The Directors Guild of America is heading back to the future as it celebrates its 75th anniversary.
“Our calling card is continuity,” says DGA president Taylor Hackford. “We want to celebrate the work of our own members – and we’re going to set the record straight on some of the myths.”
On the heels of the Jan. 18 announcement that the membership had “overwhelmingly” supported a new three-year deal on the DGA’s master contract, the leaders have put into motion a yearlong celebration of the guild.
“With all these directors, you would think our board meetings would be anarchy, but we’ve always been result-oriented and pragmatic,” Hackford says.
That claim of support is buttressed by the DGA having managed to avoid internal dissent over the past decade. Gil Cates, who’s chaired the negotiating committee for four consecutive negotiations, says member support stems from operating from a realistic starting point.
“When we show up, we rely on facts and where the money’s going to be in three, six, nine years – even with this vast upheaval going on,” Cates says.
The DGA has continued to spend its funds on Wall Street analyst Tom Wolzien as a consultant for half a dozen years to generate data and projections, sharing those with the industry, the Writers Guild of America and the Screen Actors Guild. Cates says the DGA is in a unique position to be regarded as an authoritative source of that data – since the companies are often in competition with one another.
Hackford says as planning has geared up for the 75th anniversary celebration, how the DGA’s past reflects the current day has taken on an unexpected resonance.
“As the business evolves, we find that we’re dealing with the same kind of challenges that the DGA faced such as when the guild was founded and when TV started,” he says, referring mainly to issues of creative control.
On Saturday, Kathryn Bigelow, James Cameron, Francis Ford Coppola, Clint Eastwood, John Rich, Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg will make special five-minute presentations at the event to highlight “game-changing” moments in DGA history.
The DGA will also launch a film tribute series on Feb. 19 with Christopher Nolan interviewing George Lucas about “Star Wars.” At subsequent events, Eastwood will honor John Ford for “Stagecoach,” Steven Soderbergh will laud John Cassavetes for “Faces” and Ridley Scott will expound on “Blade Runner” in London.
“These aren’t necessarily films that were enormous successes,” says Michael Apted, who served three terms as DGA president and has been tapped as chair of the yearlong anniversary. “Cassavetes is the father of American independent film and ‘Stagecoach’ won no awards, but it did introduce John Wayne at a time people were saying Westerns were finished.”
In addition to directing “The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader,” Apted has been working on the details of the DGA celebration since April. Hackford, Cates and Apted find themselves particularly impressed with the early days, when a dozen directors met in King Vidor’s living room to formulate a reaction to the studios squeezing directors – with such tactics as cutting salaries in half in 1935.
“The reality was that there was a crisis in the country,” Hackford says. “Studios were flexing their muscles trying to crush directors, and they did not get their first contract until 1939.”
At that point, director Frank Capra was both president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the newly elected second president of the Screen Directors Guild. Early that year, the producers declared that they would not negotiate with the SDG unless it threw the assistant directors out – provoking members to call for a strike vote.
Instead, Capra suggested boycotting the Academy Awards – even though he was scheduled to emcee the ceremonies and his “You Can’t Take It With You” had been nominated for seven Oscars.
“First, I will immediately resign as president of the Academy and withdraw as master of ceremonies,” he told the SDG board. “Reason: the rude, contemptuous attitude of the Motion Pictures Producers Assn. toward the Screen Directors Guild and its officers.”
The threat worked and the studio moguls relented. The first deal gave directors the right to be consulted regarding cutting of their films and the employment of principals, along with the right to two weeks’ prep time for films with budgets more than $200,000 and five days for films budgeted at less than $200,000.
“The idea back then was that the film is the inspiration of the filmmaker and that must be respected,” Hackford says. “And that’s very much a part of the DNA of the guild.”
So Apted’s task has been to find ways to laud the DGA as an institution.
“We’re going to spend the rest of the year honoring the work in the form of films that really did change the way we look at film and do film,” he says.
DGA AWARDS NOMINEES
Darren Aronofsky, “Black Swan”
David Fincher, “The Social Network”
Tom Hooper, “The King’s Speech”
Christopher Nolan, “Inception”
David O. Russell, “The Fighter”
Mick Jackson, “Temple Grandin”
Barry Levinson, “You Don’t Know Jack”
David Nutter, “The Pacific”
Jeremy Podeswa, “The Pacific”
Tim Van Patten, “The Pacific”
Jack Bender, “Lost”
Allen Coulter, “Boardwalk Empire”
Frank Darabont, “The Walking Dead”
Jennifer Getzinger, “Mad Men”
Martin Scorsese, “Boardwalk Empire”
Steve Levitan, “Modern Family”
Beth McCarthy Miller, “30 Rock”
Ryan Murphy, “Glee”
David Nutter, “Entourage”
Michael Spiller, “Halloween”
Don Roy King, “Saturday Night Live”
Linda Mendoza, “Paul McCartney: The Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song in Performance at The White House”
John C. Moffitt, “Bill Maher … But I’m Not Wrong”
Chuck O’Neil, “Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear”
Glenn Weiss, “64th Annual Tony Awards”
Hisham Abed, “The Hills”
Eytan Keller, “The Next Iron Chef”
Bryan O’Donnell, “Private Chefs of Beverly Hills”
Brian Smith, “Master Chef”
Bertram van Munster, “The Amazing Race”
Larry Carpenter, “One Life to Live”
Sally McDonald, “The Young and the Restless”
Jill Mitwell, “One Life to Live”
Owen Renfroe, “General Hospital”
Michael Stich, “The Bold and the Beautiful”
Douglas Barr, “Secrets of the Mountain”
Eric Bross, “The Boy Who Cried Werewolf”
Stuart Gillard, “Avalon High”
Michael Grossman, “Starstruck”
Paul Hoen, “Camp Rock 2: The Final Jam”
Mikael Solomon, “Unnatural History”
Frank Budgen (Gorgeous Enterprises)
Craig Gillespie (MJZ)
Tim Godsall (Biscuit Filmworks)
Tom Kuntz (MJZ)
Stacy Wall (Imperial Woodpecker)
Lixin Fan, “Last Train Home”
Charles Ferguson, “Inside Job”
Alex Gibney, “Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer”
Davis Guggenheim, “Waiting for Superman”
Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger, “Restrepo”