Duo to set timeline on DGA talks

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DGA president Michael Apted and negotiating committee chair Gil Cates are authorized to start early contract talks at any time, and an announcement of the start date for negotiations could come as soon as Thursday.

It's unlikely that actual bargaining sessions with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers will begin before Jan. 1, guild insiders said. But the duo -- who will partner with lead staff negotiator and DGA exec director Jay Roth in the talks -- has received the green light from the DGA board to reach out to the AMPTP to select a start date.

The prospect of imminent AMPTP-DGA negotiations follows the dramatic breakdown in contract talks between the studio group and the WGA on Friday. The DGA is under contract through June 30 but has a history of striking new deals about six months before the expiration of existing pacts.

SAG also has a contract coming due on the same date, but the actors are considered highly unlikely to request negotiations with the AMPTP while the writers are on strike. SAG leadership has been closely aligned with the WGA since the writers launched their talks in July, but DGA brass has largely been silent on negotiating issues over the same period.

As with the WGA talks, new-media compensation and jurisdiction is expected to be the central issue in the DGA's negotiations. Yet the DGA is expected to gain quicker traction on that issue in its talks, in part because it has accumulated detailed third-party research on the economic underpinnings of new-media enterprises.

Entertainment attorney Ken Ziffren has been consulting with the DGA in its preparations for the AMPTP negotiations, but he is not expected to join the guild's negotiating team.

The DGA's negotiating team has been meeting for months, and DGA brass recently has held a series of meetings with a half-dozen or more of its district councils to update members on negotiating issues. The last of those meetings was set for Wednesday night, leading to speculation guild leaders might contact the AMPTP as soon as today.

WGA leaders claim they will hold out for their own set of contract demands, regardless of any deal the DGA might secure. But some observers claim there already are signs of cracks in the solidarity of WGA rank and file.



"They tried to split the membership from the leadership (and) it worked to a degree," a top showrunner said Wednesday. "But once you talk to members, or once showrunners talk to showrunners, it's pretty easy to see it for what it was -- a decent tactic. I don't think the AMPTP had any intention of negotiating in good faith last week. I think they want everyone to sit out over Christmas and make the town think twice about the cost of taking a strike, so that no one else will do it for a good long while."

Indeed, some have suggested the AMPTP already had grown weary of its talks with the WGA before delivering its ultimatum to the WGA that reality TV and animation jurisdiction demands be withdrawn from their negotiations. Already, management negotiators had begun charting a strategy keying on a switch to early talks with the DGA, some claim.

AMPTP brass denies any such notion. Yet planned or not, it appears Hollywood's focus soon might shift to DGA headquarters on Sunset Boulevard.

Meanwhile, a war of words continued between the WGA and the AMPTP.

The guild continued picketing in locations throughout Los Angeles, though strike activity in New York was limited to meetings among guild leaders. West Coast activities included a "Diversity Day" rally outside Paramount, where the WGA West's diversity committee invited black, Asian and Latino writers and actors to join picket lines.

Striking writers also were expected to join a protest staged by the SEIU security officers union against General Electric in Westwood.

The WGAW noted that "GE also figures into the ongoing strike of the (WGA)" as the parent company of studio parent and AMPTP member NBC Universal.

"The AMPTP has prolonged the strike by walking out of negotiations twice, prompting many to believe that they never intended to negotiate seriously in the first place," the WGA charged.

The studio group's board circulated a letter to its member companies on Wednesday decrying "substantial new doses of vitriol" from the WGA. Picket line activities have featured specially staged events including a mock exorcism, "Star Trek"-themed gatherings and concerts, it said.

"Amidst this alternating mix of personal attacks and picket line frivolity, we must not forget that this WGA strike is beginning to cause serious economic damage to many people in the entertainment business," the AMPTP board said.

Nellie Andreeva contributed to this report.
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