Guilds look at pooling efforts to power up

Hollywood’s above-the-line guilds said Thursday they will explore pooling their efforts in areas such as residuals collection, legal representation and legislative lobbying, a move officials described as a “new era of cooperation” among the three unions.

A series of subcommittees, comprising members of the Directors Guild of America, the Writers Guild of America and the Screen Actors Guild, will look at possible cooperative efforts in administrative areas such as residuals collection, credits, industry research, signatories, communications and legislative affairs, joint ventures that could give members “more bang for their buck,” in the words of one guild official.

The guilds also will look at cooperative efforts in collective bargaining, affirmative action and legal matters.

The new initiative follows a series of “tri-guild” meetings last fall and then on Tuesday and Wednesday with the executive directors and senior staff of the three guilds.

Officials from the guilds also said the cooperative efforts are an increasing necessity in the face of mergers of companies on the other side of the bargaining table.

To be sure, the guilds have worked together in the past, such as in the collection of residuals from bankrupt producers. Back in 1960, they all held discussions about the establishment of residuals provisions in collective bargaining agreements.

“In the past we have always had a level of cooperation,” said Ken Orsatti, national executive director of SAG. “The main difference is the extent of the cooperation, where you have senior staff from all three guilds and a great number (of staff members) from all three guilds working together.”

With the new initiative, it is expected the guilds will meet on a more frequent basis — perhaps once a quarter — and they could use such summits as forums to resolve differences among the groups.

“What we are doing is taking concrete steps to combine resources where we can get more bang for the buck,” said Brian Walton, executive director of the Writers Guild of America, West. “What this is doing is elevating our level of coordination activity.”

For example, plans are in the works to jointly lobby for proposals to offer incentives to productions to shoot in the U.S., legislation designed to stem runaway production costs. Another area targeted: extension of copyright terms.

Whether the cooperative efforts would lead to joint collective bargaining with producers is another question, given the disparate interests of the guilds and the fact that the expiration of contracts is generally staggered. The WGA and SAG agreements, for example, expire next year within months of each other; the DGA contract is up in 1999.

But the tri-guild meetings could help the three unions better communicate negotiating information before they go into bargaining sessions with producers.

“All of us negotiate agreements with a unified group of studios and production companies, and we believe that now is the time to explore the potential benefits for our members of exercising our collective strength as well,” said Jay Roth, national executive director of the DGA.

The Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers had no comment concerning the meetings.

The tri-guild meetings also may help resolve long-standing differences that have at times seen different guilds butt heads with one another. Perhaps the best-known recent case has been the Writers Guild of America and the Directors Guild of America, which have diverged in such areas as credits placement and creative input during productions.

“One thing all three guilds recognize is that we have much more in common than we have differences,” Roth said.

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