Directors Guild Deal With Studios Could Point Way To Writers Pact

By Lisa de Moraes
Friday, January 18, 2008

Your favorite scripted TV series may be one step closer to returning to production. The Directors Guild of America yesterday reached a tentative contract with the Hollywood studios that entertainment-industry navel gazers hope will serve as a template for a new deal between the studios and striking Hollywood writers.

The directors' three-year contract, made after less than a week of negotiations, ups wages and residual rates every year, establishes DGA jurisdiction over programs produced for distribution on the Web and effectively doubles the current residual rate for paid Web downloads, the union said yesterday.

It also sets residual rates for ad-supported streaming of programming and the use of clips on the Internet.

Payment of residuals for programming presented on the Web has been a major sticking point in the contract talks between the Writers Guild of America and the collection of companies known as the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.

The WGA's strike against the AMPTP, which started Nov. 5, immediately plunged late-night TV shows into reruns. Sitcoms were not far behind, followed shortly thereafter by drama series, turning the prime-time landscape into a swamp of repeats and reality shows.

The strike is now in its third month. Negotiations between the AMPTP and the WGA have been dead in the water since Dec. 7, when the producers insisted the guild dump several of its proposals.

In announcing yesterday's deal, Gil Cates, chairman of the DGA's negotiations committee, crowed: "Two words describe this agreement -- groundbreaking and substantial." He said, "The gains for directors and their teams are extraordinary -- and there are no rollbacks of any kind."

The Writers Guild was more subdued, issuing a statement saying the terms of the DGA deal "will be carefully analyzed and evaluated" to see how the guild's strategies "may be affected" by the new pact.

Writers Guild enthusiasm for the new deal was no doubt tempered by memories of the '80s, when it followed the Directors Guild's lead in negotiating, badly as it turned out, with the studios on what became lucrative home-video and DVD markets.

"For over a month, we have been urging the conglomerates to return to the table and bargain in good faith," the WGA said. "They have chosen to negotiate with the DGA instead. Now that those negotiations are completed, the AMPTP must return to the process of bargaining with the WGA. We hope that the DGA's tentative agreement will be a step forward in our effort to negotiate an agreement that is in the best interests of all writers."

But the WGA wasn't the only party that took the occasion of the DGA deal announcement to, ever so politely, thumb its nose at the other camp:

"Today, we invite the Writers Guild of America to engage with us in a series of informal discussions similar to the productive process that led us to a deal with the DGA, to determine whether there is a reasonable basis for returning to formal bargaining," AMPTP members said.

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