January 14, 2008 / 8:11 AM / 10 years ago

Directors contract talks off to a fast start

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Contract negotiations between Hollywood’s directors and studios represent the industry’s best shot at getting back to business as usual, even as the writers strike enters its 11th week Monday.

President of the Directors Guild of America Michael Apted speaks at an event in Washington, February 6, 2007. Contract negotiations between Hollywood's directors and studios represent the industry's best shot at getting back to business as usual, even as the writers strike enters its 11th week Monday. REUTERS/Larry Downing

After several months of preliminary discussions, the Directors Guild of America (DGA) began formal talks on Saturday with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), the bargaining arm of the studios. They met again on Sunday, and are scheduled to hold a third session on Monday.

Both sides are observing a media blackout, but many people in the industry believe a new contract could be reached within a matter of weeks or even days, well before its June 30 expiry. A deal could put pressure on the Writers Guild of America (WGA) to end its walkout.

“I’m optimistic,” a high-ranking industryite said. “Bottom line, I think we’ll make a deal (because) the directors will be more reasonable.”

After the DGA announced the start of its negotiations, the WGA issued a joint statement with the Screen Actors Guild (SAG). The actors also are under contract through June 30 but have been closely aligned with the WGA of late.

“We wish the DGA well and hope that they achieve a fair deal that incorporates principles that will benefit all creative artists,” the WGA and SAG said. “The DGA has to do what is best for its membership, but it is important to remember that they do not represent actors and writers.”

The WGA, whose main gripe revolves around payment for works in the digital era, have said they might maintain their work stoppage even in the face of a new DGA agreement. A true doomsday scenario for industryites would see writers stay on the picket lines until actors can join them in July, though some believe it would be tough for the WGA to maintain rank-and-file solidarity over such a prolonged period.

In an email to members Friday, DGA president Michael Apted said the union is concerned about both new-media jurisdiction and compensation.

“(W)e would not enter negotiations with the AMPTP unless we were within shouting distance of an agreement on our two most important issues — jurisdiction for our members to work in new media and appropriate compensation for the reuse of our work on the Internet and other new-media platforms,” Apted wrote.

“We’ve spent the last few months discussing these and related issues with the studios, and we’ve been doing intensive research on these points for the past year and a half. Now we believe it is time to move forward with the goal to hammer out an agreement.”

The DGA spent heavily to conduct exhaustive research on new media issues and how they might be addressed in negotiations. Veteran attorney and Hollywood dealmaker Ken Ziffren was a consultant during much of the DGA’s prep work.

The DGA has been poised to enter early talks since November, but the directors twice postponed launching their own negotiations to give writers additional time to reach a deal.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter

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