WGA may extend current contract until 2008

Writers' deferment spotlights DGA

Hollywood directors may be in the driver’s seat again.

With the WGA punting the invitation to start negotiations early next year and insisting they won’t start until September, the DGA is likely to emerge in coming months as the most likely candidate to make a deal to ensure Hollywood labor peace — even though the DGA contract won’t expire for another 19 months.

Despite Monday’s proclamation by WGA West topper David Young that a deal will be reached before the contract expires next Halloween, speculation is forming that the writers may wind up extending the current WGA contract until sometime around June 2008. That’s when the deals for both SAG and the DGA expire.

Without some kind of movement soon toward negotiations between the guilds and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, the industry is likely to spend much of next year prepping for strikes by accelerating production.

And the WGA’s latest strategy — unexplained by guild leaders but widely viewed as another manifestation of its get-tough attitude — will turn Hollywood’s focus onto the possibility that all three guild contracts may conclude at the same time in an occurrence that’s been dubbed a “perfect storm.”

Such a scenario would give the three guilds enough clout to extract major concessions from studios and networks. And such a scenario would mean the DGA would go first in negotiations — just as it did in 2004, when the WGA couldn’t make a deal and agreed to work under an expired contract while the DGA hammered out a new contract without a gain in DVD residuals.

So while there’s no guarantee the companies will agree to such a scenario in 2007, it’s become plausible for several reasons:

  • The WGA’s relations with the industry have hit a low ebb thanks to the potshots fired back and forth during the past year. Thus the companies would prefer to negotiate with the DGA, viewed as the most unlikely of the showbiz unions to stage a work stoppage (it’s staged only one strike in its history).

  • The DGA’s executive leadership has stayed in place for years; by contrast, SAG and the WGA both fired their top execs last year. Doug Allen, SAG’s new top exec, won’t even start in his new post until January.

  • The DGA’s most likely to show up focused on specific proposals with a united front.

  • An extension of the WGA contract would give both sides more time to hammer out a way of resolving the headache-inducing issue of how to pay talent for digital downloads.
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