WME partner Rick Rosen claims in court documents filed Wednesday that WGA West executive director David Young “repeatedly threatened to ‘kill’ me” during a heated phone conversation in August, as the guild and the agency were trying to work out a deal to end their ongoing legal standoff.
Rosen said that he was so alarmed by the alleged threat that he called WGA West president David A. Goodman to complain about it, but didn’t get a satisfactory response. Rosen made the allegation “under penalty of perjury that the foregoing is true and correct.”
A spokesman for the WGA said today that “both David Young and David A. Goodman deny Mr. Rosen’s claims.”
Rosen recounted the alleged threat in a declaration filed today in federal court in support of WME’s request for a preliminary injunction that asked U.S. District Court Judge André Birotte Jr. to end the 19-month standoff by ordering the guild to end its group boycott and allow writer-clients to return to the agency.
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Detailing the failed negotiations that led to the alleged threat, Rosen noted that “Over the past year, I met with Guild leadership several times, both formally and informally, on behalf of WME to try to reach an agreement on a new franchise agreement. Those discussions, however, have proven futile. The Guilds have never expressed a willingness to negotiate — even after WME agreed to substantively the same franchise terms as ICM — rarely even speaking at any of our meetings. To the extent the Guilds responded to any of our proposals, it has only been to reject them and ask for more.”
“On August 5, 2020, I sent an internal memorandum to WME agents updating them on these efforts to reach an agreement with the Guilds,” Rosen said in his declaration, telling the court that Young “learned of the internal WME memorandum and, to my surprise, was furious that I had merely communicated to WME’s own agents the company’s efforts to engage with the Guilds and that the Guilds were not responsive. Soon thereafter, Mr. Young called me on August 11, 2020 and repeatedly threatened to ‘kill’ me for having drafted this internal-only message.
“Mr. Young’s irrational reaction was astounding at the time, but even more so in hindsight, especially given the fact that throughout our franchise negotiations the Guilds would publicly and intentionally report on our supposedly confidential settlement negotiations both to writers and media. In fact, for the most part, WME executives and employees have learned about the Guilds’ responses to our proposals from the internet.
“After Mr. Young repeatedly threatened to ‘kill’ me during a phone call on August 11, 2020, I called WGAW’s President David Goodman, with whom I have a good professional relationship. I informed Mr. Goodman of Mr. Young’s threats to me. Mr. Goodman responded ‘Oh God,’ which I interpreted to mean ‘that’s terrible’ but ‘it’s unsurprising.’ This to me underscores that such behavior by Mr. Young is both expected and condoned by the Guilds.”
The WGA’s group boycott of WME, Rosen said, is also causing “irreparable harm” to the agency. “The Guilds’ boycott has forced more than a thousand writers and showrunners to send termination notices to WME,” he said in his declaration. “Many of these Guild members have now signed with other talent agencies or management companies and there is good reason to expect that such writers or showrunners may not return to WME. Also as a result of the boycott, agents are now leaving WME, either for franchised agencies or to become talent managers who do not need a franchise. These former WME employees may not return either.
“Talent representation is inherently relationship driven, and when relationships are severed—whether an agent with his or her clients, or an agent with his or her talent agency employer—it is often extremely difficult, if not impossible, to repair them. These harms to WME from the Guilds’ boycott have most severely impacted our youngest, up-and-coming agents whose careers have been harmed by the Guilds’ boycott in ways that cannot be remedied merely by the Guilds paying damages to WME.”
Detailing the “irreparable harm” the boycott has inflicted on WME, Rosen said that “Although hundreds of writers and showrunners were forced to fire WME in April 2019, at that time, most of these clients did not sign with other (franchised) talent agencies. I believe there were two principal reasons why our former clients did not rush to sign with new talent agencies: (1) they hoped that WME and the Guilds would resolve their dispute and WME would regain its franchise; and (2) many Guild members, and showrunners in particular, do not view smaller talent agencies to be a viable alternative to WME or the other ‘Big Four’ talent agencies (CAA, UTA, IBM Partners).
“However, currently neither of these premises remains true: (1) it appears that the Guilds will not franchise WME no matter what we are willing to agree to; and (2) the Guilds have now franchised UTA and ICM. As a consequence, around eleven former WME clients—including Brett Johnson, Colleen McGuinness, Linda Woolverton, Dana Stevens, Emily Silver, Harris Danow, Heidi Cole McAdams, Niki Schwartz Wright, and Sarah Tapscott—who fired WME in April 2019, and held out for more than a year, have recently signed with UTA or ICM after those agencies were re-franchised.”
The boycott, Rosen said, has also caused agents to leave the agency. “WME agents want to represent their clients,” he wrote. “As the boycott has dragged on, WME agents have begun to leave because they can no longer represent the writers and showrunners who fired WME at the behest of the Guilds. Some are leaving to work at franchised agencies, others are becoming talent managers so they can resume representing their writer-clients without being regulated by the Guilds, and others are quitting the writer-representation business entirely.”
Agents, like their clients, Rosen said, “are inimitable, and redressing the harm from their departures is not as simple as the Guilds writing WME a check. Individual agents cultivate relationships with their writer-clients over prolonged periods of time; develop webs of contacts and connections; and carry particular and unique creative strengths and abilities to help clients obtain unique creative roles.
“As the WGA boycott drags on, more agents have left and will continue to leave, and these irreparable losses will continue to mount so long as the boycott persists.
“In addition, because of the Guilds’ boycott, WME is compromised in its ability to effectively compete to hire new agents to represent writers as those agents know that WME is a continued subject of the Guilds’ boycott, while more than one hundred other agencies are franchised by the Guilds and therefore do not pose the same obstacle to representing Guild members. The lost opportunity to hire such agents when they become available in the market is another source of injury to WME that cannot be repaired.”