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State of union: averting work stoppage

Guild image reflects 'realistic' views of its members

Like its 12,400 members, the Directors Guild of America has spent the past year working mostly behind the scenes in Hollywood.

Unlike several other entertainment unions, the DGA has assiduously cultivated a nonflamboyant image. DGA prexy Jack Shea contends that’s not by accident but rather reflects can-do qualities that make people go into directing in the first place.

“It’s very simple, really,” he asserts. “Our people are very realistic, so our positions are very realistic.”

That stance produced a markedly different approach not so long ago for the DGA leaders. They saw showbiz whipsawed last year by a production frenzy, driven by fear of back-to-back work stoppages by writers and actors, followed by a de facto strike and the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Finally, Sept. 29, the guild announced that it would take the same tack as with its previous three contracts and opt for early negotiations with studios and nets. The DGA board tapped veteran director and secretary-treasurer Gil Cates to head its negotiating team.

“The DGA wants to avoid the production slowdown that engulfed Hollywood earlier this year,” Cates announced at that point. “We think it is particularly important given the current events taking place throughout the country to make every reasonable effort to reach an early and fair deal — for our members and our industry.”

By early December, the DGA reached a tentative deal — even though the contract was not due to expire until June 30 — and its board unanimously endorsed ratification on a fast track. The goal was to enact interim provisions on TV production prior to the start of the spring production cycle and pilot season, and preserve jobs in film-style shoots (such as series and telefilms) even if they were done on digital cameras. Making changes of this institutional nature is very remarkable, Cates has said about the new deal.

DGA national exec director Jay Roth noted at the time that the guild had first proposed the blended contract in June and agreed to early talks partly because of the commitment from the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers to negotiate.

“A lot of TV is going to be done on digital, so it’s very important that the staffing be right,” he added. And on Feb. 6, the DGA was able to announce that a new three-year contract was in place with the interim provisions already in effect.

The deal also included a sweetener in the form of a $20,000 payment to the director of an original movie if it is made into a sequel, and a first-ever meeting between all showbiz unions and the AMPTP on the increasingly visible runaway production issue.

“We won’t agree to anything not specifically targeted to keep work in the United States,” Shea notes.

Shea also singled out as troubling a lack of significant progress in hiring minority and women directors. “We have to keep hammering away on this because it affects so many of our members. It’s really frustrating.”

But for 2002, Shea is happy to report that work for DGA members has been on the upswing. “I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how strong things are for our people so far this year We’re expecting a good year.”

As for the DGA Awards, Shea believes that attendees want a fast-paced affair and a focus on the guild. “We’ve really resisted the idea of going on TV because we really want this to feel like an event for 1,600 family members.”

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