DGA president stands behind 'blended contract'

Despite being in the spotlight for the past year as the first female president of the Directors Guild of America, Martha Coolidge has maintained harmony within the DGA.

That’s no small feat, given the potential for internal friction at Hollywood unions amid a flurry of changes in how showbiz operates.

She hasn’t decided whether she’ll seek re-election at the coming June convention and adds that she won’t be beating the drums for her candidacy. “We have a tradition of not campaigning at the guild, but I have totally enjoyed being president so far,” she says.

There seem to be few other candidates for a post that is usually uncontested.

Coolidge has kept on working during her tenure and is in pre-production on the Paramount/ Lions Gate co-production “The Prince and the Freshman,” a romantic comedy starring Julia Stiles. Coolidge has been scouting locations in recent weeks despite suffering a broken toe.

Coolidge will soon mark her one-year anniversary as DGA prexy. She replaced Jack Shea, who announced his resignation at last year’s DGA Awards ceremony after ratification of a three-year contract for the 12,400 guild members.

Most presidents traditionally only serve two two-year terms, but Shea decided to run for a third term in June 2001 in order to provide continuity of leadership for upcoming contract negotiations and he was re-elected by acclamation.

But then the guild has always stressed a pragmatic approach and manages to present a united front to the rest of Hollywood.

“There are so many challenges with the runaway production, the post-9/11 economy, copyright and digital piracy that it’s really vital for the guild to keep reaching out to members and taking their temperature,” Coolidge asserts. “And I think the guild is pretty good at that because it’s made up of directors, who know how to be realistic and not get in their own way. We all know how to listen and we don’t waste time advocating positions that we know aren’t going to be supported by the majority.”

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The DGA assiduously pursues a low-key image and managed to reach an agreement a year ago on a key revision in its basic contract to preserve jobs in film-style shoots (such as series and telefilms) even if they were done on digital cameras.

Coolidge believes the so-called “blended contract” is valuable because it clarified the DGA’s jurisdiction in a growing area of work and enabled the guild to focus on other long-term creative rights and economic issues. And she’s told the town’s writers and actors they need a more realistic approach to negotiations.

In a recent letter to guild members, Coolidge suggested that the Screen Actors Guild, the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists and the Writers Guild of America launch negotiations on their basic film-TV contracts before the end of 2003.

“What we need this coming year is a healthy and prosperous entertainment industry,” she wrote. “We need to continue to work with lawmakers in Washington to develop solutions to issues like runaway production, media consolidation, Internet piracy, copyright and other intellectual property issues as well as keeping an eye on developing economic and job opportunities. What we don’t need is another industry slowdown or de facto strike.”

The DGA has traditionally opted for early talks with studios and nets and its last round of negotiations led to a tentative deal in late 2001, seven months prior to contract expiration.

DGA national exec director Jay Roth has contended that the tactic of going early was more effective in terms of achieving specific contract goals since companies would not be coming to the negotiating table with massive amounts of material stockpiled against a possible strike.

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