Writers are not alone in experiencing the harms of packaging fees.
PODs (production overall deal-producers that have their own companies and work with the studios) have shared with Guild members their pre-April 13th experiences with this conflicted practice.
These stories provide even more evidence of how packaging fees hurt writers and drive decision making in a way that places the agencies’ interests above their clients. If you are a POD and want to share your experiences with the Guild, email Agency Agreement and we will continue to share these stories anonymously.
“I work in TV development at a major production company (POD). We’ve been deeply affected by packages, and we have some very clear examples of how they not only hurt our business, but also that of writers. As outlined below, here are some scenarios we’ve experienced:
- On multiple occasions, we’ve had projects where all the creative deal points were closed—including writer, IP, director and talent. But the deals would be held up for weeks, and in some cases, months, because our agency—one of the Big Four—would refuse to close unless they received the lion’s share of the package, even if they did nothing to put the project together. Big agencies essentially hold us and other (usually smaller) agencies hostage. In one instance, a smaller agency brought us a project with the writer, IP, and talent attached. We sold the project to a network, and our agency knew nothing about it until we asked them to make the deal. They refused to close the deal until the smaller agency agreed to give them the majority of the package. As time went on, the buyer got tired of the agency standoff. They started losing interest in the project and said they’d pull the deal if the agencies didn’t come to terms immediately. It took us threatening to leave our agency to get the deal closed. I have friends at other PODs who regularly experienced this exact same behavior, so it’s not exclusive to an individual Big Four agency. Strangely, the Big Four agencies almost always claim they have ‘precedent’ to take the majority share of packages when a smaller agency is involved. It’s a very odd precedent. In what other industry could you have no knowledge of a sale, but then refuse to close your client’s deal unless you get the lion’s share of the proceeds?
- Another big issue is that—because of packaging—many agencies don’t present projects from competing agencies to their writers in the first place. Despite it being their fiduciary duty, this is very common behavior, and the agency will tell the competing agency’s production company one of two things:
- ‘Sorry, we just can’t service you.’—This is a statement we received from a Big Four agency that competes with our Big Four agency. The reason for their refusal to service us? If they give their in-demand writer to a competitively-repped pod, that pod’s agency will demand a ½ package. So instead of servicing all incoming calls seeking out their clients, agents instead push their clients to work with PODs within their own agency. Why? Because that guarantees the agency will get a full package
- ‘Writer X read it, but unfortunately didn’t respond.’ —This would be an appropriate response…if it were true. On numerous occasions, we’ve received ‘passes’ from writers who are repped by a competing agency, only to run into the writer months later and discover the agent never passed the material along. The writer had absolutely no knowledge that a project was submitted to them. Much like in point one above, agencies are doing this because it makes more financial sense to pair their writers with internally-repped PODs, as it guarantees a full package. But the true outcome is that writers lose out on big projects because agents are acting in their own best interests.
- If and when this dispute resolves, there needs to be a ‘check and balance’ put in place where writers have access to a system that allows them to review every project that was sent to their reps for the writer to consider. It can be a simple online exchange, much like the WGA is using for staffing submissions. In a world of packaging, full transparency is the only way to ensure agents are acting on their client’s behalf and not on the agency’s.
- There is no better proof that the agencies have been acting on their own behalf than the repercussions of the ATA-WGA dispute. With agencies out of the picture, I have been reaching out to writers directly, something I could never previously have done without getting threatened by an agent. In a very short period of time, I put together meetings and projects with writers who were impossible to connect with in the past. Almost every writer I’ve contacted has responded to my inquiries and liked the idea of working with a meaningful pod. Many of these writers were surprised to hear that I’d reached out about them before, but their agents failed to tell them.”
“There have been a number of times where our POD—repped by a Big Four—has been looking for a writer to adapt a well-known piece of IP (we’re talking great IP that will definitely sell). We’ll reach out to other agencies to get writer ideas and almost never get a submission that includes their ‘top’ writers because they don’t want to split the package with our agency on those particular clients. They won’t openly admit this, but it’s implied. These writers at the rival agencies will have had no idea that their potential dream project was available because their own agents never exposed it to them. And later on, in many cases, we’ll see the writers socially and reference the IP and they’ll be shocked that they didn’t hear about the project, let alone get a chance to pitch on it.”
“One of the big four agencies pursued a meeting for their writer-performer client with us, a production company they did not represent. We had a great meeting with the client who spoke of a pitch they’d been developing and soon wanted to bring to us. For months after the meeting, we’d periodically follow up asking when that writer would be ready to come back in. Well, we never heard that pitch, and eventually had to read about that project selling with another production company, repped by their same agency, in Deadline. It felt like we never even had a shot because we weren’t represented by that same agency. And who’s to say we wouldn’t have been better for and worked harder for their client?”
“I have had countless deals held up and almost fall apart because agencies couldn’t figure out their package with each other. In one case we sat helplessly by as the agency that represented the actor and the agency that represented the showrunner fought between themselves about percentages. The worst thing was that their clients had no idea what was holding things up—they didn’t tell them! They blamed it on studio paperwork or something.”
“I had an agent say directly to me: ‘Sure, your offer is better but ______ will give us a package, so they are getting it.’ We pointed out that their client had wanted the project to be with us, that we were the first choice. That did not seem to matter.”
“As a producer I was working with a writer who had multiple projects in the works. We were set to produce her passion project, which she had told us she wanted in first position. There was another project she cared less about, and her agent had put her together with another POD that they represented, and also some IP they represented, so they had a full package on that project (as opposed to a split [package] on our thing), and they insisted that one was put in first position. It was a blatant disregard for their own client’s wishes. I don’t know how they bullied her into it.”
“At a studio, I have had writers come with an idea, we pair them with one of our overalls, sell it to the network, we cast it and find the director—yet the agency still gets an episodic fee and more backend points than the writer they represent.”
“Packaging fees are evil. They f**k everything up. The backend points are bad enough, but the episodic fees rob shows of money they can actually use right away to make the shows better. Please get rid of them.”
“We produced a successful show that got picked up for another season—the 5th or 6th, I don’t remember—that was going to push it over the 100-episode mark. We were all celebrating—literally on a call with the show creator and EPs—when the line producer brought up the fact that the agency’s episodic fees basically TRIPLED in that season. They had buried it in the original deal that their episodic fee TRIPLED if the show got a pickup for that season. We had to call and beg them to take less. What kind of f***ed-up world are we in when we have to literally beg an agency (who literally had nothing to do with the production of the show) not to triple their already insane episodic fees, just to be able to make the show? We asked the studio to intervene and they told us it wasn’t their problem—they stayed out of it entirely. In the end the agency reduced a little—not all the way back to where they were, but some—and we had to slash the budget even more to make up for their higher fees. The worst thing was, some of their agents came to the 100th episode cake-cutting and slapped us on the back. One of them actually said, ‘We did it!'”