How the DGA Helped Striking Writers
January 18, 2008 5:21 PM
There are a couple of predictable takes floating around regarding the Directors Guild of America’s new contract agreement with studios.
The DGA accomplished in a few days what writers haven’t been able to do in months, goes one.
By being so stubborn, goes another, the writers have blown it because now the DGA has established the template for a new guild contract.
Here’s why both miss the point: The DGA negotiating team didn't simply breeze into talks and make a groundbreaking deal in a context-free vacuum. The directors stood on the shoulders of the WGA’s previous negotiating efforts and benefited from the strike. Directors are receiving a superior new-media deal to what they ever could have made before the Writers Guild of America chipped away at the studios’ enormous initial resistance to give talent meaningful slices of the digital market.
Yet writers will benefit from the DGA’s negotiating efforts, too—even if the current contract terms are not considered ideal.
The new-media contract talks have been like digging a ditch. The WGA dug out plenty of earth these past months, making gains into the studio’s stony positioning. Then the DGA took over the effort from where the writers left off and dug deeper. Now the WGA will go back in.
For the guilds, the only thing that matters is changing the studios’ list of what are considered acceptable terms. Whether that’s accomplished by a writer waving a picket sign or another guild haggling makes little difference.
For example: The WGA talks collapsed Dec. 7 after the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers demanded the writers take six deal points off the table. The most important of those points, according to a WGA statement at the time, was that payments for paid Internet downloads be based on a distributor’s gross revenue rather than the producer's claimed gross.
AMPTP president Nick Counter declared in December that these points were unacceptable and represented a “quixotic pursuit of radical demands” that betrayed “a fundamental misunderstanding of the economics of new media.”
Well, Internet downloads based on distributor's gross is in the DGA contract.
Another item among the WGA’s six rejected demands involved employing a third party to establish a fair market value for studio new-media deals. But the directors’ contract includes unprecedented access to studios’ deal data and the ability to challenge suspected sweetheart agreements, which sources say effectively addresses the WGA’s point.
So will writers readily accept the DGA contract?
Some already have. “ER” showrunner John Wells declares on ArtfulWriter today that the DGA agreement is “a good deal … a historic deal. We’ve won. The strike was necessary to win it and I can only assume our negotiating committee will be sitting down with the AMPTP by early next week to resolve these last, final issues.”
The WGA leadership will likely respond with less enthusiasm. They’ll wisely try to shovel out a little more, just as directors wisely refused to accept where the writers left off in December.
But thanks to the DGA, writers are firmly closer to a good deal now than they were a week ago.