Directors line up shots

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Now things could get really interesting.

With Hollywood writers enmeshed in cantankerous contract talks with the studios, the DGA already has begun strategy meetings of its own. The development is sure to fuel further speculation that the oft-independent-minded directors will swoop into the mix of contracts talks to forge a template for other entertainment guilds to follow -- like it or not.

Many believe that the WGA's ongoing talks with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers will drag on past the Oct. 31 expiration of the writers' contract. But for some, there's already the question of what might come first: a writers strike or an agreement between studios and directors that nullifies any leverage from a scribes walkout.

The DGA's contract with the AMPTP expires June 30, as does SAG's. But the DGA has a history of starting talks on new pacts particularly early, so the directors could sit down with management negotiators even before Jan. 1.

It certainly seems as if the DGA is getting its ducks lined up for something well in advance of summer. In February, the guild named Gil Cates -- a vet of the past two rounds of talks, in 2002 and 2005 -- to head its next negotiating committee, and that committee is now full and starting to meet.

A DGA spokeswoman declined to name members of the negotiating committee. But The Hollywood Reporter obtained a copy of a letter DGA president Michael Apted sent to members Wednesday, alerting them of an initial meeting of the negotiating committee.

"The full Basic Agreement Negotiations Committee was assembled this summer and had its first meeting on Sept. 15 to begin the process of examining the complex issues we will be facing and to start preparing our proposals," Apted wrote. "Future meetings are scheduled and will be held in the months ahead."

Like the WGA and SAG, DGA leadership is known to rate Internet compensation as a top priority in its contract talks, though as usual an array of pay, benefit and work-rule matters also must be negotiated.

"I wish our brothers and sisters at the WGA success in their negotiations with the AMPTP before their contract expires on Oct. 31," Apted said. "Our industry may be full of doubts, fears and uncertainties, but there is one thing of which you can be certain: Your guild is strong, united and ready to face the future, no matter how daunting the challenges that lie ahead."

The WGA has been closer in negotiating philosophy to SAG than the DGA lately, and SAG has named a committee to confer with the WGA during the writers talks. In the most recent round of film and TV contract talks for above-the-line guilds, the WGA and SAG fought unsuccessfully for expanded DVD residuals.

The battle effectively ended when the DGA commenced early talks on its own contract for film directors and primetime dramatic helmers. That's because the DGA agreed to shift the focus from DVD compensation to expanded health and pension benefits.

Meanwhile, while the DGA appears equally as committed as the WGA and SAG to the fight for improved new-media compensation, an array of details bear watching. Among those are whether the DGA is agreeable to some sort of study on the question of new-media compensation.

The WGA shot down such a suggestion in its first negotiating session with the AMPTP on July 16.

A DGA contract covering TV news and sports programming also expires June 30. Those talks with representatives of individual broadcast networks will be in New York, with the DGA's William M. Brady chairing its negotiating team.
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