Directors, producers to begin talks Saturday



UPDATED 6:54 p.m. PT Jan. 11

The DGA has finally pulled the trigger on its much-anticipated contract talks with Hollywood studios.

The directors will begin negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers on Saturday, after almost two weeks of informal discussions between the parties on a range of prospective negotiating issues.

Guild negotiators -- led by DGA president Michael Apted, negotiating chair Gil Cates and exec director Jay Roth -- will seek to hammer out a new agreement to replace the DGA's main film and TV contract, which is set to expire June 30. The talks will be held under a press blackout at AMPTP headquarters in Encino.

The first session isn't expected to drag into the evening but more likely would be concluded by 6 p.m., with talks resuming Sunday morning.

The striking WGA -- whose own negotiations have been put on hold by the AMPTP -- issued a joint reaction to the DGA announcement with SAG, which is also under contract through June 30 but unlike the DGA has been closely aligned with the WGA of late.

"We wish the DGA well and hope that they achieve a fair deal that incorporates principles that will benefit all creative artists," the WGA and SAG said. "The DGA has to do what is best for its membership, but it is important to remember that they do not represent actors and writers."

WGA brass previously has said they might maintain their work stoppage and continue to mount picket lines even in the face of a DGA-AMPTP agreement, should the directors secure terms considered wanting by the WGA. A true doomsday scenario for industryites would see writers stay on the picket lines until actors can join them in July, though some believe it would be touch for the WGA to maintain rank-and-file solidarity over such a prolonged period.

It's been suggested the DGA will emphasize jurisdictional issues in negotiating issues related to content distributed over the Internet and mobile platforms, while the WGA has been demanding sweeping new residuals for new media. But in a message emailed to members Friday, Apted said the DGA is concerned about both new-media jurisdiction and compensation.

"(W)e would not enter negotiations with the AMPTP unless we were within shouting distance of an agreement on our two most important issues-- jurisdiction for our members to work in new media and appropriate compensation for the reuse of our work on the Internet and other new media platforms," the DGA president wrote. "We've spent the last few months discussing these and related issues with the studios, and we've been doing intensive research on these points for the past year and a half. Now we believe it is time to move forward with the goal to hammer out an agreement."

The AMPTP said on Dec. 7 that it would refuse to continue contract talks with the WGA until the guild removed certain demands from the bargaining table. The WGA has been on strike since Nov. 5, and its last film and TV contract with the AMPTP expired Oct. 31.

The DGA has spent heavily to conduct exhaustive research on new media issues and how they might be addressed in negotiations. Veteran attorney and Hollywood dealmaker Ken Ziffrin was a consultant during much of the DGA's prep work.

Word is that the DGA's new-media study largely supports the AMPTP's claim that new-media businesses are still works in progress, a finding that could shape the directors' approach to negotiations with the studio group.

Reports suggest the protracted preliminary discussions between the DGA and AMPTP swung in part on dicey subject new media. But with just the prelims stretching over two weeks, some believe the DGA was also anxious to convey the sense of being a tough negotiator.

WGA leaders have been circumspect on the subject publicly, but privately they have made clear their distaste for the directors' potentially striking a deal with writers on the picket line. The DGA has been poised to enter early talks since November, but the directors twice postponed launching their own negotiations to give writers additional time to reach a deal.

The WGA first entered talks with the AMPTP on July 16.

A statement issued Friday by IATSE international president and WGA critic Tom Short seemed to bolster the widespread notion an AMPTP deal with the DGA would go far in ending the current writers strike, despite WGA suggestions it would resist using such an agreement as a template for its own contract.

"I'm glad to hear that the DGA is heading into formal negotiations with the AMPTP," Short said. "The industry is in trouble and tens of thousands of people are out of work. I hope that the DGA and the AMPTP can reach an agreement that puts us all on the road to getting back to work."

There appears virtually no chance of the WGA's resuming its talks with the AMPTP until the DGA secures its deal. But with so much already sorted out in the informal prelims, many believe the DGA and AMPTP could sort out their negotiations in under a month.

The DGA reached its last pact with the AMPTP on Sept. 23, 2004 -- exactly one month after beginning formal talks. The directors on average begin talks on a new contract about six months in advance of the expiration of any current agreement, believing managing tends to reward them for early negotiations with more attractive terms.

For now, the WGA has turned its negotiating attentions to the indie production community.

If it can reach a deal with the AMPTP, the guild aims to reach narrowly drawn separate pacts with individual companies. So far, it has reached work agreements with United Artists, the Weinstein Co. and Worldwide Pants.

Separately Friday, AFTRA said the continue negotiations impasse with the WGA and the advent of DGA talks has prompted it to postpone planned talks with network reps on negotiations on behalf of its tens of thousands of members covered under its network code agreement.

"While AFTRA is ready to begin negotiations now, given the unsettled state of other talks already in progress, we believe we can best serve AFTRA members" interests by briefly postponing our negotiations."

The network code covers performers and off-camera talent on syndicated dramas; daytime serials; game, talk, news, sports and variety shows; and other programming.

Terms of the current network code will be extended until March 7, with talks on a new pact to commence no later than Feb. 19, officials said. The pact had been set to expire Jan. 31, after an earlier strike-related extension from Nov. 15.