Scary schism for scribes

DGA deal could further split factions of WGA

The DGA is still center stage.

But with a DGA contract deal considered imminent, speculation is heating up over the WGA's possible response to such a development. On strike since Nov. 5 and unable to secure their own new deal since starting on- again, off-again contract talks with the studios July 16, Hollywood writers initially might demur that what's good for directors isn't necessarily good for scribes.

Yet if the DGA, as expected, comes away with contract terms featuring significant gains in the all-important area of new-media compensation, WGA brass could face some rather immediate — and potentially very public — grumbling from powerful TV showrunners and top screenwriters if they insist on staying on strike.

Meanwhile, studio negotiators must grapple with their own knotty dilemma in deciding when, and how, to resume negotiations with the WGA.

As one management-side source put it, "The tough question is how do you reward the DGA for good behavior and not the WGA for bad behavior?"

DGA leaders, who are negotiating with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers to replace a pact that expires June 30, have said they want a specific reward from the studio group for tackling those tough negotiations early. By contrast, WGA leaders have privately boasted that negotiating brinksmanship would allow them to get the best deal terms from the AMPTP.

On the writers' side, a relatively moderate contingent — represented, in a fashion, by writer, director and blogger Craig Mazin — have been stressing that guild leadership should review the DGA's deal with an open mind and try to get writers back to work quickly.

"The first thing we all have to do is take a good long look at whatever the DGA deal is," Mazin wrote on Artful this week. "If a deal comes out this week, and we have people sending signed letters to our union demanding that we accept it (but) we have union leaders firing rocket-propelled grenades off in the press about how it's a cave and a sellout, then we might as well just stop pretending we're in the business of collectively bargaining for employees, strap on some lycra tights and convert ourselves into an extreme-fighting league."

Still, many in the guild surely will distrust any terms agreed to by the DGA, blamed repeatedly in recent years by some in the WGA and SAG for failed demands for higher DVD residuals. To assuage any hard feelings, the DGA may thank the writers for their own negotiating efforts when the directors announce their deal, according to a source close to the DGA.

An immediate question for WGA West president Patric Verrone, WGA East president Michael Winship and other WGA leaders is whether to allow rank and file to vote on whether to accept a deal similar to the DGA's, providing the AMPTP is willing to offer writers such terms.

It also will bear watching whether the leadership of blue-collar and crafts union IATSE leans harder on WGA brass over getting the industry back to work. IATSE has painted WGA negotiators as inexperienced and inept while lamenting the thousands of layoffs hitting IATSE ranks during the now 74-day writers strike.

"Patric may say, 'We have to get the town back to work,' " one studio-side source said. The industryite said industry and regional economic impact has become so great that Verrone might be forced to swallow hard and accept pretty much whatever the AMPTP puts on offer.

Yet others cite the close relationship between the WGA and SAG during the writers' labor strife as evidence that a much longer writers strike might still be in the offing. SAG is under contract through June 30, and Hollywood's doomsday scenario would see the writers stay off the job until actors can join them on the picket lines.

Certainly, it can't be a good sign that SAG has begun a referendum process that could result in its abandoning a longtime joint-bargaining relationship with AFTRA, the more moderate performers union (HR 1/14).

Elsewhere amid the current watercooler scuttlebutt, industryites speculate over potential terms of a DGA deal.

Some predict the directors will achieve only a stopgap arrangement on new-media residuals that will have to be revisited in three years, while others buzz about the DGA's securing a near-doubling of the current DVD formula as applied to Internet downloads. Streamed content would trigger a flat fee payment to scribes in the first year and perhaps 2% of licensing revenue thereafter in one discussed arrangement.

"Nobody can really say for sure," a well-placed industryite said. "Everything could change by the time the final deal is announced."

But as just about everybody agrees, that could be any day now. DGA and AMPTP reps will meet this morning for a sixth consecutive day of talks.

Nellie Andreeva contributed to this report.