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CAA’s Packaging Fee Becomes Flashpoint in ‘Walking Dead’ Litigation

Cynthia Littleton

The issue that is at the heart of the WGA’s present standoff with talent agencies has flared up as a source of tension in the litigation between AMC Networks and Frank Darabont and CAA over profit participation on “The Walking Dead.”

The practice of talent agencies receiving packaging fees for helping to assemble the creative elements of a television series has come up as a question posed by AMC Networks’ attorneys in the latest round of depositions for the long-running lawsuit. The WGA last month filed a lawsuit against Hollywood’s four largest agencies over packaging fees, calling them an inherent conflict of interest that violates the fiduciary duties of licensed talent agents.

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AMC Networks attorneys have sought to question Darabont and others involved in depositions related to the “Walking Dead” case on their knowledge of CAA’s packaging fee arrangements on the show, which Darabont shepherded for AMC in its first season. But AMC reps maintain that Dale Kinsella, lead attorney for Darabont and CAA, has improperly told witnesses not to answer those questions.

Lawyers for AMC have asked New York Superior Court judge overseeing the case for a hearing to address what AMC reps described as “improper and obstructive deposition conduct” by Kinsella in a letter sent to Judge Joel Cohen on Monday. Lead AMC Networks attorney Orin Snyder asserted that Kinsella is trying to shut down questioning related to CAA’s profit participation definition and how it may differ from the definition that the agency negotiated for its client Darabont on “Walking Dead.”

“Defendants have struck a raw nerve by exposing fundamental flaws in Plaintiffs’ case. Kinsella does not want Defendants to probe his clients’ contradictory positions on the (modified adjusted gross receipts) definition,” Snyder wrote. “Even more, he does not want Defendants to expose the egregious conflict of interest between Darabont and his agents at CAA. The dirty secret in Hollywood is that talent agencies often sell their clients down the river in exchange for bigger packaging fees for themselves.”

Snyder’s letter also accuses Kinsella of making insulting remarks about AMC’s legal team during the deposition questioning process. One example cited in the AMC letter asserts that Kinsella told a deposition witness: “Don’t get dragged down
into the gutter of nonsense questions by Mr. Snyder.”

Kinsella called AMC’s complaints and request for a hearing a “publicity stunt” and said a response to the letter would be filed soon.

“In the interim, however, AMC’s transparent effort to mask their own outrageous and harassing deposition conduct by filing an at best misleading letter directly with the court is yet another publicity stunt,” Kinsella said in a statement. “Suffice it to say that AMC’s lead counsel, Orin Snyder, will have more than enough explaining to do when this matter is fully argued before the court.”

The “Walking Dead” lawsuit is targeted for trial in mid-2020.

The WGA and Association of Talent Agents have been at war since April 12, when the guild instructed its nearly 15,000 members to fire talent agents who would not sign the guild’s newly established Agency Code of Conduct. The guild’s new code bars agencies from receiving packaging fees from production entities, among other reforms.

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