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DGA Contract Talks: Directors Seek More Time and Clout in Editing Room on Episodic TV

A view of the Directors Guild of America building in Los Angeles, California on December 17, 2021.
Michael Buckner for PMC

The Directors Guild of America is pushing for a contractual provision that would give TV directors more time and responsibility in the editing room, sources told Variety.

The DGA is negotiating its new contract with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. The current contract expires on June 30.

One of the key issues on the table is “creative rights” in television. TV directors have an absolute right under their existing contract to prepare a “director’s cut,” which is the first cut after the editor’s assembly. That right dates to 1964, when director Frank Capra led the charge to enshrine it in the DGA contract.

The contract also provides minimum time periods to prepare the director’s cut. In film, that period is at least 10 weeks. In TV, the period is much shorter, ranging from two days for a 30-minute episode up to 20 days for a two-hour show. The director’s cut is then turned over to the producer, which in TV is typically a writer-showrunner.

Even after the handoff of the director’s cut, the contract requires that directors are allowed to be present throughout post-production, and are allowed a “reasonable opportunity” to discuss the producer’s final cut.

According to the sources, the DGA is pushing for additional time in the editing room to prepare the director’s cut. The directors may also want the opportunity to make revisions based on feedback from the producer, the sources said.

The Writers Guild of America, which has been on strike for 24 days, is similarly pushing to require that writers be involved throughout production and into post-production, and be paid accordingly.

The WGA argues that in the shift to shorter TV seasons, writing has become divorced from production and newer writers do not have the opportunity to train to become effective showrunners.

The AMPTP reportedly offered a “trainee” program to allow writers to gain production experience. The WGA rejected that proposal, seeing it as the equivalent of an unpaid internship.

If the DGA succeeds in gaining greater creative authority for TV directors, that could be seen as a source of tension with the WGA. But the sources said there was no reason to see it zero-sum terms, and that the DGA could make creative gains without it coming at the expense of writer-showrunners.

The WGA and DGA have sought to present a united front wherever possible, including when they issued a joint statement on Wednesday denouncing Warner Bros. Discovery for lumping writers and directors together as “creators” on the credits page on Max. The company apologized and blamed the error on an “oversight in the technical transition” from HBO Max to Max.

The two guilds are not always aligned, however. The WGA and DGA take opposite views on whether writer-directors are allowed to make minor script changes during the strike. The WGA sees that as part of its jurisdiction, and has forbidden dual members from doing so, while the DGA has advised members that they are free — and perhaps even required — to go ahead and make those changes.

The WGA, DGA and AMPTP declined to comment. The DGA and AMPTP have agreed to a media blackout during negotiations, which began on May 10.

Cynthia Littleton contributed to this story.