When Gene Reynolds was starting out as a director, he routinely went to the Directors Guild of America, where he found the likes of John Ford, Josef Von Sternberg and George Stevens hanging out in what could be called a “feature directors club.”
The days are long gone, but during his four years as president of the DGA, he has tried to bring at least some of that camaraderie back, organizing “feature director nights” where younger members meet the more established in their craft.
Reynolds ends his tenure today as head of the Guild: a new president will be elected Saturday when the DGA holds its national convention. He decided not to run for re-election, he said, because there is an unwritten rule that DGA prexies step down after two two-year terms.
This week, Reynolds was still conducting business in his office, but took time to reflect on his accomplishments and to fret about the challenges that still face the Guild.
Reynolds’ tenure has been about reaching out to a new generation of filmmakers, and trying to make new inroads in the area of creative rights. Absent during his term has been serious labor strife, in contrast to the 1980s, when the DGA went on its only strike in its history (albeit for only 20 minutes)
In the past four years, the DGA has expanded its role at the Sundance Film Festival and the L.A. Independent Film Festival, launched a network of members who speak at universities, and has pushed the DGA’s low-budget agreement to attract indie production, among other moves.
Members of the African-American Steering Committee recently recognized Reynolds for his efforts to include more minority members in the guild, such as a special scholarship for minority helmers.
And Reynolds championed the DGA’s recent decision to establish term limits on local councils, a move he believes will bring in new blood.
“Very often you hear people say, ‘It’s the same old faces,’ ” Reynolds said. “But we know there is a great group out there hoping to serve.”
His successor will be involved in the negotiation of a new contract in two years, one that undoubtedly will deal with the progress of one of the major features of the last negotiation: The code of preferred practices. The set of guidelines for studios and filmmakers are non-binding, but include such measures as ways to curb the severe shortening of post-production time.
“With his guidance, we have vigorously pursued an agenda emphasizing the creative rights of filmmakers in motion pictures and television,” said Jay Roth, the DGA’s national executive director.
A ‘passionate’ stance
Another area of vigorous pursuit: director members serving as producers on nonunion, indie films. Reynolds wrote an article in the DGA magazine admonishing them for doing such projects. “He felt very passionately about that,” said director Paris Barclay, a member of the African-American Steering Committee.
However, Barclay generally gives him high marks for tact. “He is very approachable,” Barclay said. “You see that he is not one of these haughtier directors. With him you can talk about anything.”
Reynolds also was a forceful voice when word came out that the Writers Guild of America was seeking a “viewing period” in which it could comment on a director’s cut of a film. There are now differing interpretations of the “viewing period”; Reynolds said he has received no complaints from helmers, but opposes the period, saying they “want to be able to complete our editorial work before someone comes in and challenges it to the producer.”
“The viewing period threatens the director,” he said. “We work with producers back and forth, we show the producer the work in progress, but we do not want a hostile, skeptical, inexperienced eye coming and challenging the work before it is finished. We get enough of that after it is finished.”
And when it comes to the “possessory credit” — the “A film by …” labels given to directors of a pic — Reynolds has been among the most forceful in insisting that helmers not be restricted in their rights to negotiate for such a nameplate.
The issue surfaced just last weekend at a Writers Guild Foundation forum on the screenwriter. In a panel debate on the possessory credit, moderator Frank Pierson noted the conspicuous absence of Reynolds.
“I had planned to go,” he says. “I was told we would talk about film and the collaboration in the context of writers and directors,” he said. “Then I got this brochure about the auteur theory and its bastard son. The whole thing sounded so hostile and so petty I thought it would be foolish to participate, so I passed.”
The most trying time for him, Reynolds said, was in the selection of a national executive director.
When Glenn Gumpel resigned that post, the DGA had just six weeks to find a successor. Their choice: Jay Roth, considered one of the industry’s labor attorneys. Reynolds drew criticism from several East Coast officers who claimed they were left out of the selection process.
But Reynolds said he had to be discreet about the selection, and said that they were more inclusive in the process than in the past.
“We went through rocky waters, but we got through them,” he said.
Reynolds got his start in the business as a child actor, working on such pics as “Boys Town.” He began his directing career in the late 1950s helming the “Hennesey” TV series, and is most noted for exec producing the sitcom “MASH” for five years. He also was exec producer on “Lou Grant” and directed the pilots of both of the latter shows.
Reynolds’ immediate plans are to continue directing episodics, as well as the occasional longform, take classes at UCLA in literature and play golf. And he also has been developing a TV movie reunion of “Lou Grant.”