January 17, 2008 / 9:07 AM / 10 years ago

Directors' deal could split striking writers

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - With a new labor contract for the Directors Guild of America expected to be announced imminently, Hollywood’s top screenwriters could turn up the heat on their union to end its 11-week-old strike.

Unable to secure its own new deal since starting on again-off again contract talks with the studios July 16, the Writers Guild of America (WGA) initially might demur that what’s good for directors isn’t necessarily good for scribes.

Yet if the DGA, as expected, comes away with contract terms featuring significant gains in the all-important area of new-media compensation, WGA brass could face some rather immediate -- and potentially very public -- grumbling from powerful TV writer/producers if it insists on staying on strike.

Meanwhile, studio negotiators must grapple with their own knotty dilemma in deciding when, and how, to resume negotiations with the WGA. As one management-side source put it, “The tough question is how do you reward the DGA for good behavior and not the WGA for bad behavior?”

DGA leaders will begin a sixth day of negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers (AMPTP) on Thursday to replace a pact that expires June 30. They have said they want a specific reward from the studio group for tackling those tough negotiations early. By contrast, WGA leaders have privately boasted that negotiating brinksmanship would allow them to get the best deal terms from the AMPTP.

Writers Guild of America members march in New York, November 20, 2007. With a new labor contract for the Directors Guild of America expected to be announced imminently, Hollywood's top screenwriters could turn up the heat on their union to end its 11-week-old strike. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

On the writers’ side, a relatively moderate contingent -- represented, in a fashion, by writer, director and blogger Craig Mazin -- have been stressing that guild leadership should review the DGA’s deal with an open mind and try to get writers back to work quickly.

“If a deal comes out this week, and we have people sending signed letters to our union demanding that we accept it (but) we have union leaders firing rocket-propelled grenades off in the press about how it’s a cave and a sellout, then we might as well just stop pretending we’re in the business of collectively bargaining for employees, strap on some lycra tights and convert ourselves into an extreme-fighting league,” Mazin wrote on ArtfulWriter.com.

Still, many in the guild surely will distrust any terms agreed to by the DGA, blamed repeatedly in recent years by some in the WGA and Screen Actors Guild (SAG) for failed demands for higher DVD residuals. To assuage any hard feelings, the DGA may thank the writers for their own negotiating efforts when the directors announce their deal, according to a source close to the DGA.

The close relationship between the WGA and SAG during the last few months -- actors refusing to cross writers’ picket lines -- is evidence that the writers strike could persist, some observers say. SAG is under contract through June 30, and Hollywood’s doomsday scenario would see the writers stay off the job until actors can join them on the picket lines.

Certainly, it can’t be a good sign that SAG has begun a referendum process that could result in its abandoning a longtime joint-bargaining relationship with the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA), the more moderate performers union.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter

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