DGA opts for early contract talks

The Directors Guild of America, taking the same tack as with its last three contracts, has opted for early negotiations with studios and nets.

The DGA, citing the need to avoid repeating this year’s lengthy sagas for writers and thesps, has agreed with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers to hold discussions within a few weeks to lay the groundwork for formal contract talks. The DGA’s current three-year pact runs out on June 30.

The DGA’s national board announced Saturday it had tapped secretary-treasurer Gil Cates, who was prexy from 1983-87, to lead its negotiating team.

“The DGA wants to avoid the production slowdown that engulfed Hollywood earlier this year,” said Cates, referring to deals that were reached in May with the Writers Guild of America and in July with the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists. Both deals were reached three days after the contracts expired in the wake of a “de facto” strike created when Hollywood first stockpiled projects and then stopped production as the deadlines neared.

“We think it is particularly important given the current events taking place throughout the country today to make every reasonable effort to reach an early and fair deal — for our members and our industry,” Cates added. “To do this will take a commitment from the studios to address the issues the DGA will be placing on the table.”

The DGA had been set to consider the AMPTP proposal at a Sept. 15 meeting that was postponed for two weeks due to the terrorist attacks. Cates said the DGA would have likely moved toward early talks even if the attacks had not occurred.

“The events of Sept. 11 simply underscored the need for us to move quickly,” he added.

AMPTP chief Nick Counter notified the DGA in a Sept. 7 letter that it wanted to start talks “as soon as practicable” and cited the desire to avoid showbiz disruptions. Counter noted that the industry’s highest employment levels have occurred when the industry does not face the possibility of a work stoppage.

Counter also said that the issues in the contract need to be addressed “sooner rather than later.” Cates said residuals and emerging technologies would be particularly crucial in the upcoming talks.

The DGA used fast-track negotiations to reach its current pact, arriving at a tentative agreement five months before expiration. However, the emerging complexities of Internet jurisdiction and delivery systems could make these talks more difficult.

Cates said the initial meeting would not be held until mid-October at the earliest. The helmer, who has produced 10 Academy Awards shows that have won 15 Emmys, is working on a “Collected Stories” project until then.

The DGA, which reps 12,000 members, has called only one strike in its history. That came in 1987 and was settled in less than three hours.

“It is a privilege for me to accept this new responsibility,” said Cates. “I will be joined by a strong membership committee and professional staff. Our goal will be to produce a contract that provides uninterrupted jobs for our members and gives them the economic gains for which they have worked so hard. The entertainment industry is a vital part of the Southern California economy, and we need to keep it healthy and working.”

DGA prexy Jack Shea also announced that VPs Martha Coolidge and John Frankenheimer will co-chair the Creative Rights Committee, as they have in the last two negotiations.

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