News

Directors union reaches deal with Hollywood studios

Charlie McCollum
San Jose Mercury News (MCT)

Television and film directors have reached a tentative agreement on a new contract with the major media conglomerates, including new language and payment formulas covering digital media.

If approved by the Directors Guild of America membership - widely believed to be a formality - the deal could lead to an end of the labor turmoil that has beset the TV and film industries since early November.

The Writers Guild of America went on strike Nov. 5, a job action that has all but closed down TV production, put numerous films on hold and left thousands of TV and film workers without work. The DGA agreement could serve as a template for a new writers' contract and for one with the Screen Actors Guild of America. The actors union's agreement with the studios and networks expires in June.

Gil Cates, chairman of the DGA's negotiating committee, said in a statement that "two words describe this agreement - groundbreaking and substantial. There are no rollbacks of any kind."

The DGA agreement reportedly includes increases in wages and residual payments, establishes guild jurisdiction over programs created for the Internet and sets a payment formulas for paid Internet downloads and streaming of original programming online.

Digital media has been the main stumbling block in negotiations between the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers - which represents such major media companies as Disney, CBS and NBC-Universal - and the writers' union. The WGA had insisted on a "fair share" of the revenues from the Internet, widely perceived as the future in TV and film, while the studios and networks wanted to set up a study of Web economics.

Whether the DGA contract will set standards that could also be acceptable to the writers remains to be seen.

Earlier this week, Shawn Ryan - executive producer of "The Shield" and a member of the WGA negotiating committee - suggested that while he hoped the DGA could carve out a reasonable contract, there was the possibility that, "if the Directors Guild deal emphasizes things that are not important to us, then that won't stop the strike, and it will continue on."

But the DGA agreement could put increased pressure on the writers to settle their dispute. The writers and the AMPTP broke off negotiations on Dec. 7, after the AMPTP demanded the WGA take several issues off the table.

In a statement released late Thursday afternoon, the CEOs of the top media companies - including Leslie Moonves of CBS, Jeff Zucker of NBC-Universal and Barry Meyer of Warner Bros. - said, "We hope that this agreement with DGA will signal the beginning of the end of this extremely difficult period for our industry.

"Today, we invite the Writers Guild of America to engage with us in a series of informal discussions ... to determine whether there is a reasonable basis for returning to formal bargaining. We look forward to these discussions, and to the day when our entire industry gets back to work."

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