Jon Robin Baitz

01 Jul 19
Fortune
It’s been over two months since more than 7,000 members of the Writers Guild of America fired their agents en masse, due to a dispute mainly centered on packaging fees, a contractual setup that writers said favored the agents financially, and agencies having their own production arms. The fight has only gotten more complicated since then with a breakdown in negotiations, lawsuits, defections, the involvement of the SEC, and thousands of people in Hollywood trying to go about their business in this strange working environment.  Here’s a refresher of how things got to where they are, what’s happened since the writer-agent separation, and why there’s hope this will be resolved, to some extent, soon. The Recap On Saturday, April 13, members of the Writers Guild of America West fired their agents following a breakdown in negotiations over a new Code of Conduct between the WGA and the Association of Talent Agents.  As mentioned above, the crux of the schism between writers and their agents was over packaging fees and agency production houses.  Packaging fees come about when an agent delivers a “package” of a combination of talent for a television show—writers, actors, showrunners, directors, etc.—and, instead of taking their usual 10% commission, get paid a percentage on the show for as long as it runs. This can add up to millions of dollars, and those agents get that money regardless of whether or not their client is still involved with it at any point after the deal is made. The writers argued that agents were often pursuing these deals instead of better pay for their clients, while the agents said it was good for everyone involved.  The other big issue was over three of the biggest agencies, WME, CAA, and UTA, having their own production studios. The writers said that deals with them were inherently conflicts of interest for an agent: basically, how can they trust an agent to negotiate a better salary for the writer when who’s paying it is the agent’s business?  The WGA demanded that agencies eliminate packaging deals for good and separate themselves from the production entities. The ATA instead offered to give up 1% of packaging fees and increase transparency in the business dealings of the production studios. No deal was made by the deadline, hence the large firing. The Immediate Aftermath The writers, who had voted overwhelmingly to take this course of action, went through with the firings, with many posting their form letters on social media and sharing their thoughts on the whole mess. The majority of those had mixed feelings, saying they loved their agents but knew that it was the right move for them. Some, particularly women and minority writers, worried that losing their agent would make it even harder to get a new job.  Others publicly spoke out against the WGA. SEAL Team showrunner John Glenn bashed the guild for its “somewhat McCarthy-like tone” and Jon Robin Baitz, best known for ABC’s Brothers and Sisters, openly refused to fire his agents at CAA, whose production arm is overseeing his upcoming [hotlink]Amazon[/hotlink] show Charlotte Likes to Win. Others groused anonymously, with some of them banding together as the WGA “resistance” to publish a video highlighting how, in their view, the guild “fucked this whole agent thing up enormously.” A group of around 500 WGA members, calling themselves Writers for Negotiation, even set up a private forum on the video game chat app Discord to discuss their issues with the guild’s handling of the situation. More officially, the WGA filed a lawsuit against the big four agencies, WME, CAA, UTA, and ICM, which collect over 80% of Hollywood’s packaging fees. The suit, which included several writers as plaintiffs, asked that a judge deem packaging unlawful and to order the agencies pay restitution to the members it allegedly bilked. The biggest movement in the case so far is that CAA filed a motion to remove the WGA as a plaintiff in the suit, saying that the guild has no standing to be part of this, unlike the group of writers, including The Wire’s David Simon, who are suing. A hearing on that is set for September. The Effect on Business for Both Sides In preparation for a world without agents, the WGA set up a submission system where members could deliver spec scripts and showrunners and other industry decision-makers could peruse them. Some writers established networking events for scribes looking to meet showrunners. Prior to the firings, LaToya Morgan, the executive producer of AMC’s Into the Badlands and Turn, started the hashtag #WGAStaffingBoost, where writers could pitch themselves via social media. In May, Deadline reported that the hashtag had its first hiring, with Cynthia Adarkwa joining the CW’s Legacies.  Grey’s Anatomy showrunner Krista Vernoff told The New Yorker that she hired 13 writers for two of her other shows, with just one of them getting the gig through an agency that had agreed to the WGA’s terms. “Several came to me through self-advocacy, direct submission, and Twitter boosts,” she said. “Half are women, half are men. Half are people of color. It’s the most diverse, inclusive group I’ve ever hired. It took extra effort for sure, but it was actually fun.”  At the end of June, The Good Fight creators Michelle and Robert King said they had staffed the writing rooms of two shows, presumably that program and CBS’s upcoming Evil, without the use of agents. “It’s not like TV is going to stop making shows because there’s no agents,” Robert King said during an appearance on the WGA East podcast OnWriting. “I think we’ve survived it very well. We have two very good writers rooms and it was all done without the influence of agents.” On the other side of the battle, the agency Verve agreed to a deal with the WGA, entering into its own, slightly modified version of the proposed Code of Conduct that lasts for three years. The 2010-founded company is not a member of the ATA, which blasted the move. “It is disappointing but not surprising that some of the most vulnerable agencies may reluctantly be forced to sign an onerous agreement,” it said in a statement. “Their decision to sign the WGA’s Code will ultimately harm their business and the artists they represent on many levels.” New Lawsuits and Future Negotiations In a sign of deteriorating relations, the WGA called off its negotiations with the ATA on June 20, saying it instead would pursue individual talks with the nine largest agencies. All nine refused. Things got worse on June 24, when WME filed an antitrust lawsuit against the WGA, saying it was taking part in an unlawful boycott of their business and the other agencies that did not agree to the code.  “To effectuate its boycott,” WME’s attorneys wrote, “WGA leaders have coerced their member-writers and showrunners into agreeing to refuse to deal with WME and other talent agencies who will not agree to stop packaging or affiliating with content companies by threatening these individuals with expulsion and other union discipline that would imperil their ability to work, and threatening their healthcare without a legitimate basis to do so.” UTA filed its own antitrust lawsuit on June 27, calling the WGA’s move a “power grab,” with CAA following in their footsteps and suing on Monday, July 1, claiming “the union is attempting to restrain competition on a staggering scale using illegal means.” Also on June 24, the WGA notified the Securities and Exchange Commission that WME’s parent company Endeavor, which filed an IPO in May, had misrepresented the strength of its business by claiming it has more clients than it actually does following the mass firing.   “Endeavor claims to represent over 6,000 clients including the ‘world’s most dynamic and engaging storytellers,’” the WGA wrote. “But as a result of Endeavor’s conflicted business practices, 1,400 writers have informed the agency that it no longer represents them, a fact that Endeavor fails adequately to disclose to potential investors. Endeavor’s reliance on clients and failure to address these conflicted practices make this offering a risky investment.” Endeavor, meanwhile, countered the claim, saying WME has more than that number of clients even without the writers, saying, “Once again, in an attempt to disrupt our business, WGA leadership is misrepresenting the facts.” But there’s a ray of hope. On June 27, the WGA made a new offer to the ATA, saying that business in Hollywood, with all the packaging fees, could continue as usual for one more year. The guild’s hope is that the extension will give both sides enough time to reach an agreement to switch to a model that’s solely based around the traditional 10% commission. “We are making this offer despite the fact that every one of the eight member agencies of the ATA ‘bargaining’ committee has rejected the offer we made last week to meet individually and discuss this new proposal,” the WGA said in a statement. The ATA and the individual companies involved have yet to publicly respond. However, the WGA didn’t let any goodwill or optimism of this offer last very long. The following day, it sent a cease-and-desist letter to the agencies, accusing them of antitrust violations, including price-fixing, collusion, and an unlawful refusal to deal. “We remain available to bargain reasonable, fair terms,” the guild told its members. “But we’re not going to sit back and allow agencies to accuse us in a court of law of the very things they are doing. Packaging fees are illegal, and in practice also an illegal form of price fixing. Any competent observer can corroborate these facts.” The guild gave the ATA until July 15 to comply with its demands. Should that fail to happen, which seems inevitable, this puts the writers and the agents on the path to having these issues heard in federal court. More must-read stories from Fortune: —Why Taylor Swift is “grossed out” by Scooter Braun holding rights to much of her catalog —Classic rock takes center stage in many of this summer’s movies —The Office is leaving Netflix and your streaming bills are going to keep going up —Netflix’s Murder Mystery could have killed it with a $120 million opening weekendif it ran in theaters —Listen to our new audio briefing, Fortune 500 Daily Follow Fortune on Flipboard to stay up-to-date on the latest news and analysis.
12 May 19
#TheatreLife

“Other Desert Cities” is a play written by Jon Robin Baitz. The play was a finalist for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Phil Markella, the director, said he saw the play done a few years ago and loved it so he decided to direct it for the Bay Players (of which he is also […]

10 May 19
#TheatreLife

Welcome to #theatrelife! The everything theatre blog in Massachusetts. As an actress, producer and director of theatre here in Massachusetts for 25 years, I realize that local theatres here do not get enough of the kinds of exposure they need to thrive and bring in audiences. So, this blog will be sharing things like reviews […]

03 May 19
Deadline

In the aftermath of the WGA severing ties with the Association of Talent Agents and sending out 7,000 emails from members firing their agents, writers are getting used to a new and potentially uncertain reality. While firmly supporting their guild, many wonder exactly what WGA leadership’s endgame is in the standoff with the ATA over […]

28 Apr 19
ResearchBuzz

TWEAKS AND UPDATES The Register: Internet industry freaks out over proposed unlimited price hikes on .org domain names. “The organization that oversees the domain name system, ICANN, has proposed an end to price caps on one of the internet’s most popular extensions – .org – and many in the internet industry are unhappy about it.” […]

28 Apr 19
East Bay Times
I’ve always loved murder mysteries. They’re my favorite genre for reading, and I record most of the wonderful British murder mysteries to be found on KQED. One of my favorite authors, of course, is Agatha Christie. Fortunately, for us thespians, many of her books have been adapted to the stage. Melynda Kiring is Miss Marple in the Plotline Theatre production of Agatha Christie’s “A Murder is Announced,” running May 9-26 at the Martinez Campbell Theatre. (courtesy of Randy Anger) One such adaptation is “A Murder is Announced,” which will be presented May 9-26 by Plotline Theatre at the Martinez Campbell Theatre, 636 Ward St. in Martinez. “I was watching a Miss Marple movie marathon on TCM late one night and decided we just had to produce one of her plays,” explains Plotline Theatre Founder Randy Anger. “I was so excited about the prospect of doing one of the Miss Marple series that I called one of my favorite actresses, Melynda Kiring, and asked if she would play the popular female detective.” Fortunately for Anger, Kiring happened to be up to receive his 2 a.m. phone call and agreed to play the pivotal character. Anger decided to take on the role of Inspector Craddock and team up with Kiring to solve the case. The “case” in “A Murder is Announced” involves the announcement in the local paper of a murder to take place that evening at a certain Victorian House in a quaint English village. As the hour approaches, residents of the house and neighbors have gathered for what they’re sure is some sort of game. At the appointed time, the lights go out and a man appears with a gun presumably to rob them. But somehow the robber becomes the victim, leaving Inspector Craddock with a plethora of suspects to interrogate. Before you can say “Miss Marple,” another person dies, and it seems that just about everyone is really someone else! For lots of clever dialogue and interesting characters (full disclosure: I play the Victorian House’s owner Miss Blacklock), call 925-350-9770 or go to brownpapertickets.com. Castro Valley: Christmas holidays can be tricky times with so many relatives sharing the same space and a treasure-trove of memories and, often, resentments. Jon Robin Baitz’s “Other Desert Cities” explores family relationships and politics as staunch Republicans Lyman and Polly invite their adult children, Brooke and Trip, for the holidays. A liberal novelist, Brooke surprises her parents with a memoir she has written about a very difficult chapter in the family’s history. Adding to the angst is Polly’s alcoholic sister, Silda, newly in recovery. Baitz has managed to fill this explosive atmosphere with witty dialogue and lots of love and compassion to keep audiences entertained and debating the play long after the final curtain. “Other Desert Cities” runs May 3-26 at Chanticleers Theatre, at 3683 Quail Ave. in Castro Valley. Katina Letheule, who was just named artistic director for the Altarena Playhouse, directs. Her cast includes Sarah Nowicki, Marika Kuzma, Jim Rupp, Peter Marietta and Marsha van Broek. For tickets, call 510-SEE-LIVE (733-5483) or go to chanticleers.org. Lafayette: Life can sometimes get so crazy and full of pressure that it’s easy to imagine having a nervous breakdown. Well, now you can get some of the release of a breakdown without any of the repercussions and with a lot of added entertainment as Town Hall Theatre closes its 2018-19 season with “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.” Newly revised and streamlined for the London West End, the show takes place in 1980s Madrid as Pepa, a voice-over artist, watches her world unravel. Pepa also has a wandering lover, his wacky ex-wife and a bevy of on-the-verge-friends. [related_articles location=”left” show_article_date=”false” article_type=”automatic-primary-tag”]“This new musical farce is a sexy romp all about female resilience,” says Artistic Director Susan Evans. “We’re very excited to have Dawn Monique Williams directing with Lindsey Schmeltzer as music director and a wonderful cast of talented performers.” “Women on the Verge” runs May 30 through June 22 at the company’s theater, 3535 School St. in Lafayette. Call 925-283-1557 or go to townhalltheatre.com. Berkeley, elsewhere: I’m not sure I trust those colorful dots you see on various websites encouraging you to “press here.” I’ve ended up on various email lists that way and a variety of online publications that drain my pocketbook when the “free” period expires. But here’s one set of dots you can trust. It’s the ones played by actors in Bay Area Children’s Theatre’s world premiere of “Press Here, the Musical.” Inspired by Hervé Tullet’s award-winning picture book, “Press Here” bursts with catchy melodies, impressive juggling and slapstick comedy, as clowns Page and Turner try their mightiest to control a trio of mischievous Yellow, Red and Blue Dots. Directed by Nina Meehan, with book, music and lyrics by Andrew Quick and Austin Zumbro, “Press Here, the Musical,” plays weekends in Berkeley at 2055 Center St. through May 12 before moving to Sunnyvale (May 25 through June 2) and San Francisco (June 8-30). For tickets, call 510-296-4433 or go to bactheatre.org. Berkeley: The last chance is soon to see “Pippin” at Berkeley Playhouse’s historic Julia Morgan Theatre, 2640 College Ave. The show closes May 5. Join Prince Pippin on his quest for the secret to true happiness and fulfillment. Call 510-845-8542, ext. 351 or go to berkeleyplayhouse.org. Sally Hogarty can be reached at sallyhogarty@gmail.com. Search for “Curtain Calls” by Sally Hogarty at eastbaytimes.com to read more of her reviews online.
27 Apr 19
ResearchBuzz: Firehose

Hmm Daily: Why Did a YouTube Bot Make an Unwatched Video of Our Blog Post? “Last night, I tried to use Google to pull up a recent post I’d written for Hmm Daily, the one about the terrible letter Jon Robin Baitz wrote to explain how screenwriting had made him personally too rich and successful […]

25 Apr 19
Hmm Daily
Last night, I tried to use Google to pull up a recent post I’d written for Hmm Daily, the one about the terrible letter Jon Robin Baitz wrote to explain how screenwriting had made him personally too rich and successful to support the screenwriters’ union in their current conflict with the Hollywood agencies. I typed in the headline—the scab has a script—and the very first result was my own piece, which was what I was looking for. But right there with it was another result: a video, also called “The Scab Has a Script,” with a thumbnail featuring the same inflatable-rat-at-a-typewriter image that had been on the post. I clicked it and was presented with…the blog post, rendered line by line as meme-style text, overlaid on a rotating sequence of five images: the original illustration, some sort of cruddy photo of a painting (or tattoo?) of a sculpted bust, and a sequence of three pages of a script from Episode 410 of Outlander. Wordless vocals and a sort of jazzy guitar and beat played underneath it all. The first flash of old-fashioned outrage—somebody is stealing our stuff!—faded before it had even fully arrived, replaced by an ever-more-familiar sense of dread and loathing. Neither “somebody” nor “stealing” were the right concepts; the video was too incomprehensible for that, and until I’d clicked on it, it had zero views. It cut out after 3 minutes and 20 seconds, in the middle of the text. There was no motive behind it; there wasn’t even a mind. There was no motive behind it; there wasn’t even a mind. We were so far out beyond the realm of copyright infringement, the only logical thing to do was to rip back the whole video of our own copyrighted text and repost it ourselves. Here it is: The user account that had posted it, “smokaj0000,” has plenty more content or content-like objects where that came from. Its YouTube videos page is a solid wall of “No Views” videos, sprinkled here and there with videos that have gotten some tiny number of views. Since it posted the video based on our blog post a week ago, it has put up more than 600 new videos. Yesterday it posted, one after another, “Saudi Arabia Beheads 37 for Terrorism Crimes; Most Shiites” (5 minutes, 1 second); “Saudi Arabia beheads 37 for terrorism crimes” (7:21), and “Saudi Arabia executes 37 people for terror-related crimes” (3:21). Before that it posted “NASA just detected the first ‘marsquake’ on the red planet” (2:31) and “NASA probe detects likely ‘marsquake’: an interplanetary first” (3:11), and before that three straight videos about the former Brazilian president Lula’s reduced prison sentence. None of them had any views. The videos all seem to follow the same format, using text lifted from articles elsewhere online. Some of them, but not all, have tacked the message “Let’s block ads! (Why?).” onto the very end. Googling that brings up a tagline used by FiveFilters.org to promote an Chrome extension that’s supposed to block ads, although those results also include sites that have apparently bot-harvested the text from other sites. (After we posted our copy of the smokaj0000 video to the Hmm Daily YouTube account, we received a copyright warning that it was being blocked because something called “HEXACORP LTD” had filed a copyright claim on the audio track “cool-mbia.” So we replaced the audio and tried to figure out what HexaCorp was, which led to a completely impenetrable HexaCorp website which says its mission is to “Deliver high end solutions & services, collaborate customer data & people by adapting latest technologies & tools establish customer friendly process and create effective solutions with focus towards ‘Best Services Interest’ and ‘Maximum Value for Money’.” More Googling found that HexaCorp appears as the owner of record in the end-user licensing agreement for a streaming service called Orfium. The initial video with the soundtrack remains unblocked. ) Whatever smokaj0000 is doing, it is not producing content for human consumption. It is aggressively, chillingly ahuman, a machine signaling to machines for some algorithmic purpose whose human-centered antecedents are long lost. It is not even fake; it simply exists outside any realm where reality might matter.
18 Apr 19
Deadline

Nearly a month ago, I hear, two prominent showrunners with concerns about the course of the WGA’s negotiations with the Association of Talent Agents and the divisive rhetoric on part of the guild shared their misgivings with several colleagues who had similar concerns. The duo then reached out to the WGA leadership, which was receptive, […]

18 Apr 19
Hmm Daily
For the dramatist interested in the contemporary human condition, an ideal subject is the scab. The act of choosing self-interest over collective interest is psychologically and morally overloaded, wrapped in self-deception as avoidance tries to assume the tone and form of courage. The playwright and television writer Jon Robin Baitz, in a letter published by Deadline Hollywood, used the current dispute between the Writers Guild of America and the Hollywood agent industry as an occasion to sketch a devastating portrait of this mindset. The scab mindset, in this case, belonged Jon Robin Baitz, who was informing his WGA colleagues that he was rejecting their collective demand that writers fire their agents, because he’s personally getting rich off the existing arrangement. Also because of civility, also honesty, also loyalty—virtues of his that he must, with regret, consider more important than “the urge to tear down the extant structures, simply in the name of ‘fairness’.” “I am a union man,” Baitz wrote, “but I do not turn my back on my loyal friends.” He then turned his back on his fellow members: I cannot be the person you want me to be. I cannot cut ties with my agents, because I would be forsaking people I love, people who have helped me create a life where I go back and forth between two forms I know and love. I cannot be the person you want me to be. It’s not me, it’s you. You want to make agents stop making deals where they get paid directly by the studios, rather than collecting a share of what they get the studios to pay the writers; I love my agents and my work. Irreconcilable differences. (Note: I’m not sure whether or not I’m a currently a member of the WGA East. I became a member when my last job, at what was then Gawker Media, unionized through it. I meant to send in dues to keep my membership active, but I may have forgotten to. I have never written for TV or movies or dealt with a Hollywood agency.) From end to end, the letter was a self-contradicting, blurting mess, a mix of vanity and false modesty, often impersonating one another. Baitz wrote that he could not join in the effort to disentangle the agents’ interests from the studios’ interests because he had, himself, just made a deal with a studio part-owned by his agents’ agency—a deal that was “the best I have ever made”—and so to object to the structural conflict of interest would be “hypocrisy.” Also he had used some of the budget from the deal for “making a writer’s assistant, a female diversity hire, into a staff writer.” To attack his agents would be to attack the people who had helped make the career of Jon Robin Baitz such a triumph: In 2002, Joe Cohen at CAA asked me to think about working in TV. Aaron Sorkin had asked me to write an episode of West Wing, which I did, and which was shot pretty much word-for-word. Joe made that deal for many times the WGA minimum. It was not that Baitz considered the writers’ entire complaint unfounded. “Yes,” he wrote, “there are real changes needed in terms of the agencies and packaging and subsidiary production companies.” Like most good people opting out of collective action, he was concerned about the tone and the tactics involved. The union, he wrote, was “insisting on a tone of incivility.” It was pursuing a “scorched earth policy”; it was driven by “blood lust” and “white hot rage” and the desire to “cast the entire business into chaos and darkness.” It was also, he wrote, being “bellicose,” “histrionic,” and “lacking in scale and perspective.” The union man and straight-to-camera wordsmith had spoken: someone was being histrionic.
16 Apr 19
Google News

Writer Jon Robin Baitz Defies WGA Order to Fire Agent, Slams Guild Leadership  Variety Hollywood writers fire agents over financial disputes  Fox Business DGA Weighs In On WGA’s Battle With Talent Agents  Deadline ‘Thousands’ of Members Have Signed Letters Firing Agents, WGA Says  TheWrap DGA Won’t Tell Writer-Directors to Fire Their Agents  Variety View full coverage on Google News

16 Apr 19
Google News

DGA Tells Writer-Directors They Don’t Have to Fire Agents for Directing-Related Work  TheWrap Writer Jon Robin Baitz Defies WGA Order to Fire Agent, Slams Guild Leadership  Variety Hollywood writers fire agents over financial disputes  Fox Business DGA Weighs In On WGA’s Battle With Talent Agents  Deadline DGA Won’t Tell Writer-Directors to Fire Their Agents  Variety View full coverage on Google […]

16 Apr 19
IPO EMPIRE

Writer Jon Robin Baitz Defies WGA Order to Fire Agent, Slams Guild Leadership  Variety Hollywood writers fire agents over financial disputes  Fox Business DGA Weighs In On WGA’s Battle With Talent Agents  Deadline ‘Thousands’ of Members Have Signed Letters Firing Agents, WGA Says  TheWrap DGA Won’t Tell Writer-Directors to Fire Their Agents  Variety View full coverage on Google News from […]

16 Apr 19
Website Design Company

DGA Tells Writer-Directors They Don’t Have to Fire Agents for Directing-Related Work  TheWrap Writer Jon Robin Baitz Defies WGA Order to Fire Agent, Slams Guild Leadership  Variety Hollywood writers fire agents over financial disputes  Fox Business DGA Weighs In On WGA’s Battle With Talent Agents  Deadline DGA Won’t Tell Writer-Directors to Fire Their Agents  Variety View full coverage on Google […]