio that I didn’t want my name on the show, nor any fees taken off the screen, nor any backend participation as the other writers did all the work and my contributions were minimal. The show ended up getting picked up and was a hit out of the gate. Midway through the first season, my lawyer called and asked me if I knew that my agency had taken backend on the show for themselves. I was surprised and confused. It turns out that my agency had negotiated themselves a half-package on the show based on my involvement, but never told me about it. They represent me and knew I didn’t want to take backend from the writing team, but had no problem taking it for themselves. End result: My agency, which doesn’t represent the writer/creators, owns more of the show than I do.”
“A network challenged the formula for a package fee that an agency was insisting upon. The network wanted to lower it to the level charged by another agency – not do away with it. During a yearlong stalemate the agency withheld series pitches to that network from all their clients. No agency client pitched a series to that network that year. Not because the network said they wouldn’t take the pitches; not because the network wasn’t offering enough compensation to the writers. Solely because the agency put its compensation ahead of its clients’ job opportunities, no writers from that agency sold a series to that network. Series that would have sold didn’t. And the clients never knew why.”
A showrunner for a long-running packaged series reports that for many seasons the long-time writing staff of the series has received 3% increases each season, nothing more. The agency has not negotiated any increase to any writer’s overscale in years. The package fee in the budget is among the highest in the industry.
“My agency was in the middle of negotiating an overall deal for me with a studio I’d worked with before. While looking around for projects for the overall deal, I found a book I loved, and learned that my agency was representing the rights. My agency enthusiastically set up a call for me to speak with the author of the book. The author and I had a great conversation. Twenty minutes after that call, my agency called to tell me that the author loved my take and would love for me to adapt the book into a series. Everything seemed great, until the studio was about to put in an offer to option the book, and my agency suddenly told me that there was other interest in the project. As it turned out, that interest was from a producer that had a deal with my agency’s production arm. Even though the studio I was working with put in a slightly higher final offer, and the other producer didn’t have a writer involved, the producer working with my agency wound up winning the bidding war. At one point, my agency suggested that I didn’t have to do that overall deal they’d been negotiating for me—the implication being that I could work with their preferred producer if I backed out of the overall deal. So I didn’t do that show. How does a producer end up with the rights when another studio makes a higher offer that has an experienced writer-showrunner attached? By being the agency-affiliated producer.”
How it was and could be again: "In 2005, I got my first staff job on WGA-covered show. I was repped by a great agent at a boutique agency. I didn't know a single person over at this long-running hit show, but my agent sold me the right way and got me in for a meeting with the showrunner. When I got the offer, I was thrilled and told my agent to close the deal. Then a week passed, and I didn't hear from him. I was getting worried. Was he screwing this up? I called him to find out what was going on, and he said: 'Eh, I'm trying to get you a little more money.' I started on the show as a staff writer making above scale with a two episode guarantee and a guaranteed bump every year in my three year contract."
How it is now: "A friend who used to work at one of the Big Four told me the following story. As part of their training, the junior agents were given an in-house course on contract negotiation. They were given a hypothetical deal for a hypothetical client and told to go through a mock negotiation while senior agents watched and gave notes. One of the junior agents was assigned to negotiate a staff writer's deal on a packaged show. When this junior agent started to present his proposed terms for the deal, one of the senior agents cut in and said: 'Let me just stop you right there. This is a staff writer on one of our shows. You don't negotiate these. You take what they offer, say thank you, and move on.' "
“My current show is not packaged. One of the producers on the show is represented by an agency who assumed they would split the packaging fee. When this other agency found out they wouldn’t be getting a package fee, the agent called to scream at me. He said, ‘We don’t make our money off the 10%.’ He went on to assure me that they ‘earn’ their share of the package, citing the fact that he had gotten his client (not a writer) to accept a fee substantially below his quote. The agent was bragging about harming their own client. That’s what the incentives created by packaging and conflicts of interest do to writers.”
“I’ve run shows in Canada and the US. In Canada, there is no packaging—at all. The relationships between showrunners and agents are entirely different there. In Canada, agents are much more aggressive. They have to fight for every penny. They’re so great at advocating, calling every day to check in. The difference between agents there and agents here has been stunning—I thought they’d be better here because there’s such a big market. I have been shocked to see writers’ quotes and how long it takes to rise through the ranks. Writers are the ones pushing, with no help from agents. It does work up there—it works better for writers when there are no packages.”
“As a showrunner, I have had my agent come to me and say, basically, ‘Since we’re packaging this, we can help you out with some of our clients. This writer has a $20,000 quote, but I think I could get them for $14,000.’ And then the agency would turn around and sell it to that writer by telling them they’re saving money not paying commission, or that the writer will get a title bump in the second year. But it’s because the agency is taking out their packaging fee that there isn’t more room in the budget!”
“When I am staffing a show, 40-50% of the staff comes from my agency. But since the agency already has a package on the show they’re not negotiating hard for those writers. I see it every day, every time. As a matter of fact, I feel like the agents are servicing me as the more important client, willing to settle for less for other clients because they know I have to answer to the studio for my writers’ budget. So without a strong push from the agency on behalf of their client, the showrunner can end up as the only one attempting to reward a writer on their staff, while at the same time being brow-beaten by the studio or told they could lose an additional slot for another writer.”
“Last year, my writing partner and I worked with an actor to develop a series for him to star in. The actor was with another agency. We developed this pitch for him over the course of four months. And then his agent found out and went ballistic, urging his client to abandon us and all the work we’d done to team up instead with various other writers, all of whom were represented by his own agency. When our agent checked in, the actor’s agent was explicit about his motivation: He didn’t want to split the package. Over the next weeks, the actor’s agent did everything he could to stall the pitch and convince his client to drop us for somebody ‘in house.’ Happily, our long history with the actor finally won the day; were it not for that prior relationship, it was quite clear that the whole project and all of our work would have been tossed out to service a package.”
“Packaging limits us creatively. In setting up a show, I have access to 25% of the talent in town. When I was meeting with my agency, I mentioned a producer who I really wanted to bring onto a project, but who was represented by another agency. I was told by my agent, ‘I don’t really trust him, I don’t know if it’s a great idea to work with him.’ But when the producer just happened to switch agencies and joined mine, all of a sudden my agent thought it was a great idea. Because of the switch they were on board, and helped make the deal happen. Packaging fees drive decisions, not what’s best for the client or the show.”
“I’ve made my career in indie film. A few years ago I had a once in a lifetime spec sale that my agency jeopardized because they were refusing to negotiate unless the financier agreed to a packaging fee for the agency. They hold us for ransom. Paradoxically, their own argument that they champion independent film collapses on itself because packaging fees take real money out of the budget. That money could go to shooting days or special effects. Packaging fees make it hard to make these films.”
“An agency convinced me to become a client because they wanted access to a feature project idea I had developed. Once the project was under their roof, the agency took control. They pushed me to turn down experienced producers that would have been able to get me paid for the development work, instead insisting that I work with a novice producer that they had a relationship with, without telling me why they were pushing that producer.”
“I had a film project that my agency packaged, and the project had been optioned by a buyer that wasn’t represented by my agency, but worked almost exclusively with them. When the time came to extend the option period, the buyer wanted twice as much time for half the money. My agent said to take the offer, that there wasn’t any other interest in the project, which I knew wasn’t true because I’d gotten interest from multiple other parties. I had my lawyer do the negotiation, and was able to get a much better deal. It was clear that the agency was servicing the buyer, rather than trying to get me the best deal.”
“My agency did nothing to help me get my project going. They didn’t even set the meeting at the company I sold my show to. I had no idea it was packaged until I saw the line item in my budget and I was totally taken aback. I had been struggling to figure out how I could hire more writers and compensate them fairly and the agency packaging fee could have paid for three more writers. My budget was stretched so thin that I could only hire a skeleton crew and shoot in a warehouse with questionable conditions. It was so bad that I cut my own fees to put money on the screen and better take care of my crew. And as I was doing this, I found out from the studio that my agency had been calling to improve their own compensation. While I was working more for less, the agency wanted a bigger packaging fee.”
“My writing partner and I were brought on to rewrite a pre-existing script, and ended up getting ‘co-created by’ credit when the series got picked up. When we were well into the writers’ room and prep, we found out from a writer (also represented by our agency) that the show was packaged. I had no idea that my agency was taking a packaging fee – as they were still taking commission out of my checks. When I asked my agency about it, they claimed ‘Oh, we return the commission once production ends’ or something to that effect, but I have no idea what would have happened if I hadn't inquired about it. I thought it was strange that no one bothered to inform their clients that they were taking a packaging fee in the first place.”
“My agency has a full package on a show I created. They did nothing to package the show and never asked me or informed me they were taking a package. Per the deal they make a percentage paid out of the budget which comes out to about $50k/ episode. They also have 10 points of backend -- something they never mentioned to me while negotiating to give away my points to other producers and cast. If I were to ever leave my show (or get fired) I would make $5k/ episode for creating the show but my agents would continue to make $50k/ episode for as long as the series runs. That's right: If I leave my show for any reason my agents continue to make their full fee in perpetuity. A deal I do NOT have. I find this to be incredibly unethical and grossly unfair. And I'm pretty sure every writer whose agent took a package on their show has the exact same deal.”
“Three years ago I was staffed as a Story Editor on a network show packaged by my Big 4 agency. I had secured the interview and job all on my own without my agent's help. When the studio's first offer came in at minimum, my agent told me to take it. My manager was furious and called my agent to tell him that it was a first offer and only a starting point for negotiations. After that my agent negotiated a very modest bump. That was when I realized that staffing on a show packaged by your own agency doesn't save you 10%; it costs you everything you should be getting in a hard fought negotiation. Just one simple bump in a promotion timetable can far outweigh what you save on commissions. And when you compare what those negotiated bumps add up to compounded over time, there is no comparison.”
“Call this a Tale of Two Writers: On my first show, I started with another writer and we rose up the ranks together as staff writers for two seasons, finally making it to the Story Editor level for season 3, but the show was cancelled. My friend got a job on another show the next staffing season through a ton of their own hard work, but the show was packaged by their agency. The job offer was to go back to staff writer level for yet ANOTHER season, and my friend’s agent let them take that deal. Meanwhile, I struggled to find work for two staffing seasons, but when I finally did, it was on a show my agency did not package. My agent argued that my experience level merited a double bump—and I got it. I'm now at the same level as my friend, even though they worked two whole seasons that I did not. It just goes to show: I'm better off at my smaller agency that doesn't package, because my agent's interest is directly tied to mine.”
"I was on my way to a meeting with a network executive to pitch a show – a 'mere formality,' the exec said, as he was a friend who had told me over dinner a few weeks earlier to 'just come in and tell it to my people and we’ll have you writing in a week.' During my drive, I get a call from my agent who says, 'Turn around. I canceled the meeting.'
'Why?' I ask.
'They won’t make a packaging deal with us."
“My agent tried to talk me out of taking a job as a writer on a show that is now on lists of all-time greatest TV shows, because it wasn’t packaged by them.”
"Back in the mid-90s I was a client at a Big Four agency. They rushed me into a packaged show at Warner Bros., knowing that I was going to get an offer from Disney to do a much better, but non-packaged show, within a day. But when I got the offer from Disney, my agent told me, “It’s too late, you’ve committed.” And they wouldn’t help me get out of the package. It hurt me severely, both emotionally and professionally. Not worth the savings of the 10% at all."
“A few years ago, at the start of staffing season, I presented my agent with a long list of shows I would consider staffing or running, ranked according to preference. I expressly requested he not put me up for a specific show (a guaranteed resume-killer) except as a last resort. Days later my agent brought the "exciting news" that this least-preferred show wanted me as a showrunner. Not a single other show had been put forward as an option. Why? The show in question—packaged by my agency—was on the bubble and in need of a network-approved showrunner to get a pickup. To save their package fee (which included a substantial back end) my agency ignored my wishes—and my long-term career interests—and slotted me where it would benefit them.”
"My agency packaged a feature that I wrote entirely on spec. When it came time to go out to buyers, I was excited to go out to multiple buyers at once, as we had a very strong package and there was sure to be a bidding war. But instead, my agency — without asking my permission or even informing me beforehand — sent my script to exactly ONE buyer, which it had a close relationship with, and negotiated its own packaging deal before anything. Then when it came time to do my deal, I was stuck… the project had already been announced, so it was either take what I could get or blow up the movie. My agents took *my* leverage and turned it into *their* leverage."
“I had a half-hour comedy go out to cast, and a major A-list actor, repped by another agency, wanted to sign on. I was excited to sit down with him, but the meeting was repeatedly delayed. My manager asked the actor's agent what was going on. The agent said, "Not gonna lie to you, we're doing everything we can to kill his interest in the project. We'd rather he do something in-house. No reason we should split packaging fees if we don't have to." And it worked—the agent got his actor client to back away from the project.”
"I created an idea for a series and partnered with a production company to successfully sell it to a network. The production company’s agency pushed aggressively for a packaging fee despite the fact that the agency didn’t represent me, the writer/creator. My lawyer tried to get them to back off the fee during negotiations, but it didn’t work. The agency then threatened to kill the project unless the network installed a showrunner that the agency represented. In the end, the network decided to walk away from the deal because they didn’t want to get in the middle of an agency package fight. I—the writer and creator whose idea it was that got sold in the first place—was ultimately wounded because agents who did not represent me were fighting over packaging."
“After a month of shopping for an overall deal, meeting with half a dozen companies, my partner and I signed a contract with a studio that our agent told us had made the highest offer. That weekend the head of a competing studio—one where we actually had a series on the air—called to ask how negotiations were going. When we told him we had already signed our next overall deal, he was furious! He offered a significantly better deal on the spot, then asked, "Is this about the package?" It was the first time we'd ever heard the term. His studio had refused to pay a package on our overall deal, so the agent had sold us into a multi-year deal to the second-highest bidder. The agent left the country for a month to avoid us. We changed agencies. The new and old agencies now split the package on the series we created out in the overall deal.”
"A TV packaging story: I secured for myself, 100% independent of agents, a blind TV deal with a major studio. Upon getting the first round of deal terms sent to me, I noticed that one of ‘our’ conditions was that it was packaged by my agency. Now keep in mind that not only did I secure this deal using my relationships, but there was also no agreed upon project yet, let alone a script. There were no talent attachments, nothing additive by way of agency and this deal term was never discussed with me. This provision that my agency was demanding held up the deal and, ultimately, required back and forth negotiations between the studio (for which my personal relationship was at stake) and my agency.
A film packaging story: I wrote a film on spec, sold it, attached a producer through a personal relationship, hired a director, and found financing along with my producer. The producer and I spent four or five years putting this project together from the ground up. Then, just before green light, my agency and the agency of an actor on the project started fighting over the package fee. They wound up splitting it. When it’s time to make the film and there’s pressure on the budget, my producing fee and that of the other producers takes a haircut… but nobody’s touching the agencies’ cut of the budget, nor their cut of the eventual sale of the film. On top of this, I and every other piece of talent is still commissioned. They made more than I did, and yet their job was done before we got near ‘action’ on day 1 of photography."
“Right out of film school, a studio made an offer on a show I pitched to them. Selling the show was a huge deal for me and the studio was excited to work together, but wouldn’t give my agency a packaging fee. My agent told me the studio’s refusal to pay the packaging fee reflected badly on their faith in me and in the project. I didn't know any better at the time, and would have been powerless to fight him even if I did, so we turned down their offer and went back out to pitch other buyers. My agency put an already-sold project from a brand new writer at risk for no reason other than their own bottom line.”
"A friend of mine who works at one of the big agencies told me this story. A partner at the agency said, when discussing an offer for one of their clients on a packaged show, “That offer is paltry. He’ll never take it…wait, is it one of ours? Let’s try to close, we’ve already got our money."
“I am a writer with an overall deal. My agency has a full package on a show I created (and did no packaging.) They make between $750k and $1.1mm a year depending on number of episodes produced. My producing fee when added up with scripts written for the show is less than my overall guarantee. This is almost always the case, unless a writer "earns out" of their deal. My agents have insisted on commissioning the difference in addition to their huge packaging fee. Meaning any money I get in my overall deal that is more than my episodic producing fees, they also commission. This includes a bonus I got for producing my show. When I argued this point, they told me that's how everyone does it and "we're not breaking precedent for you." Seems unfair since they already receive a million dollars a year off the package.”
"I’m a showrunner and my series is packaged by one of the big agencies. The original creators are no longer on the series; their agency packaged the show. There is not one writer, director or actor on my show who is repped by that agency. When we were staffing this season and hiring directors, the packaging agency did NOT submit ONE client. Not one. My showrunner partner had to reach out to the agency and ask them if they wanted to submit writers. It took them weeks to get back to us and by then we had staffed the show. And even after that they never submitted a director. They take money out of our budget so they don’t need to get their writers jobs. They already make their money on the packaging fee. There is no incentive for them to staff. It’s infuriating."
“I wrote a sought-after pilot on spec and had every network circling. I had attached a big actor through my original agency but left them for another “big” agency. After making a great deal for the show at a great cable network, my new TV agent called and said that the network was thrilled about the show but they didn’t want the original star. “The great news,” he said, “was that they love one of our clients for the part.” I asked him to confirm that he had pitched one of his clients for the lead on my show without asking me first. “Of course,” he said, “we want the package.” I fired him on the spot. The next day my film agent called and said the agency was firing me as a client because I was not loyal to them. When I asked him where their loyalty was to me, he hung up.”
"My agency, one of the Big Four, completely blew up a show over their packaging fee. I had sold a pitch to a broadcast network, which loved it, and once the pilot was shot they bought 22 episodes before we even had the final cut. At that point, the agency started negotiating for their packaging fee, and got in a huge fight with the studio over the agency’s fee—they wanted their upfront cut, which came out of the budget, payable before the shows were even shot. The studio agreed to the packaging terms, and then turned to the network for an increase in the license fee to compensate for the packaging fee. The network balked, whereupon the studio said they wouldn’t deliver the show for the original license fee. The agency threatened to sue the studio for their negotiated packaging fee (whether the series was ever produced or not). A shouting match between the top-rung network and studio execs over the license fee ensued, whereupon the network cancelled the 22-episode commitment just 13 hours before the crew call on the first day of shooting. Not only did I lose the income from the series over a fight that had nothing to do with me, the cast, the scripts, or the show itself, but all of this back-channel manipulation-negotiation took place entirely without my knowledge. Immediately thereafter, the studio threatened to sue me for the token producer fees they’d advanced me. Under pressure from my agent, I was forced to write the studio a personal check in order to “keep the peace.”"
“I’m a low-level writer. My agent, from a Big Four agency, said he couldn’t get me staffed anywhere so I should work on development, presumably so there would be something for the agency to package. But when I started developing a project with a producer at a competing Big Four agency, my agent wouldn’t fight for the project. We worked for months on developing a pitch, and finally got an offer contingent on finding an experienced showrunner to pair me up with. My agent submitted a single showrunner. When the producers and I decided to go with a showrunner repped by the producer’s agency, the producer’s agency started to push me out so they wouldn’t have to split the package. Knowing that my own agency wasn’t getting a full packaging fee on the project, my agent didn’t push back at all—there was no real incentive in it for him. So the other agency got their full packaging fee, and I lost my project.”
"In 2001, I first made Co-EP on a series, and my agent got me a great pay bump for the following season. Since that time I’ve worked steadily—but for roughly the same episodic fee. That makes almost 20 years of pay stagnation, at least some of which I have to attribute to the issues we're confronting. As evidence: In the past ten years I've been a Co-EP on three shows (including one which ran for eight seasons), but my episodic rate has stayed at or BELOW what my agent (the same one for all these deals) got me in that first deal back in 2001-2002. That show, where I first made Co-EP, wasn’t packaged by my agency—but these last three were.
So what I see is a business that’s grown while my checks have stayed the same (and, as orders get shorter, arrive less frequently). Meanwhile, I’ve been compelled to take on a manager to do the job my agent used to—so now I’m paying double commission on anything my agency doesn’t package. That the Guild has taken up this fight tells me I’m not just alone here, I’m part of the majority. If mid and low-level writers work steadily (as I did and do), then they deserve to see their incomes rise alongside those of the studios and the agencies, not stay the same. "