DGA talks raise hope for WGA

Directors, AMPTP talk new media compensation

With optimism steadily growing that the Directors Guild of America is heading toward a tentative deal with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, the town’s attention has shifted to what the majors’ next step will be once they have a DGA deal in hand.

The DGA and AMPTP held their third consecutive day of formal negotiations Monday at AMPTP headquarters amid expectations that a tentative pact could emerge within the next few days, with significant improvements in how helmers are compensated for new-media work and reuse.

Despite rumors that a deal was imminent, both sides maintained their news blackout Monday. They were set to meet again today.

WGA and SAG leaders have cautioned repeatedly that the DGA does not rep writers and actors in its talks, but in fact the AMPTP seems to have pursued a strategy of cutting off communication with the WGA, since their talks last broke off on Dec. 7, in favor of getting a deal done with the DGA.

With strike fatigue becoming more of a factor for WGA members and the thousands of other showbiz workers affected by the strike, the hope on the WGA picket lines is that the DGA’s gains will be sufficient for WGA members to embrace the idea of forging a similar pact to end the 11-week-old strike.

“I hope it sets a good template for everybody,” said scribe Leonard Dick of the DGA negotiations, as he and about 200 others picketed outside Warner Bros. “We want to put everybody back to work. My kids are sick of seeing me around the house.”

In that scenario, optimists believe the WGA agreement would generally incorporate the DGA terms — and also include provisions to sweeten the deal in areas such as boosting industry support for a writer-specific area such as the showrunner training program.

Still, there’s good reason for pessimism about the WGA getting back to the table any time soon. The sense of doom and gloom deepened Monday as CBS Paramount and 20th Century Fox TV followed ABC Studios in notifying more than 75 writers and producers of the formal termination of their overall production and development deals.

The last official contact between WGA and AMPTP came six weeks ago, when the AMPTP demanded that the guild drop six proposals as a condition of continuing to bargain.

The WGA has refused to accede to AMPTP’s ultimatum, even though the AMPTP has hinted that it could be persuaded to resume negotiations if the writers would back off on reality and animation jurisdiction and sympathy strikes.

However, insiders say the real stumbling block was the WGA’s push for new-media residuals based on 2.5% of distributors’ gross — a formula the majors say would force them to give writers a cut of the advertising revenue derived from their dot-com platforms. The WGA denies this interpretation and points to precedent in past agreements for pay TV residuals based on a distrib’s gross formula. Dropping the distrib gross demand was one of the six points the AMPTP listed as a condition of continued bargaining, but it is viewed by the WGA as a deal-breaker, although there’s likely room to haggle on the 2.5% figure. It’s uncertain if DGA is angling for a distrib’s gross formula in its new media proposals.

Assuming a DGA deal gets done, some industry vets speculate that the AMPTP will present it to the scribes as a take-it-or-leave it proposition. If it meets with anything like a favorable response from WGA leaders, the sides would likely convene to hammer out some writer-specific provisions, and in that context, some horse-trading may take place.

On the flip side, the DGA pact could spur internal dissent within the WGA if the terms are palatable to some members but rejected by the guild’s top brass, who have been vocal about the various points they aim to achieve in this contract.

Part of the uncertainty surrounding the fate of the WGA-AMPTP talks stems from the seemingly endless flow of hostile comments issued by both sides. The ongoing bickering had underlined the inability of the negotiating teams to develop a solid working relationship with the other side since talks launched last summer. And that may preclude informal efforts to find out where a deal can be made.

“What you usually are doing at this point is having backchannel meetings to figure out what needs to be done for each side to save enough face so that they announce a deal,” one veteran exec noted.