Verve has become the first Hollywood talent agency to sign the WGA’s Code of Conduct, giving the guild a win in its standoff with the largest agencies over the issue of packaging fees and other agency business practices.
Verve’s decision had been expected. The company founded in 2010 is a literary-focused agency that is largely dependent on commissions from writer clients. Unlike the larger agencies at the heart of the battle with the WGA, Verve does not have a long legacy of profit participation stakes in TV shows and movies to provide ongoing revenue. Nor does Verve have the sizable base of clients with enormous overall deals throwing off six- and seven-figure commission fees.
Verve said in a statement that the decision to sign came after extensive discussions with its writer clients. The agencies’ battle with the WGA has centered on the guild’s goal of barring agencies from taking packaging fees on TV series, arguing that it is an inherent conflict of interest because those fees are paid by the production entities rather than through client commissions.
“Although there will be modifications to our business practices that are necessitated by today’s decision, one thing that will not change is our commitment to providing long-term, premium service to our clients,” Verve said in a statement.
The WGA’s campaign to ban packaging fees and other business practices has sparked a lawsuit, filed by the guild against the largest agencies, and the directive from the guild to its nearly 15,000 members to terminate relations with agents that refuse to sign the guild’s restrictive new Code of Conduct.
The decision to sign with the WGA could be a boon to Verve’s business if it encourages established writers to sign with the agency. On the other hand, it could make for chilly relations between Verve and the larger agencies that it needs to interact with in serving its clients.
The Verve partners made a point of asserting that it will implement protections to guard against clients joining with Verve briefly in the hopes that the larger agencies will come to a compromise with the guild.
“Verve provides a customized experience for each client and we refuse to dilute our efforts. As a result, we will not take on writers who seek temporary representation and intend to return to their previous agency when a deal is made between the WGA and the (Association of Talent Agencies),” the Verve statement said.
Members of the WGA overwhelmingly approved the code in March, with the requirement that agents cannot represent WGA members unless the agents agree to bans on collecting packaging fees on and owning stakes in production companies. The code also requires agents to provide the guild with a copy of the agreement or a summary of essential deal terms of any agreement engaging the writer’s services.
The code went into effect on April 13 after the WGA and ATA saw talks crater over efforts to revamp the 43-year-old rules governing how agents represent WGA members.
Most major agencies have refused to sign the code — resulting in WGA leadership requiring that members fire their agents. The WGA filed a lawsuit against CAA, WME, UTA and ICM on April 17, alleging illegal conflict-of-interest practices, while the ATA has threatened legal action over managers and lawyers who perform agenting tasks of procuring employment.
No new negotiations have been scheduled. Instead, both sides have continued taking potshots at each other during the past month.
By signing with the WGA, Verve would be able to re-sign writers who were required to dismiss their agents, along with writers who have been without an agent.
Verve was formed in 2010 by partners Bryan Besser, Adam Levine and Bill Weinstein, with a focus on representing feature film writers and directors. The agency currently has about 30 agents. Notable clients have included Leah Remini, Jennifer Westfeldt, Howard Deutch, Colin Trevorrow, Gil Bellows and Tasha Smith. Verve is not a member of the ATA, which represents more than 100 agencies, including CAA, UTA, WME and ICM Partners.
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