February 21, 2008 / 2:04 AM / 10 years ago

Directors Guild ratifies breakthrough contract

<p>Members of the Writers Guild of America carry signs on the picket line at NBC studios in Burbank, California February 8, 2008. REUTERS/Fred Prouser</p>

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Hollywood directors gave their final stamp of approval on Wednesday to a contract deal that helped pave the way for a settlement of the damaging 101-day strike by screenwriters against film and TV studios.

The three-year pact between the studios and the Directors Guild of America (DGA) was endorsed by an overwhelming majority of union members in the ratification vote, conducted by mail.

In keeping with past policy, the DGA declined to reveal how many of its 13,500 members cast ballots or the exact margin of approval.

A statement by DGA President Michael Apted, whose directing credits include the James Bond film “The World Is Not Enough,” said the vote “reflects the strong support and enthusiasm our members have for our new contract.”

Recommended for ratification by the DGA governing board on January 27, the contract goes into effect on July 1, covering directors, assistant directors and unit production managers.

Apted cited gains the union achieved in such areas as basic wages, residual fees and the union’s health plan.

But the contract was most notable for provisions to pay union members more for work distributed over the Internet -- a key sticking point in the labor dispute with screenwriters.

The DGA’s deal led to a resumption of negotiations between the Writers Guild of America (WGA) and studios after weeks of stalemate and ultimately served as a template for the pact that settled the 14-week strike by 10,500 WGA members.

Both deals essentially double the rates paid for TV shows and films sold as Internet downloads, once certain break-points are reached. And they require studios to hire union talent on content produced specifically for the Web.

The two pacts also set new residual fees for ad-supported online streaming of TV shows. But the WGA gained a modest improvement over the directors’ deal in the form of a higher potential residual in the third year of its contract.

The writers voted overwhelmingly to lift their strike last Tuesday, ending the worst labor clash to hit Hollywood in 20 years, but they are still in the process of formally ratifying their new contract. Ballots were mailed last Wednesday and are due on February 25, with results to be announced the next day.

Meanwhile, the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), which represents 120,000 film and TV performers, is deciding when to start its own contract negotiations with studios.

SAG’s existing contract expires on June 30.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, SAG is expected to open informal talks sometime in March, with full-fledged negotiations to start later in the spring.

SAG leaders have vowed to take an aggressive stance at the bargaining table and it was unclear whether they would settle for terms similar to those accepted by directors and writers.

Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and John O'Callaghan

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