Awards Watch: Directors Guild

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Taylor Hackford
(Illustration by Chris Morris)

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Following several tumultuous years of strikes and de-facto strikes by its sister guilds, the DGA and its 14,000 members finally enjoyed some peace last year.

But nothing lasts forever: The DGA's current three-year pact with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers expires in June 2011, and various branches of the guild are already at work compiling criteria for the next negotiation.

"Do we have specific tenets?" DGA president Taylor Hackford muses. "No. We're not ready to announce what they are because we're still determining what they might be. Likewise, we're watching the national health debate and how any new health plan might impact our health plan."

One thing nobody wants to see is another strike.

In its 74-year history, the DGA has called an industrywide strike only once, in 1987, and it lasted slightly more than three hours in the east and a mere five minutes in the west. Of course, this can be viewed in two ways: the DGA is a powerful organization that can get what it wants in a timely fashion; or it is more willing than some other guilds to concede points to the AMPTP.

Naturally, Hackford favors the former viewpoint.

"We are result-oriented," says Hackford (2004's "Ray"). "We (as directors) are given the responsibility to make a film, to deliver a film. We constantly have millions of dollars at stake. We know that we have to have a functioning unit in order to succeed. We're not novelists alone at our typewriters or painters alone at our easels."

Hackford points out that the DGA has traditionally been led by filmmakers working at the top of their game, from its first president, King Vidor (1936-38), to his immediate predecessor, Michael Apted (2003-09). Is there a risk that their exclusive stature -- and that of directors in general -- might inure them to the concerns of the average Hollywood worker?

"A lot of directors aren't working off contract," says Andrew Davis, a member of both the DGA and WGA, whose directorial credits include "The Guardian" (2006). "Their scale is way above what the contract says, and their back-ends are negotiated separately; whereas actors and writers are much more working per contract. That has something to do with their ability to not be so concerned about the basics."

During negotiations in 2008, the DGA took heat for accepting a provision permitting "experimental," made-for-the-Internet projects to be made outside union jurisdiction if they cost less than $15,000 per minute, $300,000 per program or $500,000 per series, whichever is lowest. But the guild argued there was no point in taking a do-or-die stance on something that had yet to produce more than a trickle of revenue.

"Everyone talks about the (new media) tidal wave that's coming," Hackford says. "We had done the research (showing) it was not imminent; it wasn't going to happen this coming year or even during the next contract. And our research has been borne out. I don't think we have less concern about our members -- in fact, I can guarantee you we have as much as any other guild -- it's just that we take an approach that says, 'Let's go to the table and be responsible about what we're going for and make sure we're covered when actual revenues appear.' "

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Hackford admits last month's announcement that cable giant Comcast would be offering content on-demand to consumers via their computers at no extra charge made it clear that Internet streaming has arrived as a mainstream medium for film and TV distribution -- which means that an increase in directors' compensation for streaming of their work will likely be a bone of contention during the next contract talks.

"Is it a home video split? Perhaps, when it's library material," Hackford says. "We are going to take a position. I can tell you now that when you stream day-and-date movies, it's a theatrical split. Every facet of the new media and how the project is delivered to the consumer will be on the table for discussion."

In the meantime, the DGA is focusing on other concerns, such as the growing scourge of digital piracy. Last month, Hackford joined the leaders of other Hollywood unions, including SAG, AFTRA and IATSE, and CEOs from major media conglomerates for a roundtable discussion with Vice President Joseph Biden and other administration officials about how to prevent the theft of intellectual property.

"We need the creative community desperately to help carry our case, not for us, but with us," says former MPAA chairman Dan Glickman. "The DGA is extremely effective among policymakers, and Taylor is a particularly effective voice in articulating the concerns of the creative community."

Hackford is committed to the task, but he believes it's also vital that he keep his day job. He's got one feature due out this year, "Love Ranch," starring his wife, Helen Mirren, and Joe Pesci.

"The great thing about this situation is my members expect their president to work," Hackford says. But "I was elected by our members and I take that responsibility very seriously."
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