LONDON Two years ago, a group of prominent British film and TV directors met for a get-together at a fashionable private members’ club in London’s Soho district.
But this was no ordinary night out drinking, eating and swapping war stories.
The helmers, now known as the Century Group in reference to the name of the watering hole where they met, were determined to organize into a single, fighting force rather than see their working conditions eroded further.
“We wanted to have a unified, powerful voice,” recalls Charles Sturridge, the veteran British TV, film and theater director who is now chair of Directors UK. Launched last week, members hope it will be Blighty’s equivalent to the powerful Directors Guild of America.
The new group, presided over by Paul Greengrass, takes over where the Directors and Producers Rights Society, the Directors Guild of Great Britain and the Broadcasting Entertainment Cinematograph and Theater Union left off.
“We’ve been represented by three different organizations, and our creative rights within broadcasting have really suffered as a result,” claims Peter Kosminksy, a board member of Directors UK, whose recent TV film about British Muslims, “Britz,” won the Royal Television Society’s award for drama serial.
Creative people tend to be somewhat cavalier in handling their own affairs, but as the leading lights of Directors UK, repping nearly 4,000 members, assembled for their first press call, they put on a united front.
“We intend to speak for directors across the U.K. in every genre,” Greengrass says. “This is not an auteurs’ charter but on organization representing working directors in film, TV and new media.”
The number of hours spent behind closed doors in negotiations — as part of the process the DGGB had to undertake to de-register as a trade union earlier this year — is anyone’s guess.
“At the beginning, it looked as if it wasn’t going to happen,” admits one of those involved in the talks. “But after a sustained period of explaining, all parties recognized that British directors needed to have a single voice.”
At the core of Directors UK is a widely held belief that at a time of rapid change in distribution methods, British helmers need to get their act together and, crucially, ensure they are paid well for their efforts.
Kosminsky claims that fees for directors working in British TV have remained static for more than a decade vis a vis other creatives in TV — although successful filmmakers can always demand a premium.
One of the group’s main gripes is that modern production methods, especially in TV, have sidelined directors.
“The tendency is to hire directors as late as possible, when many of the key creative decisions have already been made,” Kosminsky says, “and get them to leave as early as possible, so if the director has made things a bit difficult there is time to sort it out after they’ve gone.
“The result is much more anodyne, boring, formulaic programs.”
Kosminsky and many board members are established and successful helmers. But Directors UK also will rep upstart talent, which is most in need of a strong org battling on its behalf in a cash-strapped, uncertain world.
So can Directors UK be a match for the DGA? Almost certainly not. British labor laws long ago outlawed closed shows, but one, strong org looks more likely to effectively represent members than several, less-focused groups.