David Simon rages over WGA-Talent agency negotiations: Agents are corrupt grifters

The eventual creator of "The Wire" wants to ensure that writers don't get caught up in the "packaging" system

Published March 19, 2019 5:54PM (EDT)

This article originally appeared on IndieWire.

Long before David Simon became one of the few TV creators with a shot at being a household name, he was a reporter at the Baltimore Sun, trying to make sure his book got into the hands of TV and film producers. What eventually became “Homicide: Life on the Street” began its path to the screen as part of a conventional entertainment practice called “packaging,” where deals are made by talent agencies matching up potential projects with their existing clients and taking commissions from both sides.

Simon, who went on to create both “The Wire” and “The Deuce,” recently published a post on his personal website, laying out his history with the “Homicide” rights deal and the lengths to which he went to make sure that everyone who was a part of that process knew how angry he was that it transpired that way. (Add “squib” and “bonnets” to “mooks” on the list of words that Simon’s added to his four-letter expletive of choice to create some prosaic vulgarities.)

“Why bother to fight for 10 percent of a few dollars more for this story editor or that co-executive producer when to NOT do so means less freight on the operating budgets of the projects that you yourself hope to profit from? Why serve your clients as representatives with a fiduciary responsibility and get the last possible dollar for them, when you stand to profit by splitting the proceeds of a production not with labor, but with management — the studios who are cutting you in on the back end? Why put your client’s interest in direct opposition to your own?,” Simon wrote of the current system.

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In usual Simon internet post fashion, this story does not mince words, particularly when it comes to CAA, the agency that still represents him. In Simon’s estimation, that process by which agents represent both parties in a negotiation deal is tantamount to “racketeering.”

“I can’t see a difference between packaging and any prosecutable case of bid-rigging or bribery I ever covered as a reporter in federal or state courts,” Simon wrote.

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The Writers Guild of America (WGA) and Association of Talent Agents (ATA) are currently in negotiations on a new framework for writer representation before an April 6 deadline. Should both sides fail to come to an agreement, all union writers would be required to fire their agents on April 7. In the meantime, WGA members will vote on a measure next Monday that would eliminate packaging practices.

With current WGA estimates stating that nearly 90% of all existing scripted TV is the result of packaging, Simon offered some of his own solutions for amending the current system.

“I’m for implementing a new code of conduct that requires any agency to abandon packaging before it can be permitted to negotiate with signatories to the WGA contract,” Simon wrote, adding, “Personally, I’m for filing a civil suit against the ATA and the Big Four for an overt and organized breach of fiduciary duty in which they have effectively pretended to represent clients while taking bribes from studios to keep those clients’ salaries and benefits lowered across the board.”

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Towards the end of his piece, Simon sums up the financial priorities that led to his situation and many others by writing, “Why get the best talent for the best possible iteration of a story when it doesn’t maximize profit for the agency involved? The tail is wagging the fuck out of the entire dog, often to the great detriment of the work itself.”

By Steve Greene

Steve Greene is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. Across his decade-long tenure at IndieWire, Steve was a member of both the film and TV staffs. During and after his time there, he also covered festivals up and down the West Coast, from Vancouver to Palm Springs. He has also served on juries for SeriesFest, ShortFest, Fine Cut, and the IDA Documentary Awards.

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