In the spring of 2017, during tense contract negotiations with the Writers Guild of America, some 60 negotiators gathered at the Sherman Oaks offices of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.
The union didn’t like the transmission-waste studies proposal and turned to research guru Ellen Stutzman to explain why it would be bad for writers.
During his presentation at the bargaining table, Stutzman methodically laid out his union’s position. Her rebuttal was so convincing that her colleagues still remember her.
“It’s a room full of scorers, who just don’t want to look you in the eye and have no interest in talking to you, but she was shocking,” recalled Patric M. Verrone, a member of the union’s bargaining committee. and a former guild president. “After watching her perform, it was like she was born to do that kind of thing.”
The confidence vote in Stuzman comes two weeks after the union announced that she would replace WGA chief negotiator David Young, who was resigning due to health reasons.
The news surprised many in Hollywood. Young, an agitator union leader who is known for his aggressive bargaining style, led the union during its previous strike in 2007-08. And some wondered if his departure would leave the WGA without a strong leader ahead of crucial — and likely contentious — negotiations due to begin on Monday.
Colleagues describe Stutzman as more low-key and less combative than Young, but say she’s an effective negotiator who played an important role in the WGA’s high-profile and successful campaign to crack down on practices considered harmful by talent agents. for the writers.
“Ellen is smart, tough and not fooled, she will do what is right for the members based on what our needs are,” said a longtime WGA member who declined to be identified because he was not authorized to comment.
In an interview Monday, Stutzman acknowledged the pressure to come.
“We have a big schedule this year. We have a lot of issues that have been simmering for a period of time, and it’s up to me and the bargaining committee to deliver with the members, so it’s a challenge in every negotiation,” Stutzman told The Times.
She said she is not planning a change in trading tactics or strategies.
“We go into negotiations with the backing of our members and that is what ultimately empowers the (bargaining) committee and it is the only thing companies respond to, so I don’t see it as a big change,” he said.
Many guild members and leaders have expressed their support for Stutzman and his team.
“In fact, I took great comfort knowing that she would become the lead negotiator,” said Marc Guggenheim, executive producer of the television series “Eli Stone” and “DC’s Legends of Tomorrow.” “She is very, very smart. She really cares about the writers. Historically, her grasp of her issues has always been incredibly strong.”
A graduate of Cornell University’s School of Labor and Industrial Relations, Stutzman, 40, has worked with the WGA for 17 years.
After graduating in 2004, Stutzman worked as a researcher and organizer for the National Union of Healthcare Workers.
He joined the Writers Guild of America West in 2006 as a research analyst. While working for the union, Stutzman studied for a master’s degree from UCLA’s Anderson School of Management.
Stutzman rose through the ranks in the union and in 2018 was appointed as deputy executive director. He oversaw the union’s agency, contracting, legal and research and public policy departments.
“She is adept at discussing both general industry trends and the minutiae of contract (minimum basic agreement) language,” said John August, a former board member and current member of the bargaining committee. “There is not a better qualified person on the planet to take on this role.”
August cited the important role Stutzman played in the last three rounds of negotiations, as well as the WGA’s fierce fight with talent agencies over performance fees and affiliated productions.
During that campaign, Stutzman was known for educating members about agency funding, including the role of private equity investments in that business.
“Very few writers will be familiar with how private equity works, so it was important to her to explain what returns private equity investors were looking for when buying agencies,” August said.
Thousands of writers “fired” their agents in 2019 to protest packaging fees and other practices. At one point, Young engaged in a war of words with William Morris Endeavor partner Rick Rosen, who accused Young of threatening him, a claim he denied.
Stutzman took a different approach.
“When we were in the room negotiating with the agencies, she was courteous but direct about why we felt her ownership structure represented an insurmountable conflict of interest,” August said.
In the end, the WGA won that battle, with the agencies agreeing to waive packaging fees for assembly projects and reduce their ownership interest in affiliated productions to no more than 20%.
In recent weeks, Stutzman and other union leaders have met with members to discuss bargaining priorities. On February 23 at the Sheraton Hotel in Universal City, Stutzman gave a presentation for writers, with bargaining committee co-chair Chris Keyser, about the proposals the union planned to present to the studios.
“She is very patient, very committed,” said a guild captain who attended the meeting but was not authorized to comment.
Stutzman stands out for his depth of knowledge, Verrone said, citing his 2014 presentations to members of Congress about the union’s opposition to the Comcast-Time Warner merger.
“She is without a doubt the best informed (person in the room) and has the facts and figures at her fingertips, which I have always found invaluable,” Verrone said. “She has been behind the scenes of almost all of our battles in the last 17 years.”