DGA Awards: Michael Apted on Leading the Directors Guild

Issue 5 FEA Awards Michael Apted - H 2013
First Run Features/ Everett Collection

Issue 5 FEA Awards Michael Apted - H 2013

The three-term president tells THR why unions remain strong in Hollywood: "Fairly skilled labor gives us some power."

This story first appeared in the Feb. 8 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Michael Apted, who served three terms as DGA president from 2003 to 2009, will receive the guild's Robert B. Aldrich Award for extraordinary service Feb. 2 during the 65th annual DGA Awards. He talked with The Hollywood Reporter ahead of Saturday's ceremony.

The Hollywood Reporter: How did you become so involved in the DGA?

Michael Apted: I joined to do Coal Miner's Daughter in 1978. When I did Thunderheart in 1992, it was sold to television, and [Fox] wanted to cut 28 minutes out of it. I seriously objected. I had made an arrangement with the local tribes at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation that I would honor their religion and their rights. So I went to the guild and asked for their help. They took the case on. It went up to the Ninth Circuit, and basically, the Directors Guild won. They had to put a caption on the front of the film saying the director does not approve of this cut. I was very impressed with the way the guild handled it. It was my first glimpse of creative rights, really.

THR: During your tenure as president, which issues were the most important?

Apted: The first thing was the possessory credit and then the health-care plan. I felt we had to make a concession about the possessory credit, since I could understand why the Writers Guild was annoyed by it, so we introduced a rule where you could only take the possessory if you wrote the script, brought the film to the studio or had a major part in creating it. The health-care plan also was a tough negotiation.

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THR: The 2007 negotiations over new media were even tougher, weren't they?

Apted: New media was very difficult because no one knew what it was or how to monetize it. There was a difference of opinion between us and the Writers Guild. We felt it was not the right time to strike about it -- we should give it time to develop and sort itself out. We invested quite a bit of money in research so we could back up our position. But I think we were right not to jump too quickly all over it.

THR: Unions have been under attack nationwide, but they remain strong in Hollywood. Why?

Apted: The entertainment unions are full of some fairly skilled labor, and that gives us some power, as it were. The guilds cover managerial as well as physical work, the A to Z of making a film, from the highest-paid directors to electricians and carpenters. I think that's why we've survived longer than unions in other industries.



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It's one of awards season's most reliable predictors: The winner of the DGA Award for outstanding directorial achievement in feature film almost always goes on to win the best directing Oscar. There have been only six occasions since 1948 when it hasn't happened, but 2013 could be one of those years. The DGA has nominated Ben Affleck (Argo), Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty), Tom Hooper (Les Miserables), Ang Lee (Life of Pi) and Steven Spielberg (Lincoln). But its nominations overlap with the Academy's only in the case of Lee and Spielberg; the Academy's list also includes Michael Haneke (Amour), David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook) and Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild).