Shea proposes 'code of preferred practices'

The directors have three words for writers who are seeking wider “creative rights” from the studios and nets: Forget about it.

The wisest course is to take these issues off the table during the fast approaching negotiations with the studios, says DGA prexy Jack Shea.

“We don’t want a strike,” Shea emphasized, adding, however, that the writers’ proposals would “wreak havoc with the filmmaking process.”

Instead, Shea has proposed that the Directors Guild and Writers Guild should jointly develop a “code of preferred practices” to resolve thorny issues such as the possessory credit (“A Film By”) and giving writers guaranteed access to sets.

In a recent letter sent to the 12,000 DGA members, Shea said his guild must oppose the current WGA proposals because of their negative economic impact.

WGA West prexy John Wells said in a statement, “We disagree with the DGA that including writers in the collaborative process that is filmmaking leads to grave economic consequences for the industry. In fact, we believe that writers can be helpful in assisting the director and the studios in helping to contain costs, as the writer oftentimes knows the material better than anyone.”

Shea’s statements reiterate the DGA’s strong opposition to the Writers Guild’s proposals and its support for working out a compromise (Daily Variety, Nov. 27, 2000).

If the WGA agreed to drop its proposal or develop a joint code with the DGA, that would somewhat simplify its upcoming negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers, which begin Jan. 22 for two weeks. DreamWorks principal Jeffrey Katzenberg expressed optimism last week that the DGA and WGA could work out an agreement on the creative-rights proposals rather than force the AMPTP to deal with those issues.

However, working out a deal between the WGA and DGA may be difficult since there are now only a dozen days to the start of the talks with the AMPTP. Additionally, the WGA has said previously that efforts over the past decade to hammer out a WGA-DGA agreement have not been fruitful.

Shea admitted no progress had been achieved from his previously announced meeting with WGA leaders to propose working on preferred practices for creative rights issues. He also indicated the Directors Guild may create such a document on its own.

“We are extremely disappointed that the WGA has not responded to our proposal,” Shea said. “Because we believe a mutually agreed-upon code would go a long way toward resolving these long-simmering issues, we are currently considering drafting such a proposal.”

Shea also disclosed that DGA leaders have met twice with studio execs to ask that the “creative rights” proposals be taken off the table in the upcoming negotiations. He also urged the studios to avoid using those proposals as a way to reach a final deal with writers.

“In the next few months, the studios will be pressured from many sides to settle with the WGA, but we must make sure the studios know a strike can’t be avoided at any cost,” Shea said. “What might look like an easy way out for the studios could have serious, disruptive economic consequences down the line. That is why the DGA will be working mightily to make your case and lay out the severe and far-reaching implications of the WGA creative-rights stand.”

Bargaining points

The “creative rights” issues are part of the 42 demands approved last fall by WGA members for negotiations for a new contract in the face of a May 1 expiration of the existing film-TV pact. Key items include the following:

  • Requiring that writers be employed for the duration of principal photography. WGA leaders contend the proposal is a sensible way to ensure continuity during production.

  • Guaranteeing writers access to the set, cast readings, dailies, research screenings, meetings to discuss research results, cast-and-crew events, premieres, press junkets, festivals and tradeshows.

  • Elimination of the possessory credit on movies.

Recognizing worth of writers

Writers Guild leaders have said their creative-rights demands — which they have portrayed as the contractually mandated right to participate in all creative discussions — are important because they reflect the recognition of writers as true collaborators.

Wells also asked members in October to improve their behavior toward directors of episodic TV series after conceding that such directors often are mistreated by WGA members.

“At a time when we as writers are demanding increased creative rights in screen and longform and better treatment from the feature directors they employ, we must be willing to examine our own behavior in the work area we often control: episodic television,” said Wells, who is exec producer of “ER,” “Third Watch” and “The West Wing.”

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