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WGA West Election Q&A: David Goodman on How ‘Writers Find a Way to Work Together’

Variety — Cynthia Littleton

David Goodman has been in the eye of the storm over the Writers Guild of America’s effort to ban talent agencies from collecting packaging fees and launching affiliated production arms.

The incumbent WGA West president ran for the job in 2017 with the goal of ending what many see as a conflict of interest inherent in packaging fee arrangements between agencies and producers. Now the guild’s handling of that reform process has become the galvanizing issue in the most competitive WGA election in years.

Goodman, the animation veteran who is exec producer of Seth MacFarlane’s “The Orville,” is seeking a second two-year term and facing a challenge from screenwriter Phyllis Nagy, who has been vocal in her criticism of the guild’s actions on the agency front. Voting in the race closes at noon PT on Sept. 16.

Do you think the next WGA West president has an obligation to ease the tensions among members stirred by the agency campaign?

I’ve been in leadership through periods like this that have affected elections on the board. After the (2007-2008) strike we saw people get elected to the board and the presidency in reaction to the strike. Writers found a way to work together. I’m no fan of John Wells currently and was no fan of his during the strike. But we served on the board together. We didn’t sit across the table and eyeball each other every day. We worked together. Writers find a way to work together.

But the discussion among members, at least as it’s played out in social media, has been vitriolic at times.

That’s the difficulty of taking on big issues and entrenched practices. We’re trying to make things better. There are people who disagree with what we’re doing. Whatever you’re seeing on social — I feel guild leadership has conducted themselves with respect for the other side and with dignity and that will continue whoever’s in leadership when this election is over.

If re-elected, what’s your strategy for dealing with the agency impasse? Will you focus on letting the lawsuits play out?

The goal is to get writers back with the agents that they want to represent them. There has been a mischaracterization that somehow the guild is looking to get rid of the Big Four agencies (WME, CAA, UTA and ICM Partners). That’s not true. We want our agents representing us and we want our interests aligned with them. We want to find a solution to this. 

Are you concerned that the divisiveness of the agency campaign will strain the membership’s resolve for what could be tough talks with the AMPTP next year?

I see it as our strength because we do disagree. We do listen to both sides. We listen and we figure out our way to compromise. It’s interesting because there’s this mistaken idea that the current board has unanimity on these issues. They don’t. Everybody has their own opinion and we find our way to a  compromise. It’s part of this natural process, and it gets loud and it can get tough, but that’s the messiness of a real democracy.

Can you offer a broad-strokes outline of your agenda for the studio talks? You have unusual leverage this time around because so many AMPTP members are investing big in new streaming platforms that will depend on the original content created by WGA members.

We’ve proven ourselves to be a tough union willing to take on fights that no one is willing to take on. We have that history that goes into every negotiation. The companies are not pushovers. They’re not going to give us everything we want. They are going to make us prove our leverage and prove that the union has solidarity. But yes, all these companies are launching streaming services to compete with Netflix. They need new product to get subscribers. That new product will be written by members of the Writers Guild.

Has the job of WGA West president turned out to be more than you signed up for?

I make the joke that my wife is rooting for Phyllis. … You take it a step at a time. When I was elected two years ago I had all sorts of plans and then the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke and suddenly the discussion about sexual harassment, abuse, equality and diversity took center stage. The guild had to be a part of that, so that set our agenda. It’s important that the guild as a union protect our members and do whatever we can to stop these abuses.

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